Well over 100 skiers converged on Bethel, Maine for the Annual Flying Moose Classic. This family-oriented event has been a Club Series favorite for much over a decade, attracting racers of all ages and abilities. This year's edition was no different. Participants were treated to a little slice of paradise on a Bluebird ski day!
The previous two days of tumultuous weather gave way to a bright sunny day. Before the storm moved out, it left several inches of new snow. The Bethel Inn had a firm base before the storm, but what it left much-improved things. As we drove eastward, it was easy to tell that the big snow event was to the west, and we were driving into areas that saw a lot more rain. There was significant snow the whole way, but we were moving from feet of snow to inches.
We arrived in Bethel with little time to spare but saw the familiar scene of skiers going about preparations for a classic race. One of the defining elements of the Flying Moose is that there is always a large contingent of high school racers competing in the 10km. It is fun to see the coaches reining in a distracted young waxer, as well as, the egos of many who have never raced against such "old" people. The spectrum of skiing is broad, and while the youth are on a trajectory upward, many do not know how high the arc can go. While they may be right that the masters are on a downward trajectory, they are not prepared for whooping that the masters are about to issue to them in a race twice the distance. They need to look past the overhanging bellies, tight race-suits, and gray hair to see the precision to which we execute our waxing, warm-ups and as Jim Fredericks (MNC) once told me when I was their age, "elimination of all the variables to gain any advantage our experience, and income can afford us.”
The conditions were superb, as we have come to expect in Bethel. The course had been groomed at the optimal time after all the rain and snow, and a soft powder track had been set. It was cold with a strong, steady wind that was a significant factor in the race. The course used the Village Trail Network starting at the Bethel Inn. Skiers started out on the Dog Days Trail until it joined Tibbetts Loop. We then climbed and climbed some more up Paradise Hill. After cresting the top of the hill, we descended back to Tibbetts for a bit before taking a hard left onto the Moose Trail. At the end of Moose, we continued onto Mill Brook (avoiding Corkscrew this year). In the 3-way intersection at the bottom of the golf course we started an inner loop going in the opposite direction picking up another section of Tibbetts, then Dick's Best Guess, before hitting Mill Brook again back to Tibbetts, to Pasture Path (a.k.a. the wind tunnel today) back to the 3-way and this time taking Mill Brook to the Lap/Finish area. The course was well marked, and while sounds complicated, flowed smoothly with no 2-way traffic and was simple to follow except where the wind had drifted snow over the trail. The wind also continuously replenished the powder in the tracks in exposed areas.
Racing got underway, and the field was quickly blown apart. There was plenty of double poling with a crosswind. Skiers looked for the fastest snow, which was sometimes in the tracks and sometimes out. Later in the race they would look for the firmest snow so their poles would not punch through. Different wax, ski flex, and fitness played a role as the mass start pack quickly disintegrated into a long string of skiers. Much different than last week's experience where people were able to stay together for 30-40 kilometers at Craftsbury. That is the nature of ski racing, and the quicker you can adapt to the conditions, the better you can do. Conditions were flying at us on 30mph wind gusts.
Neal Graves (Stowe Nordic) wasted little time powering away from the field. He has been training hard for the American Birkie and was healthy this week. The Flying Moose was his opportunity for a primer for the next big race. Tyler Magnan (NWVE) and Tristan Williams (unattached) skied together, but on the twisty course, lost sight of Neal. Line of sight was another factor that gave skiers an isolated feel as often you would see another skiing in the opposite direction on the next trail over and wonder how they got there. A small chase pack stayed together up the first climb on Paradise Hill. Nick Trautz (Hebron), George Aponte-Clarke (Portland), Tyson Weems (3 Levels), and Dennis Page (Nansen) had as much of a pack as we would see for the day, that lasted less than 2k. On the downhill that followed, ski speed separated the group, and there was no return. Nick and George had a friendly rivalry going, but Nick was in excellent form and continuously pulled away over the rest of the course. Dennis had the slowest skis of the bunch, but his instincts were sharp from all the racing he has done this season. He was able to use that to his advantage to retake Tyson and hold his position for the rest of the race.
Robert Bradlee (Wide Meadow) is always a big mark on course. His ToKo Race suit is easily identifiable and he always has consistent results. David Herr (Unattached) Kirk Siegel (BOC), Steven Moreau (CSU), and I were hopeful to connect to Rob, but the disparities of styles within the group made any organization hopeless. David is a much faster climber; Kirk was trying the double pole thing, Steven and I were doing the best we could to hang in. David eventually did catch Rob, and they skied together until the final climb when David was able to run the last hill faster than Rob. Kirk caught me at the bottom of the course, where I realized by noting the skate skis that he was double poling. I gave him a tip that Kris Freeman (Caldwell Sport) had told me and Kirk was immediately appreciative as it was an aha moment. Being a middle-distance runner, I formulated my plan to demolish Kirk on the second lap. (Run like hell up anything with even the slightest incline.)
Todd Taska (Unattached) showed his grit skiing the 20km mostly alone like many of the racers did. He loved the powdery conditions and had a solid result taking one of the few sprints of the day over Dykstra Eusden (Unattached). Robert Faltus (CSU), like Neal, was using the Moose as a primer for a bigger event. In this case, Gatineau. Robert skied with the Elite Woman Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) but could not hang with her over the final 5km. Jessica was having a much better race due in part to a new pair of skis hand-picked from the Caldwell Sports Fleet specifically for her. It made a big difference over the last pair that had served her well for so many years. With each kilometer, Jessica's confidence grew, and she was unstoppable up the final climb to the finish.
Gordon Scannell (Schussverein), Rick Chalmers (Portland), Deven Abrams (Portland), and Ken Kimball (MWN) had a great race together. Some of the top elder statesmen of the sport skiing with the top U18 in the field. As they climbed to the finish, Gordon was having none of it taking the lead with determination. Rick was right on his heels, and Deven had all he could do to hang on. Ken had been gapped coming through the wind tunnel down Pasture Path but recalibrated and brought himself back into the mix on the final climb. In the flurry of action, the finish order went M8, M6, U18, M9! After this pack, there was almost a 2-minute gap to the next athlete, indicating that racing was intense. Mia Shifrin (Bates) would be that athlete, finishing 2nd overall for women.
Raul Siren (Unattached) skied it in looking as happy as everyone else did on Saturday. Perma-smiles were on everyone as the course was not too technical nor hilly, and the conditions in spite of the cold wind were something to smile about. Perry Bland (NWVE) was happy with his race and the graciousness of our host. He does prefer more striding, but any skiing suits him fine. He liked the wax as it was his favorite, Extra Blue!
Kimberly Moody (Schussverein) was psyched to be the 3rd overall woman. She skied some with perennial marathon challenger Bruce Katz (Unattached) before he made a move going into the final inner-loop of the race. Cipperly Good (NWVE) liked the course and had fun racing. She was not particularly partial to the wind replenishing the powder in the tracks, but that is not a bad problem to have when the alternative within the week could have canceled the race. After a strong race, she contemplated how she can fit next weekend's John Roderick at Black Mountain into her schedule.
CSU usually does not send too many racers to this event, but they dispatched a handful to represent and maintain their lead in the points series. The Berman's were out in force, enjoying the day. Sara Mae wowed some fans cheering the racers, sharing some of her stories about skiing. She did so humbly without mentioning any of her or Larry's pioneering achievements. When I mentioned a few to them, as they wondered why I had gone out to offer encouragement, they were in disbelief, exclaiming that they had been skiing in the presence of somebody who is “like a national treasure!”
Once again, the Flying Moose Classic delivered a wholesome fun event. Skiers continued skiing for their cool-downs and then went in for the post-race meal. They shared the usual stories, but a new topic came up when Ken Kimball stated that with the pending abolishment of fluoros, he looked at all the wax he has accumulated over the decades and thought “I ought to use this up before I die.” Everyone laughed and began sharing the stuff they have that has been sitting on the shelf for years, waiting for that perfect moment to be used. The Race Director Jim Reuter thanked all the volunteers and participants for making it such a fun event and had a spirited awards ceremony with the traditional loaves of bread, but also some engraved coaster sets and merchandise. Skiers made their way home, still smiling from the perfect race on a perfect day.