Twenty-three accomplished skiers lined up for the first Master’s designated start in eleven months. The lapse of time was evident as so much has happened. The race was in memory of two major influences on Nordic Skiing, Tom Kendall, a long-time race promoter, and Bill Henchey, a person dedicated to all aspects of the sport. Both passed unexpectedly, with Tom being involved in a tragic accident at his home and Bill suffering from a cardiac event while skiing. Both were behind the scenes guys that made sure things ran smoothly for all of us who enjoy the thrill of competition.
While things had been somber leading up to the race, the spirit of the event drew enthusiasts eager to clear out the cobwebs from the racing hiatus. People were scurrying about doing the things we all do to prepare for an event. Mansfield Nordic dominated the registration and was out in force, with some new faces joining the usual ones. Northwest Vermont was also going through the motions of catching up, reminiscing, and getting ready to race. One thing in common was this was the first in-person race for many in almost a year!
Craftsbury lured the Masters with the Ruthie’s 10km race loop. For the longest time, this has been The Race Loop, and the race field was grateful to the directors for opting to allow us to get another start on the prestigious course. We started in the lower stadium, climbed Chip Hill went out Main Street to Lemon’s, took Denis’ to Moss’ then onto Kirby’s via The Pines. At the bottom of Kirby’s, we merged right onto Ruthie’s, following the loop all the way back to the North End of the Race Loop, up Screamin Mimi back to Lemon’s, up Wilbur’s, and back into the lower stadium for the finish. Temps were in the middle single digits, and there was a light coating of new snow. The course was prepped perfectly as expected at Craftsbury; however, the snow felt faster than expected to a point. The race loop portion has been more pulverized by the tillers than Ruthie’s. So, when we hit that part of the course, the snow softened with a higher percentage of new snow and created more drag than the beginning and end of the loop. As Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) lamented, “the snow turned to sandpaper on Ruthie’s.”
Leighding the Start Order was NWVE’s Leigh Mallory. When he glided down Teaching Hill into the stadium in his race uniform, he drew the attention of all, like a Master of Ceremonies. Not that we were in awe, but everyone knew him, and he was going to initiate the start of something special yet again. Leigh said his hellos, shrugged off some accolades, and went to the line. As we have so many times in the past, we watched and learned as he modeled the way with getting to the line, lowering his mask and letting the race instincts take it from there. It was a moment of excitement as racing was once again underway.
Due to the lack of competing events, the race drew people from other aspects of the sport. Scott Thomas (EABC) opting to join us without his rifle was among them and soon set out to compete in a single sport event chasing Matt Thomson (MNC). Eli Enman (NWVE) was fourth in the order. It was Eli’s first time to Craftsbury in a year. He was chased by Rosemary Shea-Cobb (MNC) and Tiffany Teaford (Caldwell Sport). While they may not have seen much of Eli after Chip Hill, it was good to see them racing again. I set out next. I was so psyched to be racing, I forgot it was 10km and took off like it was a 400m. Judging by how quickly Nate Laber (MNC) caught me, he felt the same. Jamie Willsey (NWVE), Mark Isselhardt (Craftsbury), and John Whitmer (NWVE) were next. Jamie and John were their usual upbeat selves. John entered at the last-minute thinking he might as well get going while the going is good! Amy Caldwell (Caldwell Sport) got some final touch-ups on her skis from her personal wax tech as she headed to the line. Charlie Cobb (MNC), a U23 skier, infiltrated the field and smoked the course in 28:16! Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) led out BTV residents Joshua Brown (MNC) and Dunbar Oehmig (MNC). Tom Thurston (NWVE) was next, with Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) hot on his heels. Rick Costanza (MNC), who has been a coaching phenom splitting time between Craftsbury and MNC, had to set a good example. Kasie Enman (NWVE) was happy to get a skate race under her belt this season. MNC’s Michael Gaughan, Katie Hill, and Vince Franke rounded out the start order.
With the 30-second interval, the wide range of abilities, the randomized start-order, and the challenging 10km loop, there was a lot of brief action on the course. Everyone had to time trial it. While there was passing, due to the disparity between skiers, it was brief, and there was no occurrence of pacelines developing. I think this worked out well, as you knew you were not completely alone on course but also felt safe from potential exposure. Eli made quick work of those who started in front of him and cruised over much of the course with first tracks. Leigh was holding his own, measuring the speed of his skis against the young guys who caught him on the downhills. He concluded his skis were just as good. As quickly as I passed two racers, two passed me. Seeing how light they were on the hills made me think I need to rethink my approach of powering through. Jamie battled a little with Mark, trying to latch on as he passed. Jessica had a great race skiing away from Josh and getting a solid result against her usual competition. It took Rick two attempts to pass Jessica as the first resulted in clipping a tip followed by some aerial acrobatics. Kasie took the podium for women edging Caldwell by 13.6 seconds! Tom Thurston still looked fresh, moving his skis quickly as he rounded the crest of Screamin Mimi in the final kilometer of the race. The proud dad had just dropped off his daughter Ava (MNC) to go to Europe for the World Juniors in Finland! Ava’s younger sister, Julia (MNC), also took the U16 Podium at the Kendall Cup. John was happy with the day, agreeing with Trina that the powdery snow was a little more challenging but that it was great to be able to race again!
Later in the day NWVE Members Chris Burnham, Jake Hollenbach, Cooper Willsey, and I threw it down in the Open Men's 15km Race. The vibe was a little more serious but participants were just as appreciative of the opportunity to race as the earlier fields. The 15km course was 3-laps of the North 5km Loop with its rolling terrain. Chris, Jake, and Cooper all looked strong throughout the race. I felt like I was starting on Lap Two, but came around ok. Jake won for the M2's, I took the M3 honors. Cooper and Chris just missed the SR podium in 4th and 5th respectively in that division with GRP skiers taking the top three spots.
All in all, the Kendall Cup was a success. The brisk air surely cleaned out the lungs and sinuses. Participants were thankful for the opportunity and are looking forward to another. Overall, NWVE took four of the six podiums! The Enman’s getting two golds, Tom taking Silver, and Jessica a Bronze. Winner Charlie Cobb waved masters podium eligibility due to not being old enough to rent a car. The event was a fitting memorial to the two fixtures in the Nordic Community who helped it thrive with the influence of their work evident throughout the day.