The Jackson XC welcomed many smiling racers for the Annual Jackson Jaunt Classic Ski Race. While it does not look like winter in most of New England, twenty-five racers from around the region and one from Arizona took advantage of the machine-made and machine-groomed snow to finish 2023 in stride. Given the challenges the season has presented, the host did an outstanding job pulling together an excellent event.
Jackson XC Executive and Race Director Ellen Chandler put things into perspective with how challenging it has been in Jackson. After thanking all the volunteers and staff who helped with the race, as well as the participants who made their way to the venue, she shared a bit about what the touring center has overcome in the last few weeks. Ellen pointed to a strip of snow between the lodge and the parking lot that looked a bit out of place. She explained how it was a part of the trail we skied on until December 18, when the venue was underwater due to flooding from the melt and several inches of rain. The waters broke the
snowpack loose, and the trail floated about 100m to where it rests now. I had never heard of this before, but the 30m of trail rested as a reminder of what was. Ellen said it has taken 50 hours of snowmaking and 25 hours of grooming to get things to what we enjoyed today. I am sure that is only part of the story, and we should be reminded of the work behind the scenes to provide us with opportunities like we have today.
The conditions were a firm, fast track. The snow depth on the trail varied from at least eight inches to over a foot deep. The snow was clean and, despite having been rained on, seemed relatively fresh. Off the trail was bare ground. During the race, the sky remained cloudy, but on the cooldown, there were some breaks in the cloud cover, and all welcomed the sun. No significant wind was detected, and temps were steady in the mid-twenties. If this sounds about perfect, it was!
The course was a kilometer loop around the Wentworth Golf Course South. The loop started on the trail access from the parking lot, and skiers went due south before making a hard left turn onto the most significant hill on the course. Skiers climbed to the lodge patio, where there was a 180-degree turn. Skiers proceeded back to the start but made a left, heading south again toward the river. They raced a clockwise loop along the river to the covered bridge with a sweeping right turn that put you on the fairway back to the start of the lap. Skiers would complete eight laps to reach the 7km distance. The loop was mostly flat aside from the climb to the lodge and a rise at the covered bridge.
While only a short loop, the race was one of options. Some skiers double-poled the whole loop on skate skis; some double-poled on classic skis, some waxed for a slight kick assist, and some klistered for a firm kick. My no-test, Tuesday wax prediction, delivered just what I was aiming for. The Star M16 kick wax was not a speed liability but provided just enough bite to kick over the hills. Its true advantage showed unexpectedly by carrying more momentum over the top of the hills and transitioning to faster acceleration on the downhills, allowing my skis to gain on the runout with slightly less taxed arms than those who just powered over the climbs.
There was also an element of timing. A few finished the race before the majority of the field started. Fresh tracks and lower traffic may have been an advantage, but it appeared that most of the top ten were on course at the same time. Having company was a good thing today. There was not much drafting, but seeing how you measured against others was good motivation to keep going hard.
After a couple of preview laps, I decided it was time to go. The women’s winner, Carli Krebs (St. Lawrence), was just finishing her race. I started with Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) 15 seconds behind me. Silas Eastman (Unattached) was 15 seconds behind Jessica, and Torin Laliberty (Clarkson) was 15 after that. We set out as a solid unit of hammerheads. Silas quickly pulled away after a lap, though a falter on the 180 gave us hope we could close a little. He recomposed himself quickly and was out of sight. The rolling start on the criterium course made things interesting. Kate Newick (Ford Sayre) and Estell Kipp (Ford Sayre) came on course while we were thrashing it out. Kirk Siegel (BOC) and Ian Blair (BOC) also got underway as I finished one of my early laps.
Kirk was flying on some skate skis and looked to be moving effortlessly around the course. Ian stated that double pole courses were his thing and started out strong. I hoped he would slow down after a few laps, but that was not the case. Kirk went on to win for the men.
Coming onto the course later in the race were Jeff Palleiko (Gunstock), Christopher Naimie (Holderness), and Stuart Kremzner (Toko). Seeing these racers fresh was contagious, and the paces of those on the course picked up, having tapered off a little. Torin eventually bridged to me around the race's midpoint, and we stayed together to the finish. We almost caught Jessica as she started her bell lap.
As the action quieted, the cheers were for Lisa Doucett (CSU), who waited for things to clear up a little before starting her race. The track was always busy with people racing and courteous others warming up or cooling down. The volunteers who lined the course supported all the athletes enthusiastically, and it was good to catch up with the Jackson crew. They were curious to know what we thought of their little snow loop. Judging by the smiles, approval was off the charts.
The post-race festivities were timely, and prizes were plentiful for anyone who wanted one. There was much to celebrate. Participants caught up on where skiing is and how much. Bethel seems to have benefitted from the last round of snow. Jessica and I stopped in Littleton for a hearty breakfast and a stroll through Chutters, the world’s longest candy counter!