New England’s Master Skiers converged at the Gunstock Nordic Center for the Zak Attack today. The annual freestyle race was held in great conditions on a nearly complete race loop. We were not limited to a shortened man-made snow loop, but utilized some great natural stuff reinforced with man-made in key areas. The trail keepers at Gunstock had things in superb shape for the race and even the cooldown was race-ski-worthy. Participants were very pleased with the course, conditions and competition!
The weather cooperated with a gradual overnight warm-up bringing temps into the low thirties. Skies remained overcast for the race, and a very light mixed precipitation fell for about a half hour during competition. The course was groomed well with at least 2 lanes throughout, plus one set of classic tracks. The snow was mostly natural and packed down/glazed as the event progressed, improving speed. The course held up great thanks to the addition of man-made snow on the tight turns and in the sun-exposed sections. The loop was very close to the advertised 4km making the race full distance! Skiers started in the stadium and dropped onto Dryfire as they exited. They then connected with Cobble for a rolling loop around the core of the center until turning onto Longbow eliminating the treacherous turn onto Crossbow. Once on Longbow skiers made their way to Quiver back to the stadium for the lap/finish skipping the Broadhead section of trail and the 180 off camber turn into the stadium.
Skiers were seeded alphabetically. For both the Men and Women it was Barden followed by Bolduc to get things started. This was definitely a bold risk taken by the director to have the top of the order in both races stacked with this kind of intimidation. Skiers mingled, warmed-up, and were ready for the 15-second interval start. The announcer counted down the minutes to the race and all of the sudden we were on course. Brendan Barden led the way up Dryfire, but I started on a mission. Having participated in a few sprints and watching the US Nationals, I was very pumped-up at the beginning of the race. It did not take too long to be reminded of my 3.5hr ski on Thursday as my heart rate plateaued, and my muscles fatigued. It began to look like I was only going to be able to Zak Attack one racer. Brendan pressed on, and when all the results were sorted, his back and forth battle on the results page was not in his favor. Bow Nordic’s Chris Naimie edged him by one place. On a positive note, even with a recent ankle sprain, Brendan was ahead of Mt. Washington’s Freeman. At around the 3km mark, I encountered a wrong way skier getting spooked that there may have been more following him and was caught by racers 4 and 5, Thomas Clayton and Cameron Cogburn (CSU). The wrong-way skier turned around and joined me for the rest of the race. I was happy he got back in it as we were fairly evenly matched. I did not encounter any other racers coming at me.
The Confession of a Wrong-Way Skier:
I am a Gunstock regular and a devout acolyte of Nina, the coach there. Nina is always chiding me for my absent mindedness (it could be that I’ve left the iron on in the wax room more than once) and today I paid a heavy price for my absent mindedness. Coming out of the gate, I forgot the route I’d warmed up on and instead swerved right—and off course- less than 50 yards from the start line. Like a dog trotting out onto his favorite walking route, I skied up my Quiver, a trail I’ve skied a thousand times, not thinking, just plunging forward through the chute created by the trailside barriers. Eerily, there were no spectators, no sounds aside from my own skis and poles on the snow. I was alone on my journey. When I got to the bottom of Cobble, there was a guy there tasked with raking the snow. He looked away from me, not wanting to make eye contact, and I was starting to sense that I was doing something very wrong—perhaps even shameful. I climbed up the hill anyway (at this point, what else was I going to do?), and when I saw you, then the next two I figured, “Well, I could still actually race, even if it’s not going to count.” I immediately turned around and began chasing you down the hill…. Bill Donahue
As the loop ended, there was a couple of hairpin turns, and you could see who was coming up on you. It was easy to tell Jake Hollenbach was closing especially when he gave a friendly cheer to me. Jake and Neal Graves came by around 6km cruising along at a fast clip. They were very smooth up the only loose section snow on the course and easily dropped me. Jake and Neal would stick together for most of the race until the same spot on the next lap when Neal pulled to the side to let Jake by in the act of surrender. Jake continued, putting another 15 seconds on Neal in the final kilometer to take a decisive overall victory. Eventually with a kilometer to go, I bagged my second Zak Attack (3rd if you count that it took me 10km to recover from my start), dropping the wrong-way skier. Reid Greenberg (EABC) had a great race against CSU’s Eli Gallaudet with both of them staying within sight of each other for the whole race. This type of contact helps you stay focused, producing an improved result. The Greenberg’s had a stellar day with Tabor taking the overall in the Junior Race. Tyler Magnan, coming off a big win at the NWVE Citizens Alumni Race last week hoped for a repeat at the Zak Attack to help solidify his overall lead in the Zak Standings. He skied through several racers in the field to earn the second NWVE Podium of the day! Tyler was glad he made the trip and felt better after the race than he did before. Nansen Ski Club’s Dennis Page was in good form sporting a sick Mutton Chop Beard redolent of the late Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead for his debut in this year’s club series. Speaking of rock stars, notably absent was the Trent Reznor of Nordic Skiing, Steve Crafts (MNC). Steve loves this race but more importantly, while watching The Defiant Ones, a documentary about music producer Jimmy Iovine, every time Trent spoke all I could think was “man that’s totally Steve Crafts.” See for yourself, you will agree. Getting back to the race. Michael Millar (MNC) filled in for Steve and rocked it making the podium for M1s. John Thompson continues to enjoy club racing. Today was the longest skate race he has ever competed in and won the U20 division. He is much more used to the 5km distance and felt his endurance was lacking but retaining that 5km speed will serve any skier well over the long run. Luke Shullenberger was a late entrant yet cranked out a 6th place overall finish skiing through the field from the back of the start order. Luke’s result should shake up the top 5 in the Zak Cup. Bryce Wing was Ford Sayre’s only racer. He looked good throughout the race and improved on his EC result earlier in the season. He was eager to report back to the club.
As the Men’s race wrapped up, the Women got underway at 10:45. As stated earlier it was Barden and Bolduc starting things out for the field except for this time it was Hannah and Jessica. The field was smaller and remarkably friendly! As the skiers looped through it was noted how polite they were to each other. Jessica and Hannah were happy with their course preview and were looking forward to the race. The small field and niceties did not diminish the race nerves as Susan Garneau (Unattached) tried to get a jump on things by skipping a spot in the start order. Realizing her mistake, she stated, “I’m so nervous I forgot how to count.” Jessica and Hannah were passed by the race leaders, but not without incident. Sara Graves (Stowe Nordic) took herself out trying to pass on an uphill. She recovered quickly and made up the lost ground taking second overall. Catherine Stow (GNA) had an outstanding performance on her home course taking the overall win as a U16. Amy Gunn (Black Water Nordic Ski Club) looked great on course. She had watched the men on one of the technical turns and was impressed with the different approaches. Especially John Thompson's alpine turn. Amy came to the same spot among traffic and worked her way through flawlessly. Jessica and Amy conceded the race to each other as they checked the results only to find out they were both wrong in a tie! Vanessa Genakos (GNA) was the final racer to start but worked her way through the field to third overall for another Gunstock podium! Christine Pasterczyk represented CSU as their lone entrant in the Women’s race by winning the M5 category.
The alphabetical seeding certainly made for some exciting racing! After the race, participants congregated in the T. Gary Allen Clubhouse for a delicious home-cooked post-race feed. Stories were exchanged as racers caught up on all the things that happened during the offseason. We poured over the results, and a spirited awards ceremony on the porch capped the event! People took their time departing, hesitant to leave such a fun event, and awesome conditions. Thank you to all made this race happen. Your hard work was noticed and greatly appreciated giving us all a treat today!