The Frost Mountain Eastern Cup was held in conjunction with the Middlebury Carnival over the weekend. Racing for the Carnival got underway on Friday with a mass start Classic race and continued on Saturday with the interval start Skate race as day one of the Eastern Cup, and then the EC continued to Sunday with another Mass Start Classic Race. A few Master's got into the mix on Saturday, but the main event was the highly anticipated Citizen’s race on Sunday which served as the Grand Finale of an action-packed weekend.
Frost Mountain Nordic did an excellent job pulling things together for the weekend. Snow coverage was the leanest we have seen since the Alumni Race, but there was new snow on a very firm base. Critical points around the loop were reinforced with plenty of man-made snow, and things were in good shape. "Today was the best I think I have ever seen this course ski" stated Dartmouth Coach Brayton Osgood Friday evening. Friday was a warm day, and the snow was very tacky, giving the skiers a little resistance to work with on the challenging course. Things solidified that night with below freezing temps.
Skiers were greeted with some new snow on Saturday, and Friday's damp snow had frozen. The tracks were erased, and the course was freshly groomed for the skate race. The Middlebury Homologated course is composed of three loops which feature a gradual climb that gets steeper toward its end but tapers off before a more technical down-hill. The middle of the three loops is the most challenging in my opinion and is where most of the issues on the course (or off for those that go over the edge) occur. On the warm-up, it all seemed reasonably do-able, and I have raced this course many times but it is where I had my second shoulder mishap last year and that sort of thing sticks, especially with an occasional reminder now and then when a major storm system is on its way.
Saturday’s race attracted a few Club racers. Chris Burnham (NWVE) was the first racer for the club to start. He got out and got right down to racing. I had a good draw in my grouping but was quite timid once on course. Mansfield’s David Johnston was ready to show some much younger skiers how it is done. Peter Rayton (Berkshire Trails) decided to give David a little company in the M8 division. For the second week in a row, this has been the biggest age group category. A little further back Jay Davis (Ford Sayre) was underway and making up ground as well. Rounding out the master’s in the start list was Jake Hollenbach (NWVE). In a comedy of errors, John Thompson got to the line. After missing registration, he got a second chance with the DOR reg. He signed up but fell hard during warm-up. As he entered the corral, his pole tip broke off, but he persevered and continued as best he could given the variables. As the race progressed, it became apparent that the new snow did not have good adhesion to the ice base in some tricky spots. Everything was white, so it was difficult to see where the slick spots were, however, those with experience know where the trouble spots are. The spots seemed to be more of a challenge for those who have to report to work on Monday as the collegians raced to make up ground on the team with the home course advantage. As Jake put it “if I had only skied down the hill three minutes faster I would have been in the running.” Jake looked great when he went by me. I was worried that David and Jay would go by me too, but I was able to hold them off barely. Chris held his own in the field, noting that each year he knows fewer and fewer of the racers from his Colby days. Jay did catch David, and the two battled it out to the finish. Peter also held is own in challenging conditions.. For all John's misfortune, he still turned out a good result. Sometimes having a significant disadvantage keeps you on your toes a little better during the event.
I think skiers were happy to have day one over with and were looking forward to day two. Questions swirled around what it would be like as a deep freeze was to occur overnight.
Things were touched up nicely overnight, and the tracks were reset for the final day of competition this weekend. The course remained the same. With more time below freezing the snow adhered to the base a little better. There were still some surprises on course with a couple of icy patches here and there, but it was fairly minimal compared to Saturday.
The first fields had it the hardest as nothing was skied in. As the day progressed the many passes by many racers ground up the solid course. For the men's and citizens race the days bright sunshine also helped soften things up a bit. Having been there the whole day I came full circle on the wax. When I arrived the test skis were kicking beautifully, but they were slow until the wax sheared off on the first downhill. Back to the waxing table I went and tried some other stuff. It was still a little slow, so I added a shell wax and thought it was good. Then before the men's start, my wax was slick. We tested during the Men's race, and Tyler came back stating the Rode Multi-grade Violet was the fastest. That's what I picked Tuesday! Actually, I called for stick binder, and we went with Klister binder, a little blue klister covered. We had a little luck when Sam Evans Brown was looking for some wax. In exchange for using ours, he would give us a report. I offered him some of the World Cup Service Wax, he just looked at it and said, well every wax box has to have a couple you never use. He took some Multi-Grade, covered his klister and took off for the start of the race. Moving from 85th to the top 15 was all we needed for convincing. Sam had a great race and was kicking with the best of them. Chris had also returned to action. Upon reports from the women, he went with straight Rex Blue klister. This got the job done but may not have been the greatest thing out there.
After the men finished there was a brief awards ceremony, and then all the attention was turned to the citizen's race. Chris got back on the line going for the triple crown. He took the win in that feat easily as no one contested him in doing all three races. NWVE had a great showing in the field that drew 60 racers. An excellent draw for a Citizen’s race at the EC! Mansfield, CSU and Frost Nordic also fielded several skiers. Having spent the weekend watching the best racing in the country, it was time for these bystanders to test their might on the same course the Big-Dogs had just skied. It is a really cool thing to be able to do. More importantly, the Citizens Race bridged that Youth/Master gap where those not quite confident enough to enter in the Open Race can have a competitive contest full of valuable learning experiences.
Skiers lined up, and for the most part, self-seeding was good. There were a couple of overconfident BKL skiers who thought that all the old people must be slow, but you will have that. Dhyan Nirmegh (NWVE) was a little miffed with teammate Sarah Pribram re-seeded him behind Dublin’s Kathy Maddock. Not because he disagreed with the situation, but on the principle that he got there on time and claimed the spot and therefore it was his. The issue was quickly settled, and objectively, the correct call was made.
While most of the crowds that had cheered the open races had entered this race, there were still many people on the course who reciprocated the appreciation and acknowledgment to those that put in a lot of thankless hours making these events a positive experience for all the athletes. I hope that the reciprocity catches on because it takes a lot of resources to support an EC Racer. The citizen's race let them experience the excitement of rooting for their mentors and encouraging them from an empowering perspective. There is a lot of focus on points, rankings, wax, strategy, tactics and getting any advantage you can, but at the end of the day, the Citizens Race showed what it is all about.
That is not to say that the citizens were a refined, cordial group with astute finesse. Quite the contrary: nothing to hide, nothing to prove this field got underway “warts and all.” It is this kind of transparency that is key to growing the base and keeping our sport healthy. As we took off, most experienced skiers found their niche and settled in. The young hotshots may have been caught off guard with how competitive the Master’s are. Several of the BKL skiers were cooked by the top of the first hill and one resort to the slightly faster skate technique. Our older motors do not turn over high RPM's so we are reasonably safe from redlining and can sustain an effort for a longer duration. Most of the aggressive racing was completed by the end of the first loop on the course. Unfortunately, Rob Bradlee (CSU) was taken out on the first downhill where the tracks had been washed out on a high-speed turn by the earlier fields. Rob got up and continued racing but did not bounce back from the crash preferring to ski with more familiar faces.
The next climb on the middle loop of the course separated things further. By this point, the leaders had broken away, and the rest of the field strung out making space for people to race. SLU Coach Kyle Curry was setting the pace. NWVE’s Chris Burnham, Thomas Clayton, and Tyler Magnan assembled an elite pack along with Middlebury’s Andrew Gardiner. Andrew seemed to have appeared from the trees ready to race on his home course. Adam Terko (MNC) lost contact early and spent the race skiing alone as did NWVE's Eric Darling. At the front of the main field, Ed Hamilton (NWVE) and Kathy Maddock (Dublin) took control. On the second climb Lukas Adamowicz (MNC), Stephen Lake (CSU) and I tried to bridge. We yo-yo’d for a bit as I was able to crest the climbs first, and then “block” for Ed on the downhills holding back Stephen, Lukas, as well as CSU’s Triple Threat of Steven Moreau, Eli Gallaudet, and Bob Burnham. Dhyan Nirmegh NWVE skied with CSU’s Rob Bradlee and Alex Jospe, and Annavitte Rand (Team Rand) in a more controlled pack after the crashes earlier in the race.
In the next pack, Rick Kelley, Sarah Pribram and Jon Miller (NWVE) found themselves with another trio of CSU Masters.. Barry Kitch, Pat Giersch, and Benjamin Scirica skied as if they do this every Tuesday or something. In the middle of the mix was MNC’s Sara Falconer who remained calm as a sea of blue uniforms swirled around her. Brendan Barden’s (NWVE) middle school teacher Kathy Kjelleren (NWVE) was happy to see him making a comeback this season after a couple of years off. Brendan was moving up after taking a little time to recover from the Brodhead Challenge a couple of weeks ago. Tim Cowan (NWVE) primarily trains at Rikert and was looking forward to a home course advantage. He hung in with Gordon Scannell (Schussverein) and Sue Lachance (Unattached) for the first lap. Perry Bland has been on the move lately. He has another one of those engines that just keeps on going. He was not the fastest off the line but avoided a lot of commotion and steadily moved up in the field.
Steve Messier (MNC) chose Sunday’s race to be one of the few weekend contests he enters. This was his type of course given all the kilometers he puts on skiing the Notch Road and alpine slopes. However, the mass start classic race was not his favorite format and he only “went for a ski with a bib on.” Carrie Nourjian (Stowe Nordic) was ready for the race. She and Micheal Coleman (GMBC) worked together on the up-hills to drop Christopher Naimie (Bow Nordic). MNC teammates Ellie Bouffard and Karen Alence welcomed Ann Bushy (Unattached) to ski with them for the 10km.
As a majority of the field aimed for the lap zone, a few were aiming for the 5km finish. The 5km winner, Owen Jones (Craftsbury) was closing on me in hopes of a rematch from the season Opener Masters/BKL Sprints. He was denied as he picked a fight with a guy who is not afraid to throw in a sprint in the middle of the race. Joy Grossman (Unattached) has had a tough go at racing this season, picking some of the hardest courses to ski. She had some luck at Rikert, winning the Masters Podium 5k sprint. Erin Lake (CSU) took silver, and Oliver Weiss (Unattached) grabbed the Bronze. Katy Hill (Unattached) and Ann Kitch (CSU) were not far behind.
Racing remained heated on the second lap. Kyle Curry broke away from the chase group, but Chris, Tyler, Andrew, and Thomas all stayed together. Chris finally got a gap on the last downhill and held it to the finish taking second. Tyler, Andrew, and Thomas had a three-way sprint with Tyler working super hard to take third. Andrew edged Thomas by a second. Adam skied it in alone as did Eric. The front of the main field had some changes on the second lap.. Lukas and Stephen grew wise to my fear on the downhills and made sure to be at the front on the second lap. They advanced and passed Ed and Kathy. Kathy stayed in contact with them to the finish. Ed faded a little on the final climb, and I was able to overtake him as I tried to reel in Lukas, Stephen, and Kathy. Ed was able to close it back up on the final downhill, however, his skis were not kicking as good as mine and it is an uphill finish. The CSU triple threat stayed together to the finish but were not able to connect with the front of the pack as the dynamics there changed. Annavitte skied away from Alex and Robert on the last part of the course taking the silver for women in the 10k race. Nirmegh was in the zone as he tried to overtake Robert on the final climb. He could not recollect where Robert had passed him earlier in the race..
Rick Kelley skied off the front of his group while the race wound down. Sara Falconer looked strong as she skied up the final climb and sprinted to the finish. Sarah Pribram also looked great as she dropped two CSU skiers Barry and Benjamin in the last meters of the race. Perhaps it was the Wednesday Night Worlds Mentality of cut-throat racing followed by a social, gourmet potluck that gave her the advantage. (Has anyone been bringing Cheetos this year?) Jon Miller dragged Brendan to the race. Both were happy to have competed. Jon had the advantage this week, but Brendan was up on the results page too. Perry locked in on Tim Cowan and tried to put as much distance on him on the final climb. Once Tim crested the hill he started closing. They crossed the line together, but Perry got it by a toe! Carrie Nourjian outskied the cyclists Micheal Coleman and Christopher Naimie on the second lap meanwhile Ann, Ellie and Karen rounded out the field not far behind.
It was an exciting race start to finish. The Citizens certainly lived up to the Eastern Cup Spirit exceeding many expectations. Frost provided a great event and the Citizen’s delivered. Even the Heaven’s did their part with the warm sun softening a few of the treacherous spots for those that favor a little wisdom over straight up crazy speed. Many thanks to all who organized and worked overtime on a long weekend to pull this race off. Congratulations to all who participated and a special thank you to those who stuck around, cheering and making us feel like stars! The teams looked great out there!