The Mansfield Nordic Skiathlon took place Saturday, February 22, at Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski and Bike Center. This was a new venue for the event that had previously taken place in Craftsbury and at the Ethan Allen Firing Range before that. This year's Skiathlon was shaping up to be a pivotal event as NENSA Popular Racing has spawned a competitive Club Series with two clubs competing for second-place set on a collision course that would meet at the epicenter of contentious skiing - the home of Wednesday Night Worlds, Sleepy Hollow. The outcome of this weekend could position both clubs to overtake the lead in the Club Series from CSU, which has had a comfortable margin since the Race for Snow held at the Weston Ski Track over a month ago.
Seasonal temperatures led to the weekend with days reaching into the high twenties and cool nights. This left the snowfalls from the previous weeks intact, and only sun-exposed areas saw some mild transformation of snow. The course utilized trails away from the snowmaking system on a loop that offered a good mixture of terrain.. Trails were groomed wide with tracks set on each side and a skate lane down the middle. Testing got underway with violet waxes working, but concern that the sun and rapidly warming air would change conditions. Guru Red was found to be a winner in testing offering good kick without speed compromise and a big range encompassing the warming trend expected throughout the race.
The racecourse was a single-loop skied twice per discipline in the skiathlon. Starting from Molly's Meadow skiers were sent left and up Potato Farmer, at the crest of the hill, they turned left again onto Bear Claw, continuing an upward roll until intersecting Ridge Road with another hard left. After a speedy descent, the course bared right onto Zig-Zag, dropping to the lowest elevation on course before climbing back to the stadium area in Molly's Meadow with some very stride-able switchbacks. Most of the course was sheltered from direct sunlight, with the exception of the top of Potato Farmer. To wax for this small section would have been of consequence to the rest of the course, however, with deliberate concentration, the red climbed well here out of the tracks.
The day started with a Just Try It Race. It was initially thought that Steve Crafts (MNC) was so demoralized after the Woodstock Ski Runner’s Sweetheart Race that he demoted himself to the beginner's category trying to mask his identity racing with a 1980's hair-band mullet wig worthy of Cinderella. It was not until later that his disclosure that he was "racing with a friend" was accepted. Steve added an element to the race that got a lot of attention as people cheered on those trying out the Skiathlon format, and set the rockin' tone for the day!
The Open Race was split into a Men’s and Women’s wave with the women starting about ten minutes after the men. Soon we were all lined up and ready to go. As stated in the introduction, the Skiathon was set to be a clash between MNC and NWVE; fortunately, there were a few skiers from outside clubs to mitigate tensions. After a two-minute countdown, the men started. Spinning from the commotion of the aggressive start Charlie Gunn (Black Water Nordic) was welcomed to Sleepy Hollow. Things are a little different as many of the skiers had the experience of the weekly throw-down on Wednesday night, and those naïve to it can be taken by surprise. Charlie took it in stride, figuring this is how we are going to do this, and jumped right into the race. At the front, Chris Burnham (NWVE) took an early lead, showing the ability that got him second overall in the Gatineau World Loppet last weekend. Adam Terko (MNC), and Eli Enman (NWVE) latched on, and the elite pack was established. Behind them, another group of three formed a chase group. Brian Carlson (Onion River) was accompanied by NWVE's Eric Darling and Eric Tremble. In these groups was a tenuous cooperation as members recognized the value of working together, yet were perpetually on the lookout for any weakness to capitalize on to their advantage.
The main field followed led by MNC’s Michael Gaughan Nate Laber, and Michael Millar. The Michaels strongly favor the skate technique but held their own as NWVE’s Ed Hamilton, James Donegan, myself, and Black Water’s Charlie Gunn stayed in contact. Hugh Pritchard (Onion River) was also in the mix for most of the first lap. It was not long before Nate pulled away from the group skiing solo between the packs finding Samuel Longenbach (MNC). At this point, as the men looped through the stadium, the women were given the command to go.
Emily Stitt (MNC) shot off the line and quickly merged into the men's field, connecting with Michael Millar. Emily's classic technique was strong and eventually overtook Michael. Elissa Bradley (Ford Sayre), Molly Peters (Sleepy Hollow/St. Michael's/NWVE), and Sara Falconer (MNC) also got on course quickly, racing with that tenuous cooperation seen in the men's race. The women's start caused a split as it merged with those lapping through, and their field was divided as well. James, Charlie, and I momentarily lost contact with the MNC racers as we climbed Potato Farmer for the second time. Liz Hollenbach NWVE, JoAnn Hanowski (MNC), Rosemary Shea-Cobb (MNC), Jessica Bolduc (NWVE), and Melissa Manning (NWVE) joined us, and we all stayed together across Bear Claw thanks to some wild cheering by Sarah Pribram (NWVE) and Kyle Darling (NWVE) at the highpoint on the course. James and Charlie pulled ahead as I caught a tip avoiding JoAnn as she jumped out of the tracks, causing a backup. I recovered, and JoAnn and Liz continued racing, overtaking the MNC Juniors Hanna Holm, Sammie Nolan, Julia Oliver, and Ali Priganc before the turn onto Ridge Road. The juniors were expressing their spirit and enthusiasm with a liberal amount of glitter. While this was a social race for the seasoned Eastern Cup racers, it was not for the Masters. Liz had some fast skis on the downhill and pulled away from JoAnn.
As the men looped in for the transition, the disparity in practice became a significant factor. Adam Terko made a fast transition making Chris have to chase. Eli was right there too. My change did not go as planned as I stepped on my poles, and bindings and failed to aim correctly with a boot. Charlie got through the transition smoothly, and James chased. The MNC Mike's were happy to have their skate skis on finally and took off dropping everyone else in the pack. Scott Magnan (NWVE) wanted to feel good about both techniques opting for a boot change as well, even though he did not have a binding compatibility problem. He said, "the exchange cost him a couple of spots, but in a good way as he got a little rest before going back on course." Scott went on to win his self-defined “boot changeover” category unopposed. NWVE’s John Witmer was glad to be on his skate skis, having survived the classic portion intact.
At this point, with all racers having been on course for at least a lap, one might expect that things would settle down a bit. That was not to be at Sleepy Hollow. The small packs remained in contact, and the attacks ramped up even more. While this is meant to be a low key, unusual challenge, it was being contested as the perhaps Main Event of the season for the clubs involved. Skiers thinking they would have a little reprieve were consumed as the leaders began lapping some of the field. Perry Bland (NWVE) was cruising along when Liz and JoAnn caught him. Not to shy away from good competition, he hopped right in and joined the race within the race.
Adam Terko put in a late surge that finally gave him the break he was looking for. Chris and Eli were unable to counter any longer and finished second and third, respectively. Emily lost ground on the Michael when she switched skis, but used it as motivation to retake him on her third lap and finished the race picking off men that she was lapping. The battle for second place in the women’s field went to the wire with Sara Falconer executing well on the final turns to take the silver. Elissa took the bronze with an exhausted Molly a close 4th.
The Men's chase group remained intact the whole race, and in the closest sprint of the day, Brian Carlson edged Eric T., and Eric D. James was able to hold off Charlie after overtaking him again after the transition. Liz was uncatchable as she finished the race. Rosemary was able to drop Melissa and Jessica, holding her position to the finish line. Melissa kicked it in over the final stretch to put a little distance on Jessica. In the sea of NWVE and MNC women, Rima Carlson held her own winning the M4 category! There was nonstop action as the race never slowed to a trickle, perhaps the effect of a fast finish, but more likely due to the nature of the racing that occurs at the venue.
After the race skiers cooled down and enjoyed a nice awards ceremony deep with age group prizes. As the dust settled from the Open race, the BKL skiers arrived, and the course was reset for them. It was a beautiful warm day, and people enjoyed extending their ski on Sleepy Hollow’s deep snow base. Looking ahead, the competition for the Club Series can only heat up even more. There are only a few races to go, and when all is tallied, there is sure to be some excitement. Many clubs have had substantial efforts all season long, and as we close in on the final races, many vested people will be vying for the title. There is still untapped potential in these teams with open possibilities yet to be determined. Will Steve Crafts reunite the Intramural Gentleman’s Club of blah, blah, blah under the Mansfield banner? Other founding members have been spotted with Z. Kramer at the American Birkie, and Jarlath completing the “Unsanctioned Shirtless Marathon” at Ole’s. Will NWVE’s flower-adorned Wooden Ski division or B Team come out for the Cabin Race? Will CSU’s masses respond to the example set forth by their points leader’s, Sara Mae and Larry Berman? Will Craftsbury blitz the Spring Fling with huge numbers spanning all age groups? The best way to find out is to get in and be part of the action!