Friday, April 23, 2021
Johnny Hagenbuch Wins America’s Largest Nordic Ski Race
Johnny Hagenbuch cruises across the finish line at the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin Saturday.
Monday, March 1, 2021



Sun Valley’s Johnny Hagenbuch fought off two other skiers this weekend to win the 47th Slumberland American Birkebeiner on Saturday in a race where other Sun Valley skiers placed in the top 10.

Then he turned round and took second in the 43K American Birkebeiner Classic on Sunday.

Johnny Hagenbuch took the second-place step on the podium for Sunday’s classic race.

Nineteen-year-old Hagenbuch crossed the finish line of the shortened 45-kilometer looped skate course on Saturday in 1 hour 54 minutes and 15 seconds after breaking away from the pack with seven kilometers to go. It was a fast race course with temperatures that hovered around the freezing mark.

His Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation colleague Sam Wood, 24, came in on his heels crossing the finish line in 1:54:18. Tyler Kornfield, 30, of Anchorage Alaska, was right behind him at 1:54:20.

Alayna Sonnesyn, 24, topped the women’s podium for the second time with a time of 2:06:45 while Rosie Frankowski of Anchorage was just behind at 2:06:49. Forty-year-old Caitlin Gregg, a frequent visitor to Sun Valley and a five-time American Birkebeiner champion, finished third at 2:08:17.

Sun Valley’s Katie Feldman, 25, finished fourth in the women’s field with a time of 2:09:11.6. 

Four Sun Valley Gold men’s skiers and two women skiers raced in the race, finishing in the top 11. Among them, Karl Schulz, 23, who finished ninth among men with a time of 1:55:52.2 and Peter Holmes, 24, who finished tenth among men at 1:56:12.0.

“There was a cool moment in the race where all of us Gold teamers were definitely dictating the pace in the front of the pack, which was fun,” Hagenbuch told the Duluth News Tribune. “I would say there was a little bit of team tactics of some sort going on, but it wasn’t really organized. It was more improvised, I would say.”

Several inches of fresh snow fell as racers competed in Sunday’s classic race. Twenty-four-year-old Ian Torchia, a former Stratton Mountain School skier who has a Junior National Championship title, left the pack behind early and skied most of the second half of the race by himself to take the men’s title by more than seven minutes.

Johnny Hagenbuch finished second with Tyler Kornfield doublepoling his way to the third. Sam Wood took seventh and Peter Holmes, tenth

Rosie Frankowski and Alayna Sonesyn took first and second in the women’s race, while Katie Feldman took third.

Nineteen-year-old Johnny Hagenbuch won the 2020 Boulder Mountain Tour—the same year he graduated from the Sun Valley Community School. And he would have been favored to win it again this year had it not been cancelled due to the pandemic.

He held off going to Dartmouth College to pursue his ski career, which he hopes takes him to the 2022 Winter Olympics. He has been a familiar figure at the Lake Creek trails this winter, easily gliding up the steep hills at Lake Creek.

He just returned from Europe after many of the races there were cancelled and decided almost on the spur of the moment to give the Birkie a try. This was his first Birkie, although he did race at a junior national competition in Cable, Wis., five years ago.

Both he and Sonnesyn each earned the top prize of $2,500 for their efforts.

The Slumberland American Birkebeiner was one of the few races held this year, but it was noticeably different from past years. There was no international competition. Skiers had to transport themselves to the start area, carry their own snacks and water and mask up and social distance in the start and finish areas.

Spectators were not allowed to line Main Street Hayward, ringing their cowbells and cheering on racers amidst the aroma of beer and brats.

Instead of a point-to-point race, the race started and ended in Cable with competitors skiing out to a Double-O and coming back. In addition, Birkie races were held over five days to thin out the numbers.

More than a quarter million skiers have completed the American Birkebeiner ski races since the first was held in 1973. Among them, a vast number of Sun Valley-area racers, including Muffy Ritz, Betsy Youngman, and EJ Harpham who have claimed one or more championships. Peter Holmes won the 2019 Classic Edition while Katie Feldman took third place.

Even 94-year-old Ketchum skier Charley French skied it not too long ago, recounting the long ski across the frozen lake towards the end of the then-50K race.

Skiers were offered the option of skiing in person or virtually this year. Half of the skiers chose to ski in-person with the other half opting to ski—or bike, run, row or swim--the same number of kilometers to the finish line from other points around the globe.


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