With the season coming to an end a record crowd showed up for Craftsbury’s annual rite of spring, The Supertour Finale & Spring Fling! Cars filled the lots and lined the road on what was one of those magical ski days where spirits were high, and you realize how wonderful the New England skiing scene is. It was a special year as history has been made and those that achieved it, as well as those who contributed in its making, were all on hand in a celebratory mood. These are not your typical Olympic Medalists that have a stump speech and tour, they are active in sharing their experience, accessible to the youth, even letting them hold the hardware, and then they demonstrate their talents in front of the home crowd! Heck, there was nothing really stopping you from getting on the line to see how you fair against them. Where else do you get an opportunity like this! Watching the super tour was quite a primer for the Spring Fling. I even heard there were over 100 DOR registrations.
The Supertour Loop was Craftsbury’s new grueling 5km race loop featuring a fast start and little recovery. The men raced three laps, and women raced two. Comments on how effortless they made it look were common at the beginning of the race, as well as how fast the split time was. Many locals joined in with the elite making for some fun cheering for faces you may have recently encountered in a local race. NWVE's Chris Burnham was among them, wearing the blue threads. His skis were tired from season’s of racing, and the course was exhausting. He finished in good spirits having some company for a sprint for the coveted 100th place. Not his best result of the season, but anyone who entered this race should be admired.
The crowd swelled for the women’s event, drawing three times as many as the men to see the new heroes of Nordic Skiing. Announcer Peter Graves kicked it up a notch feeding the energy of the crowd and having one of the races of his dreams to call. The US Women have been working incredibly hard and seem to be melding well as a team. They delivered on what they have been doing on the international scene giving everybody what they came to see. This was done in an appreciative fashion in a manner that shows awareness of their role in growing the sport. They were positive role models for the next generation of skiers. They warmed up and conversed with the public like everyone else and competed in a style that shows they want it. No like they deserve it. The win was earned, and the race brought out the excitement of Nordic Skiing for all to see.
After the podiums for the Supertour events, it was time for the Spring Fling. I believe it was a record number for this race and one of the largest mass starts of the season. Many people were present that I never saw during the day. One of the questions was to add structure or not. During the earlier races, there was overcast, and temps were cool. The snow was not transforming, and it seemed like things would continue. However, just before the race, the clouds cleared and it warmed up rapidly. It was a perfect day for a ski!
Racers seeded themselves and after some instructions and watching the countdown clock they were off. Skiers got on course in a relatively orderly fashion for the size of the field and skate discipline. Conditions were fast. Skiers on an emotional high after watching the pros attacked the course emulating the mastery of sport they had just witnessed. The Spring Fling Loop was more forgiving taking skiers around Duck Pond, then out to Sam’s via Eleanor’s, on to Ruthies and back to the stadium on Wilbur’s. It was much easier than the Supertour course and used Craftsbury’s most popular trails that combine perfect skiing with sweeping vista’s. A picturesque challenge that always leaves you feeling like you could ski like this forever!
A group of five quickly distinguished themselves from the rest of the field with fast skis. NWVE’s Eli Enman was among this group along with Mansfield’s Adam Terko and Concord’s Sam Evans-Brown. This group stayed organized and aggressive for a majority of the race and outpaced those who could only watch them slowly pull out of sight. Leading the chase group was Tom Thurston and Stowe's Neal Graves. They towed a large group that included many of our favorite competitors from around the region. Among those working in this pack was Eric Darling, Sproule Love (Manhattan), Philip Lawson (Craftsbury), Ben Taska and Thomas Clayton. This group of talented skiers kept things moving, and the long-standing rivalries played out among the seasoned skiers. Only a short distance back was the group I have been competitive with. David Herr skied through this group drawing a few out to join him as he tried to reel in the first chase group before the end of the race. Dakota Amblo (Mansfield), founding Northwest Vermont Member Lenny Amblo (Mansfield), were able to pull away from Bethel Outing’s Kirk Siegel and SLU’s Ethan Townsend in the final climb to the finish. CSU’s Alexandra Jospe was in the mix with this group eventually taking the women's overall. Peter Gurney connected with Dennis Page (Nansen) and Stephen Lake CSU for what was sure to be an exciting race of technique, vs. determination, vs. endurance. They are all very strong skiers that never give up. Helping to keep things civil among these hammerheads was the women's runner-up Jessica Marion. This is also where they 12km skiers started having a big effect on the race. When the fields are together for the first lap the pace lines can be quite large, but when the half distance racers start pulling off, the reorganization effort does not always go smoothly, and those hanging onto the field by a thread are sometimes left behind. Robert Bradlee CSU stealthily took the Grand Master's leaders jersey from Leigh skiing among these groups and also held off his teammate Bob Burnham who has had a great comeback this season. Then, one of the more interesting intersections of skiing was taking place. Former Olympian Bob Gray Putney was in a race against the next generation of Caldwell. Bob graciously passed the torch to his teammate, Gunnar Caldwell of Putney. It was a good sight pulling into the parking lot and seeing the longtime friends Bill Koch and Bob Gray reminiscing and looking happy about the conditions. Hanging in with the Putney Crew in the 12km was Leigh Mallory and Mansfield’s Jim Fredericks. Another promising skier among the crossroads section of the race was Camille Bolduc going the distance for 25km. She skied with Stephen Wright, Patrick Cafferky and overtook Tyler Magnan. She was psyched to get a W over the Alumni Race Champion! Jason Baer (Kenda Raleigh) decided to get a race in this season and picked the best one of the year! He was closing in on Tyler with a fellow cyclist Patrick Ruane (Sunapee Racing) who was celebrating his anniversary. Kathy Kjelleren found herself in the middle of an unlikely dogfight. The Big Dog Tim Cowan (~ 6'6" over 2 bills) had vowed to hold of Little Dog Sarah Glueck (~4'5" 0.8 bills) (Ford Sayre) for another year. Tim has put in much training this year and is noticeably moving up the results page. But so has Sarah. In a rematch of last year, Tim held off Sarah by a narrow margin. With the grudge-match being waged between Sarah and Tim, as an act of mercy, Kathy separated the two. We will give Tim some time to analyze the result trajectories, locate a coach as credentialed as Dorcas Wonsavage and take an official statement for next season at the Annual NWVE Banquet. Jen Carlson, Sarah Pribram and Jonathan Miller made a nice NWVE pack. The traded places throughout the race with Jon McGill (Peru), Daniel Rodd, and Jon Santor (Mansfield). A little further back Jud Hartman and Jonathan Rodd had a good race going trying to hold of a game of cat and mouse between Todd Taska and Jessica Bolduc. One of these years Todd and Jud will join the team. Perhaps they are waiting for one of Janet's famous ham & cheese sandwiches. Spike Clayton and John Witmer hung in with this group for a lap as well. They had company with Mansfield’s Terrance Cuneo who underestimated the finish stretch and bonked a little before being drawn into a sprint with a skier swinging one pole. After a little jibba-jabba Terrance was engaged in a sprint only to find out his opponent was teasing as he took the turn for the second lap. Perry Bland improved on his result from last year. His skis were not the fastest out there, but he was moving along with a good crowd. He overtook several on the long climb up Sam’s and held them off all the way to the line. History repeated itself for me. A shoulder fracture left me down one arm in the race for the second year in a row. I skied among many familiar people who sensed some dejavu. If you want some attention ski a race with one arm. If you want a lot of attention do it again the following year. As I closed in on the finish, I saw Bow Nordic's Christoper Namie. Last year he was a victim as I tried to chase down Brendan Barden in the final kilometers of the race. Chris's quads blew-up on the steep climbs back to the center. This year's loop was more forgiving, Chris was tired but intact. Coming of the downhill into the lower stadium I went into a fast V2 alternate passing him before teaching hill. The move caught the attention of Sverre Caldwell exclaiming “hey what the…go Damian!” I sprinted up the hill with a V1 and thought that I had put Chris away. Having sprinted against each other thousands of times in the Claremont Sprint Races we knew each other’s weaknesses, Chris is a true sprinter, I am more of power endurance type. I miscalculated. At the top of the hill Chris cranked it up, I could hear him coming and there was nothing I could do about it. Always the gentleman, Chris only reminded me that he is the man, opting to let up at the line so that we could tie! John Ogden expressed his disappointment in me losing the sprint for 60th place, thinking I still had more in the arm. After the dust settled Brad Ketterling, who shepherded me through the start for the second year in a row cruised in. Brad was psyched for the conditions, but realized he should have put in a little more volume over the season toward the end of the race. Wax mastery is also on his list of things to do.
This year’s Spring Fling has to be at the top of many people’s lists of perfect races. So much came together for the day as a celebration of cross-country skiing. Skiers of all abilities had much to be thankful for with such an amazing experience. There is nothing like watching something so inspiring and then going out and seeing what you have! I know many are already thinking about next year while several others had a relay on their mind.