Johnston skis at nationals

Ely junior competes in California, qualifies for regional elite camp

by Tom Coombe
Ely skiing sensation Jasper Johnston wasn’t at his best at a national event in California in early-March, but conditions and circumstances were less than ideal.
The three-time all-state Nordic skier had already qualified for the U.S. National Training Camp this summer, but he traveled west after the high school season to take part in the USSS Cross Country Junior Nationals at Donner Summit.
There, Johnston not only dealt with high altitudes and warm temperatures, but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which cut short the weeklong event.
Before the competition was shelved, Johnston placed 34th in a 10-kilometer classic event and 73rd in a 1.2K skate sprint.
The Ely junior said this week that neither finish was satisfying, and that the competitions were scrapped before the race he was most looking forward to - a 10K mass skate.
“I think if I had time to acclimate I would have had better races,” said Johnston.
Less than a month after fighting off chilly temperatures and howling winds to finish fourth at the state high school meet at Giants Ridge - his best finish yet - Johnston faced balmy conditions by contrast at the event in northern California.
“It was super warm everyday there, it got up to 50,” said Johnston. “Going there in March, I hadn’t been in temperatures like that in a long time so it was hard to race.”
The warmer weather had an impact in the opening race as Johnston finished in 27:49.2, while facing skiers from Minnesota, other locations in the upper Midwest as well as across the country.
“It was really hard,” said Johnston. “We got there two days before and I didn’t have much time to acclimate. It was definitely one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, with the altitude and way more climbing than any of the other races.”
Despite his own misgivings about his performance, Johnston still finished in the top third of a field of over 100 skiers.
In the sprint race, he was 73rd out of 101 with a time of 2:43.95.
Johnston was part of the Midwest U18 team for the national event, joining Sam Stertz of Grand Rapids on a group that was otherwise dominated by skiers from the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
It was just part of a busy non-school competition slate this winter for Johnston.
As he did a year ago, Johnston competed in several Junior National qualifier events over the winter, at Duluth, Houghton, Mich., Grand Rapids and the Twin Cities.
Through those events, he not only made the Midwest team for nationals but earned another spot at the national training camp event known as the CXC Central Regional Elite Group Camp set for Ironwood, Mich., in early-July.
“The races throughout the season I was super happy with,” said Johnston. “To qualify for the elite camp, the way I qualified is you have to be top-12 in your birth year at the end of the season. I was sixth overall for people born in 2003.”
Johnston is hoping the coronavirus pandemic subsides enough to allow him to go to Michigan in July, but he indicated organizers are also looking at later dates if necessary.
For now, he’s in recovery mode after a full season that included not only his time with the Nordic Wolves, but a slew of junior national events.
“Starting about May 1 I will have a set training plan and will be following that through the spring and fall,” said Johnston, who has his eyes on collegiate skiing and is considering a handful of schools, including Michigan Tech.
The honors student is quick to give credit to the Wolves’ coaching staff for his development.
“Thanks to Paula and Tyler Fish for all of their help coaching me and motivating me and the rest of the team through the season,” he said.