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SL Nordic team takes to the trails at Dewey

After waiting for winter to cooperate, Red Storm skiers start practicing

Girls on the Saranac Lake High School Nordic team are ready to hit the trails during the squad’s first practice of the season Wednesday evening at the Dewey Mountain Recreation Center. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — They’re finally on skis.

On Wednesday, the Saranac Lake Red Storm Nordic team held its first practice of the season under the lights at the Dewey Mountain Recreational Center.

After a run of warm weather and a lack of significant snowfall delayed the start to the season, crisper temperatures have prevailed. Although Dewey’s trails will certainly benefit from more snow, the team had good conditions to kick things off.

Head coach Keith Kogut said participation is about normal, with about 40 student-athletes on the team split between the varsity and modified levels.

“We’re pushing about 40 combined,” Kogut said while helping team members get going as they arrived for practice. “I thought our numbers were going to be smaller and it’s actually turning out to be right on par despite all the COVID stuff.”

Two younger members of the Red Storm grin behind their masks as they prepare to head out into the woods. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

With basketball and ice hockey currently off the table at this time as winter sports available at the school, Nordic skiing is one of three programs Saranac Lake students are allowed to participate in. Alpine skiing and indoor track are the other two. Kogut said a handful of athletes from other sports decided to join the Nordic program but was surprised there weren’t more.

“We didn’t get as many from hockey or basketball as you might of thought,” Kogut said. “We have a couple here and there and I know some are doing indoor track to keep in shape, too. I think maybe for some students it might be pretty intimidating to pick up a brand-new sport, not with the young ones though. Every year, we get some who are brand new to it.”

Team members range from talented veterans to first-timers on snow. Kogut said coaches, including Randy Young, will be working with the skiers based on their abilities. On Wednesday, as soon as a number of the more experienced skiers arrived at practice and turned in their paperwork, they were out on the trails heading into the shadows. Meanwhile, some the younger students were putting on skis for the very first time.

“Randy Young has been a longtime coach with us, and he’s going to help out with our modified this year,” Kogut said. “We’re going to sort of divide into two cohorts and we’ve got a really good plan for keeping everybody safe and we’re excited to be on snow. It’s not bad for January.

“This is our first time on snow, so we’re talking pretty basic for tonight,” Kogut continued. “A lot of the kids haven’t been on skis since last year, so I’ll split them into small groups of similar ability. Some of the more experienced kids will go out distanced on their own, and we’ll be helping out the kids who are brand new — they might not even know how to put their boots on today. It’s going to be a basic day and we’ll make it happen.”

Saranac Lake Nordic coach assists sisters Gwen, right, and Kailyn Mader get their skis ready for the team's first practice. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

During recent seasons, Saranac Lake has had some of the top high school Nordic skiers in New York, including Adrian Hayden, who returns this winter as a senior after finishing runner-up in the state championships a year ago. Unfortunately, Hayden won’t get another shot at competing for a state title this year due to coronavirus concerns that prompted the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to cancel all winter championships.

Instead, team members will focus on improving, having fun and hopefully, battling it out with skiers from rival Lake Placid, which is the only other school competing in Nordic in Section VII.

“We’re going to try to be up here at Dewey five days a week, mostly after school, we only have an hour, and we’re going to cram a lot in during that time,” Kogut said. “By the end of the month, we’re hoping we can start getting some one-a-week races against Lake Placid. I doubt we’ll be able to travel to invitationals, but doing some local races should be OK.

“We’re sort of bummed out the state championships won’t be happening,” Kogut added. “It stinks for those older kids who won’t get a chance to go to states, but they still can win a section title for us against Lake Placid. We’re happy to give them the opportunity.”

The good thing is when it comes to competition, it’s usually tight when the Red Storm and Blue Bombers get together, and Kogut is excited to see how his skiers stack up.

“Lake Placid always has a good team,” he said. “Every time I think we’ve got them, new good ones show up, so we don’t take anything for granted. It will be a good fight, let’s put it that way. I feel very confident we’ll be able to have some races for the kids, definitely.”

Sisters Gwen and Kailyn Mader returned for another season skiing with the varsity team and said they were happy just to be back on the snow.

“It’s very exciting to be back,” said Gwen, a senior who is also a distance runner for the high school cross country and track teams. “I just want to improve a lot. I only started two years ago so I want to improve my technique.”

Kailyn is a sophomore who was ready to shake off the rust at Wednesday’s first practice.

“It’s a little nerve-racking because it’s been a little while since I’ve been on skis, but once we get going it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kailyn said. “I’m excited to be here today. This keeps me in shape, and honestly, it’s a lot fun. It’s almost like a reward going downhill because you work so hard to get uphill.”

Not only did Gwen echo that Nordic skiing is a great way to stay in shape, it also provides her with a little escape from the rest of the world when she’s on the trails.

“It’s very freeing because you can do your own thing with it,” Gwen said. “I like that a lot.”

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