While the rest of the sporting world has been prematurely sent into the off-season, a small group of skiers descended upon a small farm in St. Albans to battle it out and earn the coveted epithet; The Pride of St. Albans. This special farm tucked away in a cold hollow behind St. Albans Hill grows much more than grass, maples, and Angus beef. Hundreds of local skiers have taken their first strides in these meadows and honed their skills on the twisty, hilly tracks through the woods. The roots of St. Albans Nordic grow deeper and deeper on this property with every passing year and are now older and stronger than many of the maple, birch, and beech trees that populate the landscape.
The warm March weather had taken its toll on the snow-pack at the Dickinson Farm, closing down about half of the already limited trail network. A combination of natural geography and snow-farming efforts earlier in the season produced good coverage on what remained. The 1.25k race loop was groomed beautifully on Saturday afternoon, and with a deep freeze overnight, it was firm and fast, but very ski-able. The attempt to scratch up the surface in the morning was thwarted by a machine with chronic mechanical problems, but the course was deemed good enough for a race. A touch of lightly falling snow came just before race time, and while it wasn't enough to soften up the course, it was a welcome sight to see some snowflakes instead of raindrops.
The course started at its lowest point in the bottom of the horseshoe, went up, and took a right through the narrow connector and under the sap line, which some spectators graciously held up for the racers so they wouldn't get clotheslined (or saplined?). After a very brief flat section, the course headed up Doc's Hill, steep at first, but mellows out the second half, a great place to gain some ground if you haven't burned up on the steep section. At the top of the hill, you enter the woods to do the rolling, twisty middle loop counterclockwise. Then with a brief section of two way traffic, you wind your way back down the hill through the woods and meadows, under the sap line again, and down to the bottom of the horseshoe.
About 15 racers took the start line. Most notable was the presence of Damian Bolduc, Scott Magnan, and Perry Bland. It was very fitting that these three were on the start line today. There was every excuse not to show up today, but these are three of the original NWVE club members, and they built the club on the motto that you show up for a ski race anytime, and anywhere. Anytime I see these three men gathered together, I know I'm in the right place.
Besides these three, there were many more familiar names in the mix, as well as some fresh faces from the high school team. Other alumni included Tyler Magnan (NWVE), Brook Hodgeman(St Mikes), John Thompson (Castleton), and Meredith Mashtare. Jessica Bolduc raced as an Alumni-in-law. The rest of the field was filled out by some devoted high school skiers who show the passion and perseverance necessary to succeed in this beautiful but humbling sport we love.
It was an uphill start, but the fast conditions kept the pack tighter than it usually would be in a race of this size. By the top of Doc's hill, things had begun to sort themselves out, with Tyler taking the lead, followed closely by Brook and John. Behind them was a mix of current BFA team members and alumni, including Jacob Tremblay, Ethan Mashtare, Damian, Scott, and Lydia Hodgeman. Further back, the field spread out quickly, as most were focused on staying on their feet while navigating the technical course in difficult conditions. On days like this, even the most experienced racer can be swiftly brought down by a small rut or a poor weight shift. At the front of the race, Tyler soon looked back with disappointment to see that nobody could hang with him, as Brook had some issues with soreness in his shins and resorted to double poling. John took on the chase, taking 2nd quite comfortably and proving he is very much worthy of the BFA all-star team that was supposed to make an appearance in Craftsbury next weekend. Things were a bit tighter behind, but Jacob pulled ahead and took a podium for the high school team, while Brook had to double pole into the uphill finish to fend off Ethan and Lydia, who won the women's title for the first time. Damian came in shortly after, while Scott, Jessica, Meredith, Perry, first-year skier Maya Frost, and a couple more skied strong to the finish, even with no positions to fight for.
While some highly covet victory in this race, people show up to keep the torch burning; the torch within your soul that lit your passion for the sport, and the torch that brings energy and life into the local Nordic community. Back on November 16th, this community had the honor of hosting the first ski race in New England and possibly North America. Although it's nothing to celebrate, we may have also hosted the last race of the season in North America. Here in St. Albans, the race must go on, and the sport will live on.