By Luka Karnickis
I’ve been skiing at Tahoe Cross-Country ever since I could walk. I used to ski around with my parents before joining TXC’s youth program, Strider Gliders. I also skied on my own time and was a part of the biathlon team.
When Covid struck, everyone was stuck at home until the end of the school year. That’s when I first found my true passion for skiing. That summer, I joined the devo team, at the time coached by now Olympian JC Schoonmaker. I wasn’t exactly the most athletic kid, but I was very motivated to improve and I learned new skills like roller skiing. As the year progressed, I got better at running, skiing, and biking, but then JC had to leave to go to college. JC had been amazing, and we didn’t have a substitute for him until Casey Jowers stepped up. His daughter, Alice, is one of my teammates. He had trained with us only a couple of times in the summer, but he jumped in to keep our drive for Nordic skiing alive. Practices were so fun when we roller skied — Casey and other parents arranged popsicle stops.
The Western States Youth Junior Nationals in Jackson Hole was the first event we traveled to as a team. We also had another coach from Far West join us — Brandon Herhusky, but I’ll just call him Dingo since that was his nickname. Dingo brought a friend named Ryland Belisle, and both of them helped us as wax techs. I competed in the classic and skate races, each 2 kilometers long. I got third place in the classic race, which I was very surprised about, and then first in the skate race. This was the first time I experienced that feeling of pride and happiness, which I would enjoy much more of in the future.
The following year, a new coach, Quinn Lehmkuhl, a former Strider Glider who skied for UC Boulder, joined and the team grew. We raced more in local races, and also traveled to the Intermountain Youth Championships with Quinn; the Western Club Championships with Julien Bordes, a Strider Glider alum who skied for Alaska Pacific University, one of the primary cross-country ski programs in the country; and Casey filled in for end-of-the-year racing.
After the 2021/22 season, Julien finished college and came back to coach us full-time alongside Quinn. The two were also working on developing a new program, a competition team for TXC Nordic. This is when everything became more serious, even though we still had fun. We started training more often, around six times a week, so we could travel to more races and qualify for more events. We did a lot of races that year — there was one almost every week, and I enjoyed all of them.
This past season we all set our own goals, and mine was to make it to the Junior National Cross Country Ski Championships. At that time, I was a U14, and only U16s and up can participate in junior nationals, unless one did well enough to race up an age group. As the winter came, I felt ready to qualify for junior nationals through the Far West Junior National qualifying races. There weren’t any male U16s, and at the end of February, I learned that I had qualified even though I was a U14, which is fairly uncommon.
Julien and Quinn had us on a peaking plan for junior nationals, making sure that we would be prepared and as fast as possible. When the event arrived, I was more ready than ever. I was able to stay with the whole Far West team, and the team environment was amazing. I couldn’t stop laughing, and Quinn, Julien, and all of the other coaches made the atmosphere super positive.
There were three races at junior nationals: classic distance, skate sprint, and a skate mass start. In the classic distance and skate sprint, I came in 56th and 52nd. Even though I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, our whole team was supportive. For the last race, I was ready. I had learned how to ski in a group, thanks to my coaches, and I felt that I would do well in this race. I felt really good and I passed a ton of people. In the end, I claimed 31st place, which is a big jump from an average of 54th in the previous two races.
Quinn and Julien had been amazing coaches. They would let us have fun even on the hard days, and we would get work done when we needed to. We always made sure to get the training in no matter what, and didn’t overtrain or injure ourselves.
This year, I’m looking to make top 10 at junior nationals. We’ve been training even more, and I feel prepared. My experience on the Tahoe XC Nordic team has been more than perfect. I’ve been able to have fun while still training hard, and I’ve also been lucky enough to have amazing teammates who cheer each other on, help each other through hard times, and create amazing and strong bonds for great memories.
~ Luka Karnickis is a U16 on the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Education Association competitive team. He started skiing with the TXC Strider Gliders program, and progressed to ski at the 2023 Cross Country Skiing Junior Nationals for the Far West region in Fairbanks, Alaska. He enjoys skiing, biking, and running. This upcoming season he hopes to qualify for the 2024 junior nationals and place in the top 10 in his age group.