Granted, snow in October isn't rare in Aspen, Colo.
And it would have been embraced-if not merely dealt with-by world-class skiers used to split-second timing.
But when just enough of it covered the area the night before the Oct. 19 Class 3A-Region I Cross-Country Championships, entrants knew they could be in for a challenge.
And with the course spongier than expected, all State Championships hopefuls' margins for error shrank.
With all eligible teams seeking a top-four result, qualifying each for the Oct. 27 grand finale at Colorado Springs' Norris-Penrose Event Center, the racing was quite competitive and pressure to perform fell particularly on every team's back-end finishers at the score-5 meet, held at the Aspen Golf & Tennis Club,
Just to be clear, we're talking about distance running, not Nordic-style skiing.
And when all was said and done, Bayfield High School's emerging boys' squad came up just short, totaling 143 points and placing fifth behind Intermountain Leaguers Pagosa Springs (130). Hosts AHS surprised many with a third-place 118 points, while Craig-based Moffat County (86) took second and Gunnison first with a meet-low 50.
"The boys were a little disappointed that we didn't qualify," said head coach Josh Walton, "but I still think we're going to be even stronger for next season. We don't have a single senior on this year's team so they will all be returning next year, and I'm really excited for the future."
Competing as Wolverines, Ignacio High juniors Jonas Nanaeto and Elco Garcia, Jr., qualified as top-15 individuals, with Nanaeto clocking 17:44.2 and earning sixth place while Garcia posted 18:14.6 and took 12th.
BHS sophomore Zeb Shields (18:37.0) placed 21st, junior Rylan Ross (20:06.3) came in 53rd, and sophomore Xander Hovenstine (20:17.1) finished 58th. Freshman Royce Hinojosa (20:20.0) wasn't far behind in 61st, junior Shane Moore (20:42.3) crossed in 66th and sophomore James Chenowith (20:48.4) 67th, and freshman Michael Everett rounded out the squad's showing with a 77th-place 21:28.1.
"Their feet sank into the ground every time they took a step," recalled Walton. "The course was soft but the boys still ran well despite the conditions."
Nanaeto and Garcia, Jr., run at 9 a.m. Saturday at State, while a third Pine River Valley harrier, IHS freshman Avaleena Nanaeto, will hit the course at 12:20 p.m. in the Class 2A girls' compettion.
She placed 15th at the 2A-Region IV Championships Oct. 19 in Delta.
Nanaeto registered a team-best 21:44.55 in Confluence Park as the first-year Bobcats accumulated an adjusted 85 team points and finished ninth, closely trailing Hotchkiss (83) but bettering both Ouray (89) and Meeker (103). Oak Creek-based Soroco High earned the title with a score-3 low of 15 points, while Paonia (28), Rangely (32), Kremmling West Grand (40) and designated meet host Mancos (60) captured the remaining State berths.
Junior Brianna Henderson finished in 39th for Ignacio, clocking 23:43.89, and sophomore Jayden Brunson (24:05.06) earned 41st. Though sophomore regular Vanessa Gonzales was unavailable, junior Tatum Bebo stepped in-giving the 'Cats a potential tie-breaker if needed-and took 58th in 32:28.69.
On the girls' side at 3A-Region I, Bayfield senior Olivia Keitz led the Wolverines with a 24:42.7 and finished 55th overall. Freshman Eske Reidel (29:18.9) came in 93rd, senior Mylee Sanders (30:51.2) was 97th, and freshman Brylee Connell (31:07.8) finished 99th.
PSHS (43), Moffat County (53), Aspen (67) and Gunnison (88) each qualified as teams for State, with Basalt (134) a more distant fifth place-as compared to the Bayfield boys-out of 12 (the boys' race had 14 scoring).