Young skiers work at University Games races

From left, NYSEF skiers Holly Erenstone of Lake Placid High School, Will Preece of Lake Placid Elementary School, Bella Wissler of Northwood School and River Gray of North Country School pose Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg during the biathlon mass start of the Winter World University Games. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

LAKE PLACID — High school senior Bella Wissler says she has been at Mount Van Hoevenberg every single day during the Winter World University Games, testing out the cross-country ski course and pointing out imperfections right before athletes hit it for competition.

“We’ve all been forerunning a bunch, opening every race, making sure we’re skiing in the tracks in between women’s and men’s races, and then closing down the whole course,” Wissler, who attends Northwood School after previously attending Saranac Lake High School, said Saturday as she watched the biathlon mass start.

What does forerunning involve?

“We all line up on the start line, and we do the whole course of the race just to make sure it’s skied in, there’s no loose snow and that all the athletes get a fair amount of skiing in, that some people aren’t getting better skiing than others,” Wissler explained.

She is one of the young local skiers who have been volunteering at the games through their membership in the New York Ski Educational Foundation. The Lake Placid-based nonprofit organization boasts 13 Olympians among its alumni. On Saturday, NYSEF skiers were cheering on a more recent alum — University Games competitor Van Ledger of Lake Placid.

Biathlon mass start champion Axel Garnier of France signs a bib for River Gray, 14, of North Country School, on Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg during the Winter World University Games. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

River Gray enjoyed meeting the competitors. He got many biathletes to sign his bib after they finished Saturday’s biathlon mass start. The 14-year-old from Lake Placid’s North Country School got Ledger’s signature as well as that of the race’s winner, Axel Garnier of France.

Like Wissler, Gray said he has been at every Games race at Van Ho.

“Even though we ski here almost daily, it’s nice to do it when it’s fully set up and people are watching you,” he said.

“It’s definitely really cool to see all these athletes on the course that we train on daily,” said Abigail Van Dorn, a 16-year-old sophomore at Northwood School.

Wissler and Van Dorn have been in NYSEF’s biathlon program for a few years now, and their coach, Algis Shalna, also coaches some of the University Games competitors, including Ledger. Wissler said she has learned from watching these athletes, such as how to manage the unpredictable wind at the shooting range.

Biathlete Van Ledger of Lake Placid signs a bib for River Gray, 14, of North Country School, on Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg during the Winter World University Games. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

“This range here is a very technical range,” Wissler said. “The wind is always kind of changing, so it’s interesting to see these older athletes who have been racing for just a few more years longer than we have, seeing how they handle the range and the course.”

“It feels like we’re at an Olympic race or something,” Gray added.


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