The Eastern Cup Series finally got started this season. After an early start to winter, the first major melt occurred on the eve of the first big race of the season. This caused some drama and speculation as to what would be skiable, but Craftsbury was confident that the labor and hours they had put into the snowpack would pay off, and boy did it ever! While many places were stripped bare of snow, Craftsbury’s preservation efforts were second to none, and they rebounded very nicely from the thaw. “There is no other place in the country that can pull off what they do here at Craftsbury” stated Bob Gray.
For day one Craftsbury had a 1.2km loop heavily reinforced with man-made snow. The heavy rains of Friday had tapered off about an hour before the start of qualifying. Pools of water had to be pumped out of the finish area, and I have no idea how the grooming was done. Skiers were amazed at how fast the snow was. The course started in the Upper Field and headed out Lemon’s to Six Corners, from there skiers, went down Moss’s and up Denis’s to Coaches Corner. Skiers then dropped into the Lower Field and finished the loop up Teaching Hill and a 100m flat to the line. For the qualifying rounds, the course was fairly homogenous fast granular snow with the exception of a patch of water on the beginning of the climb up Denis’s. This was easy to ski around with lanes on each side of it.
John Thompson and I represented NWVE in Day One of the Eastern Cup. John had gone to the clubs Franklin County Base at Magnan’s Custom Farm Service on Hudson St. and Scott helped him out with getting his skis prepped with fluoro’s and structure. They looked great by my inspection and John set out for his qualifier. John had a great ski placing 36th in the U20 division. Not bad considering the schools and clubs running their top contenders to preview the US National’s venue. Even Canada had a large contingent of racers attending. I was drawn in by the promise of a Master’s final coming hot off my Master’s wave victory last weekend. Qualifying went a little better, but I lost my composure at the top of the climb and scrambled to finish.
In the finals, some Master’s were more eager to compete than others. There is also a bit of learning that needs to be done for the population not accustomed to this format of racing. For the Women, CSU’s Alex Jospe was the only of four women to report to the start. While some had managed to get their numbers, there must have been some confusion as to what to do from there. Alex made the best of it taking a victory lap with the full support of the adoring CSU crowd. Six Men advanced to the Master’s Final, and again a reduced number made it to the start on schedule. Bruno Caron of Monteriski from Montreal, Frank Feist, and I were ready to throw it down. Frank chatted up Bruno with some friendly banter about the year he lived in Montreal, but when it came time to start, it was on. Frank and Bruno had a great race with each other leaving me in their dust. The temps had cooled significantly, and snow flurries had started. Some spots were starting to crust over while others remained granular and the waterhole remained liquid. I tried to stay in contact, but with Frank and Bruno attacking one another there was not much I could do but watch from a gap that slowly increased to about 10 seconds. At the finish, we congratulated each other and were happy with such a great race.
The EC Day Two Master’s wave drew in many competitors, and NWVE was well represented. The conditions solidified overnight with frigid temps. The North Race loop was used, and the start was changed from Mass to Individual Start. This was mostly due to the inability to set good tracks in the lower field. Tim Cowan arrived early and previewed the course pleased with what he found. A very firm base, some tilled granular and a dusting of fresh powder left on top. He was looking forward to the first race of the season.
The Women were first, and a few Master’s took to the field including NWVE’s Jessica Bolduc and Kasie Enman. CSU’s Alex Jospe returned to action, and Heather Lavoie of Stowe Nordic rounded out the Master’s wave. As the Women returned, it was clear that there was a lot of action on the course. It was a physical race with corners getting sheared off and some finishing a little bloody. Alex raced into the field besting the next Master by 3 minutes. Despite getting punched in the face resulting in a nasty gash under her eye, Kasie pushed through working with Jessica all the way to the finish. We would later learn the blow was self-inflicted at speed skiing down Kirby’s. Jessica finished unscathed and was eager to learn what Camille’s result was as their races overlapped. Heather Lavoie had a solid performance skiing in the stacked field. Each woman won their respective category in order going M1, M2, M3, and M4! Lots of Zak and Club points earned!
With the report from the women of things being fast, the men got underway. The schedule was condensed, and there were no breaks, making the day move quickly. This was appreciated, and everyone seemed to roll with it without issue. Craftsbury’s force of volunteers seemed to be able to keep up with everything producing quick results and podium ceremonies.
Chris Burnham got things going for the club. The EC races are super competitive and even with back to back sub-14-minute 5kms, Chris finished in 92nd place. Chris reported back to the club and made his way on course to cheer the Master’s seeded at the end of the start list. Frank Feist led things off followed by me. I stayed in touch with him for about a kilometer, but sensed a slowing feeling in my skis. It was not long before Rob Bradlee CSU and Luke Shullenberger started gaining spots in the race. They skied together for a couple of kilometers before Luke eventually dropped Rob. Eli Enman started in the middle of the Master’s field and skied his way through, catching everyone and putting over a minute on everyone. Tom Thurston was feeling a little under the weather with a cold, but it did not seem to influence his race performance or skiing intensity. He weaved through slower traffic up Screaming Mimi like they were standing still and continued on tearing up the course. He latched on to Eli for a bit matching his stride, but it did not take too long for Eli to power away. Tyler Magnan has been having an excellent season and that continued as he worked his way through the race field. His skiing was smooth and fast as he glided past the other racers. They tried to latch on, but could only match pace for a stride or two. Leigh Mallory was back in the game taking things lightly. As his race focus zeroed in, he found himself feeling great in the zone.
Unfortunately 5km into the race he was roused from his trance as he was in the finish zone. Leigh high tailed it back to the lap zone and continued racing in good spirits. He ended up retaking his spot in the race and finished with a strong result. Tim Cowan did his best to keep 15 and 30-second guy in sight, but being that they were Tyler and Eli, there was not much to see once they left the start. Tim did mix it up with Bow Nordic’s Christopher Naimie for a bit. Otherwise, he had a fairly clear course to work with on a day with some tricky skiing. Perry Bland was back in the Eastern Cup along with another veteran Bob Gray. These two were grateful to have each other to race with and enjoyed the skiing, the day and the conditions. While they were at the tail end of the field, and many people had moved on with their day, Bill Koch waited intently to cheer them as they climbed the final hill to finish the race.
The first Eastern Cup of the season was a great success. Athletes were ready to show their stuff and appreciated the elite competition. Craftsbury did an amazing job holding the conditions together not only on the race course but beyond. It is exceptional that they had moved so much snow in preparation for what happened when things were looking so good with a fantastic start to the winter. It was a lot of fun to have so many NWVE members come out and get the season started in good spirits. Having Ely, Tyler and Tom sweep the podium as well as Kasie and Jessica earning top spots in an Eastern Cup is a great start to the season!