U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships Provides Unique Season Warmup For Top Paralympians

by Alex Abrams

Kendall Gretsch competes at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships (Photo by U.S. Para Nordic Skiing)

Around two dozen American Para Nordic skiers will spend the first few days of 2024 competing at a venue that’s very familiar to them.

While there, they’ll get to work toward their individual goals for the new year.

For Paralympic gold medalists Jake Adicoff, Dan Cnossen, Kendall Gretsch and Oksana Masters, the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships in Midway, Utah, will serve as a tune-up for the upcoming Para Nordic skiing world cup season.

It’ll give them, as well as fellow Paralympian Aaron Pike, the opportunity to race a few more times before they head to Italy to compete in the first world cup event of the season on Jan. 24.

The cross country ski nationals are running from Jan. 2-5 at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, where the 2023 world cup finals were held last March. It was also the site of last year’s U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Sit Ski Nationals.

“Those (athletes) that are going to spend the rest of the season on the world cup (tour), this is probably a little bit of a primer,” said BethAnn Chamberlain, a development coach for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing. “They can get a little more geared up for the racing season and get a couple of races under their belt before they head over to Europe.”

For those Para Nordic skiers who are newer to the sport, the cross country ski nationals will give them a chance to show what they can do while earning points from racing. Those points can help them qualify for future world cup events or secure a spot on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing development team.

Chamberlain said around 25 sit skiers, standing skiers and visually impaired skiers are expected to compete in Midway. This event, however, will have some noticeable differences from the ones that the top Para Nordic skiers will race at throughout the year.

For starters, Adicoff, Cnossen, Gretsch, Masters and Pike will be representing their individual club teams at the cross country ski nationals instead of the U.S., like they do at the Winter Paralympics and other international events.

Cnossen, Gretsch and Masters have each won a Paralympic gold medal in the biathlon, but they’ll get to focus entirely on cross-country skiing over the next few days since there’ll be no biathlon competitions held at Soldier Hollow.

In addition, the standing and visually impaired skiers will be integrated into the same field as the hundreds of able-bodied skiers competing at the cross country ski nationals. All of them will race together instead of having events only for standing and visually impaired skiers.

“It’s greater competition for the standing and (visually impaired) athletes (who) don’t have a lot of athletes competing in the U.S., and so this is a huge field,” Chamberlain said. “And they get to integrate into it and be a part of the greater cross-country ski racing community, which they are. It’s an event that we can highlight.

“It’s great for the exposure of the sport as well. It’s great when we have the smaller events that’s just for sit skiers, but then not many people see it. And so it’s a really great opportunity for people to learn about the sit ski side of it and the (visually impaired skiers) and what’s guiding like and getting a little more of a spotlight on the Para side of it.”

The group of standing and visually impaired skiers will have to deal with the unique challenge of having able-bodied skiers racing alongside them during a 10-kilometer race, a sprint and a 20K race.

For each race, the top finishers in the Para Nordic skiing category will be determined by the total time it takes them to complete the course. Sit skiers will have their own 5K, sprint and 10K races on a different course at Soldier Hollow.

Chamberlain said the cross country ski nationals will give all of the Para Nordic skiers an opportunity to race in front of a large crowd and continue to educate fans of the sports.

“I think the more we’re out and we’re integrated, the more it ‘normalizes’ it. It’s not just like one token sit skier. It’s just skiing and a different mode of skiing, and we want everybody to see it like that because that is what it is,” Chamberlain said. “These are great athletes, and they train really hard just like everybody else, and they get a little rumble out there just like the rest of the crew.”

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.