For Brian Abery, coach of the Nordic skiing teams from Apple Valley, Eastview, Eagan and Rosemount, the weather on Dec. 9 brought both a benediction and busy work.
Between 10 and 16 inches of snow fell in parts of the metro area that Sunday, starting the Nordic season anew after several weeks of roller skiing on dry roads or running on brown grass. But Abery did not have time to revel in meteorological delight.
"I was grooming the trail at Valleywood Golf Course from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. while the snow was still falling," Abery said. "I'd like a 3-inch snowfall every few days instead of a big dump."
But knowing his kids are eager to get on snow, Abery will take it however it comes.
If Dec. 9 was Nordic skiers' day to rejoice, Jan. 12 is party time. That's the date of the Mesabi East Invite in Biwabik, the nation's largest high school race. The event takes place at Giants Ridge, which is also the site of February's state meet.
About 1,300 skiers from 85 to 90 schools in Minnesota and nearby states are expected to compete in boys' and girls' races at the meet.
"For most of the top kids, this is the one time to really see where they stand against the state and surrounding areas," Abery said. "In that way, it's more difficult than the state meet."
Two of Abery's top skiers, Eagan's Sonja Hedblom and Nick Acton, are favorites to be near the top at the Mesabi East Invite. Burnsville's Vivian Hett and Bloomington Jefferson's Zak Ketterson should be in the mix as well.
Skiers must choose to compete in either freestyle or classic. Abery said some skiers communicate via Facebook or Twitter to find out who is planning to sign up for which event.
Bloomington Jefferson coach Jack Collis said while his program lacks the depth to challenge as a team, the Mesabi East Invite gives top skiers such as Ketterson "a chance to preview the course and measure themselves."
Count Irondale coach Chris Torvi among those who are getting as much out of Giants Ridge as possible. The Knights used the trails throughout a three-day training trip in late December.
The experience is helping top boys' skiers Bjorn Adelsman, Tyler Gilbert, Patrick Hennessey, Nate Rhode and up-and-coming freshman Joey Jankowski find their groove. On the girls' side, standouts Mary Heinks, Katie Peterson, Sarah Tokos and Mattie Watts are likewise getting valuable time on the trails before returning in January with the rest of the circus.
"The Mesabi East Invite is the equivalent of the state meet in that there is a lot of excitement," Abery said.
DAVID LA VAQUEalpine
Minnetonka junior Erin Olejnik gradually has been making the trek to the top of the hill among the state's elite girls' alpine skiers. She hopes to reach the peak in February.
Olejnik is among the favorites to win two of the state's largest alpine skiing regular-season events that take place on back-to-back weekends in the middle of the month. The Buck Hill Invitational will be Jan. 11, while the Welch Village Invitational will take place a week later Jan. 18.
Olejnik finished fourth in the state meet a year ago at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. She finisheed in ninth place as a freshman. The state meet will be Feb. 13.
"I've been really proud of how I have done at the state meets," Olejnik said. "I hope to improve again this year. I would like to get on the podium."
Eden Prairie senior Jack Post is the defending boys' alpine skiing state champion. He finished the event as the runner-up, but was declared the champion at a later date due to the disqualification of Bjorn Halvorson, who competed as a junior last season for Minnehaha Academy.
"My goal is to win state, keep moving forward," Post said. "I want to improve every day I ski. I strive to get better."
His sights are set on winning a state championship outright. He plans on using the Buck Hill Invitational as a tuneup for his long range goal.
"Now that it's my last year, I want to go out with a bang," Post said. "There's less pressure on me now because I've already accomplished my goal of winning the state meet."
Two brother-sister combinations -- the Dambergs of Mounds View and Andersons of Eagan -- will try to make their mark at the Buck Hill meet.
Juliana Damberg, a freshman, was 14th in the state as an eighth-grader. Her older brother, Nik, was recently the runner-up at the Wild Mountain Invitational. He is a junior.
"Nik helps me out a lot more than I help him out," Juliana said. "He's a much more experienced skier."
The Andersons, freshman Tommy and junior Sally, competed at the state meet in 2012. They both finished in the Top 25.