Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern finished first, and second among nearly 1,000 cross country skiers from 22 countries who descended on Falls Creek, Australia, Sunday for the 30th staging of the Kangaroo Hoppet XC Ski Marathon.
The Hoppet, part of the prestigious Worldloppet Ski Federation of marathon events, is the largest annual snowsports event in the southern hemisphere and attracts elite and citizen skiers from around the world. Perfect weather and tracks greeted the skiers as they wound their way through the course from the Falls Creek Nordic Bowl across the Bogong High Plains.
“It was super fun to finally experience the Hoppet,” Diggins said. “There’s something different about pulling a race bib on and I was really grateful for the chance to practice all my race day things; timing of the warmup, fueling, and hydration, setting goals, and feeling nervous.”
Diggins won the women’s race 42k mass start women’s race with fellow American Peter Wolter winning the men’s 42k mass start, making it a US double. Diggins positioned herself well in the lead pack on the tough Paralyser climb and was able to get a break on Kern as the skiers descended from the Bogong High Plains.
“Mostly, my plan was to hang on to the pack and Jessie as long as possible, given it was a fairly gradual race with a decent amount of wind, so drafting made a huge difference,” Kern said. “I wasn’t able to hang on through the long climb early on, so I ended up skiing alone most of the race.”
“As Julia said, we were on the tails of the men’s pack in a really great draft, so we were having a fun time cruising through the first 10km together,” Diggins added. “My big goal of the day was to try out some aggressive fueling strategies for when we race 50km later in the World Cup season, so I went to the front at the start of the long climb to try and not let the pack splinter apart so I could keep racing with the boys. Peter decided to attack at that time though, so I ended up hanging on to the back by my fingertips and then working together with a smaller pack, which was super great practice for me. I was really happy with how I was able to practice taking more feeds during the race and get a chance to really work on my drafting and bridging from one group to the next. Kern was able to put a good break on Casey Wright (who finished third).”
“It is always fun to pull on a race bib,” Kern said. “Although we still have some time until the official race season, now is the time I like to start putting on a race bib for some harder efforts to remember what’s that like. It made me excited for the season to come!”
In the men’s event, a large pack skied together for 10k before Wolter put the foot down at the top of the course and was able to break the pack after 15k. Wright from New Zealand and Lars Young Vik from Australia battled for the minor placings before Wright was able to edge ahead of Vik coming into the finish.
Digging and Kern, along with U.S. Ski & Snowboard World Cup cross country coach Jason Cork, are spending three and a half weeks on snow in Australia training for the upcoming World Cup season which kicks off in November in Ruka, Finland. They will join the rest of the U.S. Cross Country Team for the final pre-season training camp in Park City for two weeks in October.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID restrictions, it was great to have the Hoppet back on the international stage. Race Director, Ben Derrick, paid tribute to all the volunteers that come together for the event. “We have over 100 volunteers involved in staging the event that are made up of local skiers and non-skiers alike. After a couple of years of forced cancellation, it was great to see the enthusiasm and passion that our community brings to the sport.”
The 30th staging of the Hoppet is an amazing achievement for all involved in the event. “The far-sighted and aspirational dreaming and planning from the Birkebeiner Nordic Ski Club in the late 80’s has really paid enormous dividends for the sport and the local community. It is a celebration of everyone who has been involved in the event”.
The Worldloppet series move on to New Zealand for the Merino Muster next week.