Craftsbury Marathon Day 1 Classic 37km
Sunday 28, 2023
A jovial field returned to the Craftsbury Marathon, eager to ski the perennial classic after a virtual year followed by a cancellation. Despite the tricky conditions to wax for, spirits were high with much excitement to participate in the return of the New England Classic. Attendance was respectable but not quite that of pre-pandemic times. However, it was great to connect with many of the Craftsbury Marathon regulars with rivalries that picked up right where they left off.
Racers arrived at a perfectly groomed course covered with about an inch of new snow. It was also snowing significantly. Wax testing got underway immediately. As predicted, the fresh snow was going to be an issue. The other concern was the rising temperature. Skiers wanted to have good kick for the duration of the race, so decisions needed to be made. The other consideration was that the testing area had been groomed and skied much more than the outer portions of the race with the most significant climbs—namely Sam's Run and Dante's Loop, where the base was softer and not as deep.
The race course was an 18+ kilometer loop. Racers made their way out of the lower stadium to the Upper Stadium. They then made their way around Murphy's field and took Outer Duck Pond to Inner Duck Pond. Skiers made their way back into the Upper Stadium, looping around and out Upper Bailey Hazen to Elinor's Downhill and onto Sam's Run. Skiers climbed Sam's to Dante's, where they continued climbing until they topped at the highest elevation on the course. They then descended down Dante's to Ruthie's, where the downhill continued. Once across the swamp, the course rolled back toward the core trails of the touring center. Here the race took a new turn intercepting the Race Loop skiing backward. Skiers raced down Hoyt's Wall and John's Jaunt and turned to a long-striding hill up Kirby's, turning onto Lemon's for a cruise back to the stadium. Skiers competing in the 37km continued for another lap.
After a wax frenzy, skiers committed to what they had and got underway. The secret wax was unknown, and skiers at different points in the race faced the compromises they had made. Some iced early, and others lasted a little longer. Clumping was the word of the day. Zach Caldwell summed it best: "if you were getting a kick, then you were going to clump at some point." Skiers that put a hard-shell wax (Guru Blue) on as a final layer were happiest. In retrospect, I think a Rode Super Blue covered with Guru Blue would have been a top performer, though many were reluctant to go that route due to the warming potential.
The women started at 9:30 a.m. and were looping through the Upper Stadium as the men started at 9:45, creating a surge of excitement. Race Director Ollie Burruss did his best to give race instructions to the inattentive fields. Both took off with relatively clean starts, and racing was underway. Things sorted themselves out more quickly than usual due to wax disparity. It was a struggle, and draggy skis were evident everywhere. Unfortunately, some were ripping the tracks out; then, others would catch on the crumbly snow left behind. The new snow was a factor, with some skis performing much better out of the tracks than others. One skier remarked that they had tracked a skier, and when that person stepped out of the track, they immediately accelerated away down a hill in the powder. The tracked skier recognized their advantage and was never caught!
Northwest Vermont skiers found themselves falling (literally and figuratively) into races evolving in the field. Sara Graves led the charge for the NWVE women. Sara was a little anxious about joining a team with the prestige of Sara Pribram, Liz Hollenbach, and Jessica Bolduc, but in a pre-race photo op, JoAnn Hanowski (Craftsbury) jumped in, calming the nerves with a friendly smile and words of support. Sara raced much of the first lap among the elite pack of women. Sarah Pribram was a little intimidated by the number of Olympians on the registration list but soon found that she was skiing well among them. Jessica and Liz were caught a little off guard by how unpredictable and grabby the wax could get. Once
acclimated, they settled into a groove with what they had. Jessica went back and forth with JoAnn until the climb up Kirby's. JoAnn could no longer counter, and Jessica skied into fourth place overall in the 18km race. Liz was propelled by Craftsbury Junior Skiers Anika Leahy, Ruth Krebs, and Isabel Linton. Liz patiently waited to make her move, utilizing the whole course. She was able to move up in the final kilometers to secure a top ten and win the M3 category.
Sara and Sarah pressed on for the 37km event. While their skis were not great, they were running relatively well. Sara Graves hung in with the top 5 for the first lap, but Caitlin Patterson decided to make a move, and the pack split up. Sara fought to hang on to fourth overall in the 37km event and won the M3 division. Sarah Pribram was impressed as she passed Hallie Grossman, commenting on how great it is to see biathletes in a classic race. Hallie groaned, struggling with poor wax. As this happened, she saw Sara G. coming down Dante's as she was going up, and Sarah P. thought Sarah G. was having one hell of a race! Sarah P. went on to the top ten and won the M5 category.
Things were similar as the men got underway, except the women had dealt with all the new snow. The tracks were starting to glaze, but clumping was still a significant issue. It was quickly apparent where your ski speed stood. Chris Burnham was pleased with his skis and found himself taking down marked skiers throughout the race. He did manage to overtake the elite women just as Caitlin made her move. He was impressed with how much she had left in the tank when she decided to go. Eli Enman was thankful for the shell layer of wax he opted for. While he struggled, he found himself in a better situation than those around him.
Thomas Clayton, Eric Tremble and Stephen Wright skied together for over 5km. Stephen's skis were fast, and while Thomas did not think his were, when he saw his result, he was pleasantly surprised. Eric fell off Thomas' pace, and decided to rewax before heading out on the second lap. He was motivated on the final climb up Kirby's trying to reel in Sarah Pribram. Keeping the ski active was vital, said Tom Thurston. Subtle compression and light skiing were essential for him, and he could keep the skis moving fast. Tom skied on to an impressive result.
For Tyler, and me, it was a different situation. We at least knew our problem and that early action would extend our skiing experience. We were able to slap off the snow before it built up too much and were moving along well with a group. Eventually, things split up, and we remained in the middle of things for the second lap. Ed Hamilton was in close pursuit and was able to overtake Tyler as Tyler turned for the lap, and Ed made his way to the finish. Ed joined Stephen finishing at the top of the 18.5km field, winning their respective categories.
Scott Magnan was back in action this weekend and found himself skiing comfortably with Olympian, Tim Caldwell (Ford Sayre) and Joe Holland (Putney). Scott paced himself well and was happy with his result. After the race, they continued trading stories about the day. Dhyan Nirmegh put in a lot of hours outside and even on snow. He decided to jump into the 37km event to see how he would do. His wax worked fairly well, and he found himself skiing with Jim Fredricks (Craftsbury). Nirmegh knew that Jim was only doing one lap, so he decided to make his race one lap too. The long-time rivals set out racing the second half of the first lap. Nirmegh saw his advantage on the climb at the end of Ruthie’s and decided that would have to be the place to put some distance on Jim. Nirmegh skied like the marked man he was but was able to hold Jim off as they parted ways at the lap finish zone. Nirmegh felt it in the second lap but kept his position in the race and had a strong finish after a quick rewax.
Jud Hartmann had a much better day than at the White Mountain Classic. There, he herring boned every hill. After that experience, he had his skis checked out by Zach, and things were much better this week. He was happy not to have the struggles of last week and was able to hold off a surge by Buddy Majernik (Craftsbury) to join Jim Fredericks and Gordon Scannell on the M9 podium!
While skiing was a bit more challenging than usual today, people were grateful for the return of the Craftsbury Marathon! It has been a tough winter, but Mother Nature pulled through once again with some miracle snow. Over the last week, conditions went from scraping together a 10km loop with dirt in the tracks to what we had today. Behind the scenes, Craftsbury has been diligently reinforcing delicate areas of the loop. People were thankful for the shortened course and had much to share at the post-race lunch. Tomorrow, we get to do it all again without any kick wax issues.