The phenomenal conditions of the 2020 season continue to deliver! After a perfect combination of fresh snow and cold temps for the Race to the Cabin, spring-like conditions prevailed for the Bretton Woods Weekend. Over the years, this weekend had marked the transition from Mid-Winter to Spring conditions, and this year it was just awesome, no embellishment needed. After a couple of warm days, things cooled off for
Saturday's Skate Race, making for some high-speed and fun conditions.
The weekend kicked off with the Mount Washington Cup. Groomers set the course the night before, while the snow still had a significant amount of loose moisture in it. It froze nicely overnight and provided a ripping fast skate track. A few years ago, they had a similar situation and took a pass over half the trail to loosen things up. Racers opted for the faster side of things, so this year while there were a few concerns about how fast it was before the race, there was nothing but delight after. It was just right and skied well on the safe side of the out of control threshold. Once underway skiers found, they could have that thrilling speed while not taking huge risks as their skis made positive and predictable contact with the solid snow surface.
The temperature for the race was as predicted, in the low twenties with plenty of sunshine. The racecourse started on the golf course, in front of the wrap-around veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel. Skier raced around the backside of the golf course picking up Coronary Hill but taking a right onto Crawford Pass before the climbing began. The trail rolled a bit before a hard left onto Sebosis then gradually climbed to Moose Horn, where the climbing payoff began. Skiers cruised down Moose Horn picking up Beech Hill and Dark Forest before returning to the finish next to the Nordic Center on Perimeter. Overall, the course was very fun and ski-able. There was a brisk wind for the final kilometer, which was a significant factor for those making moves at the finish.
Skiers mingled and enjoyed some warming up together. It was not long before they started heading over to the stadium and setting skis to hold their spot for the start. Brief instructions were given, and a mostly clean start commenced. Almost immediately, the field fractured into packs. In conditions this fast, even a slight waffle can set off a chain reaction that would take a heroic effort to counter. Drafting in a paceline is key, and the better you can do it, the better your result can be. Likewise, if you are not so experienced, you will quickly find yourself being dropped as you tend to expend energy while others are working together to conserve it. Leading the way was Neal Graves (Stowe Nordic). The initial members of the elite pack were Neal, Jake Hollenbach (NWVE), Eli Enman (NWVE), Cooper Willsey (NWVE), Nick Trautz (Hebron), Forrest Hamilton (NWVE), Tristan Williams (unattached), and Eric Darling (NWVE). The elite pack split early on with the top five gaining on the remaining three; however, a large chase group of eight was unable to catch Forrest, Tristan, and Eric, who were split off the back of the elite pack. The chase group included John Sakalowski (CSU), Eli Gallaudet (CSU), Thomas Rabon (unattached), Luke Shullenberger (NWVE), Nate Laber (MNC), Michael Millar (MNC), Michael Gaughan (MNC) and David Johnston (MNC). These two groups certainly make a case for team cooperation.
A minor crash on the first corner caused a large gap to open before the next group of skiers came along. Sara Graves (Stowe Nordic), Charlie Gunn (Black Water), Rob Bradlee (CSU), Rick Costanza (MNC) Bryan Atwood (Berkshire Trail), and I got through without falling, but with having to put on the brakes seriously. With no club loyalties, this group loosely organized with experience and ego being the driving forces. Sara was able to break away and spent much of the race skiing alone. The accordion effect helped us a lot, and with several attacks, we were able to put a minute on the next group. This group had an interesting mix of youth, M5 and Steve Crafts (MNC). Pat Giersch (CSU), Ed Hamilton (NWVE), and Jamie Willsey (NWVE) were the M5's, skiing with Hannah Chipman (GMVS), Charlotte Brown (GMVS) and Samuel Longenbach (MNC). Steve, an M4, led the group initially, trying to bridge back on after the early turmoil of the start, but the friendly grudges in the group ahead were too strong to overcome.
The next pack was quite diverse but stayed together for much of the race. Emma Roth and Lily Sabol U18’s of Black Water Nordic led a group of Masters, including NWVE's Brendan Barden, Jonathan Miller, Sarah Pribram, and Micheal Hakim. JoAnn Hanowski (MNC), Thomas Smith (CSU), Andrew Legg (MNC), and Aaron Solnit (I am Ullr). This group was generally cohesive but would separate and come back together in varying formations throughout the race. Brendan's high-speed crash on one of the downhills did break things apart a bit, but Sarah knew he was okay when he got up and resumed racing using both arms. Brendan was glad not to have injured himself as he was having a good race and feeling the best he has all season thanks to a new training plan. We are thankful that Brendan was not hurt, and that he still races all in!
After this pack, things started to spread out into smaller groups, many of which were only two skiers, however having the company still helps. Kort Longenbach (MNC) had a good race against Jose-Manuel Jimenez (Manhattan). If Jose looked like a famous skier, it’s because he is! He was the featured roller-skier in a New York Times article about the first February without recorded snow in NYC. I was introduced and knew the name from biking. Going back into the memory banks, I believe he was a sympathetic cyclist who towed me in after a two-person break I was in did not pan out over the long ride. Robert Faltus (CSU) was also in the mix and learned about Jose on cooldown when expressing appreciation for his skiing during the race.
Amy Gunn (Black Water Nordic) fell into one of the gaps that opened up much like Sara Graves. Amy felt like she was alone from the start. Time and distance were deceiving for the second week in a row but for very different reasons. Last week it was because of the difficulty of the climbs in the Cabin Race, this week it was because the snow was so fast. Amy held her own well because in a pack just behind her were Carrie Nourjian (Stowe Nordic) and Bob Gray (Putney). Skiing away from those two on a day were being in a pack was such an advantage is impressive. Equally impressive was Cody Putnam (NWVE) skiing away from a friendly group and almost bridging to Bob and Carrie and company! Cody has not raced in a few years and has admittedly added a little mass, but he was right in the thick of it and happy with his performance. After helping as an assistant coach, Cody was inspired to return to racing.
Maja Smith (NWVE) also chose the Mount Washington Cup to be her first race of the season. It was perhaps this decision that inspired her son Forrest to choose the Cup as his first race in three years. Maja was with good company racing against Michael Melnikov (CSU) and Gordon Scannell (Schussverein), who both have several races in this season. Maja also spent some time skiing with her teammates Jud Hartmann (NWVE), and Hannah Barden (NWVE). Hannah had an eventful race as she helped a u12 skier who crashed at the start and then worked her way between groups of NWVE skiers. She also skied with Cody Boissoneault (NWVE) and Perry Bland (NWVE). The three of them had a great time sharing their appreciation and admiration after the race.
Cipperly Good (NWVE) was a little off her typical results this season, having skied with her classic poles. The experience gave her a new perspective on how much a longer pole can affect a classic race. Cipperly was not the only person with mixed gear in the race. Ellie Bouffard (MNC) and Karen Alence (MNC) opted to classic ski the race. After discovering their wax selection was not working, they elected to take advantage of the Freestyle Classification of the competition and used the Skate technique to get around. It is always good to remember this is an option in Freestyle races, even if you have waxed up classic skis. However, not a good habit to get into as the same does not apply in Classic Technique races. Just ahead of Karen and Ellie was Katie Goodwin (MNC). Katie proved all was well after choosing the Race to the Cabin to be her first race this season.
At the front of the race, Neal Graves had done a lot of work, keeping the pace fast. As the elite pack came down the final straight, Jake Hollenbach and Eli Enman would emerge in the sprint. Eli stuck his foot out, and Jake leaned into the line. For the second week in a row, Eli took the sprint for the overall victory! In the next pack, Forrest Hamilton won the sprint. In the chase pack, John Sakalowsky took the sprint. On the women's side, Sara Graves skied most of the race alone. Only junior racer Spencer May (Ford Sayre) offered any help as he skied through the field, showing a lot more "pop" on the hills than the masters he was dropping. Hannah Chipman and Charlotte Brown took second and third for the women. Ed Hamilton was so impressed with their technique and composure during the race that he wondered who the new GMVS coaches were.
After the race, skiers grabbed their warm-ups and went back out to take advantage of the fast conditions. Back at the lodge after some cooling down, I walked in on a touching moment when Ed was trying to explain Neal Graves to Forrest. All Forrest could say was that some bigger guy was hammering at the front the whole way, Ed reassured him, “Neal is strong, he is a fast guy." Soon after, skiers parted ways and prepared for day two of the weekend.