A small but lively crowd assembled in Gilford, NH, for the Gunstock Freestyle Race. Athletes received a personalized greeting from John Stow and a cheery crew of volunteers. The music was playing to motivate outstanding performances on the course. It was a relatively relaxed environment; the work setting the course was done, the stadium was set, and everyone knew what to do. Inside the lodge, the aromas of a post-race feast gave participants something to look forward to. Nina Gavrylyuk handed out bibs and encouraged skiers to preview the course for their warm-up.
The temps were balmy compared to Saturday, and like last Sunday, ski prep could occur gloveless. It was another skate race, so not much prep was taking place. The sky had a slight haze, but there was plenty of sunshine. If you stood in the right place, there was a little breeze. Most of the course was sheltered from the wind. The only place where it was noticeable was on the approach to the long downhill in the middle of the loop. The snow was the best we have seen so far this season. It was clean and had the appearance that the center had received some new overnight snow. John stated that it was just a matter of the groomers doing an outstanding job. The track was firm, level, and wide enough for two skiers to ski side-by-side comfortably.
The course flowed nicely, which was a relief for a few skiers that competed yesterday in Jackson. Skiers left the stadium and took Dryfire to Cobble. The majority of the course was on the Cobble Trail as it paralleled the Poor Farm Brook and wrapped around Cobble Mountain. After a nice recovery downhill, skiers turned onto Longbow to Quiver and then onto Broadhead before making their way through the stadium for the lap/finish. The loop begins with a quick downhill, then a sustained climb. After that, it rolled pleasantly, and all was very skiable, especially in today’s conditions with the excellent grooming.
The National Anthem, played by a lone trumpeter, started the day. Hearing it through the trees was interesting, and I wondered how the musician was able to get their trumpet to work in the cold. It was a nice tradition to kick things off. Soon skiers were called to the start. The men were first doing three laps for a 12km race.
The start was a thirty-second interval that spread skiers out on the course. Jeff Dusek (Freedom Trail Nordic) got things started wearing bib 1. He was a little intimidated by being the first out as it is a big responsibility - plus, there is not much to gauge off. He handled the duty well and skied away from Aleksandr Nikitin (Ridj-it). Tyler Magnan (NWVE) was the next to take to the course and left the stadium looking relaxed. I chased Tyler and tried to scramble to get up to speed. My speed was checked early in the race by Nick Trautz (Hebron), who cruised by me in the first kilometer. Jeffrey Craddock (Gunstock) set the tone for the host club. He was followed by Brian Lavoie (NWVE), who took things out fast. With Brian gone, Anthony Mollano (Unattached) had a clear course in front of him. That did not last long as Rob Riley (Gunstock) took off blazing on his home course in an age group battle with Brian. James Bourne (Unattached) had no one to chase; there was a ghost between him and Rob. Jeff Palleiko gave James some company on the long climb to Cobble. Donald Perks (Freedom Trail Nordic) held off Jim Rollins (Gunstock Nordic) for a bit as they made their way onto the course. Pat Giersch (Freedom Trail Nordic) was soon able to join them Stuart Kremzner (Blackwater Nordic) was in good form and good spirits about the day and the amazing conditions coming off the White Mountain Classic. David Johnston (MNC) was another skier with a ghost to chase but found company as he made quick work of the course. David was the last of the Masters to start. The next athlete was Thomas Clayton (NWVE), who led the Seniors, then Juniors. His age group rival Evan Kendall (Dublin School) followed but could not make much visual contact with Thomas. Then a group of the Gunstock youth talent got on track. William Riley (Gunstock), Aiden Bondaz (Gunstock), and Mitchell Townsend (Gunstock) threw down a blistering pace to go first, third, and fifth overall on their home course. Their teammate Tyler Watt (Gunstock) skied into second from the last starting position. These young men made things difficult for Ian Hanley (Unattached), Alex Sharp (Unattached), Edward Parsons (Unattached) as their youth outpaced the citizens' racers mixed in at the end of the field. They put on a good show for Willy Graves (Gunstock), the new Nordic Director. Nick Laurence (Unattached) was able to stay in the mix a bit, but the Gunstock U18’s really cranked it up.
Upon finishing, skiers contemplated how they ranked. There was some discussion that Brian Lavoie may have edged Nick Trautz as the two finished reasonably close to each other. Thomas Clayton was also looking quite strong, giving the Juniors a run at the finish line. Racers would have to wait to see the results.
As the Men cooled down, the Women and U16 Boy were preparing to start. Henry Stow (Gunstock) was the lone U16 Boy and started first in the order. He soloed the race at an impressive pace that would have placed him well in the top ten of the 3-lap race. There was a bit of a gap in the start order. Soon the women were off. Catherine Stow (Gunstock), Julie Sprague (Unattached), and Maureen McAuliffe crested the first climb in close proximity to each other. Carli Krebs (Gunstock) started a little further back. It worked her way into the field over the first lap. Georgia Eckhardt (Gunstock) looked solid though had little company while racing in the small field with the 30-second interval. Michele Smith (CSU) held off Olivia Ester (Freedom Trail) for the better part of a lap. Michele had competed the day prior in the White Mountain Classic and felt a little extra fatigue transitioning over the tops of the hills.
It was another great day of skiing, and many took to the trails to get a little extra skiing in before going home. The network at Gunstock was in great shape, as were the hometown athletes. Thomas Clayton, Michele Smith, Stuart Kremzner, and I completed the New Hampshire Double Weekend. Once again, it was a great day to be out skiing. Thanks to the crew at Gunstock for hosting such a fun event and making it competitive for everyone!