Quarry Road Opener
Tyler Magnan and I traveled to Waterville, Maine, to join the Colby Ski team/BFA alum Cipperly Good and former BFA Nordic Coach Jay Nutting for the Quarry Road Opener. The last time I participated in this event was in its inaugural year, 2014, when the NWVE founding five convened to show our support for the new event. Scott, Cipperly, Perry, Jessica, and I made the trip to support the Quarry Road Grand Opening. Obviously, our club threat from Vermont catalyzed an enhancement of the field as the rest of the New England States now send only their finest collegiate teams to compete. Actually, it was primarily collegiate then, and we got our clocks cleaned in '14 too. (It must be the skis. I used the same pair.) For more information and a full report on that race, click here!
About a dozen masters participated this year. The number is double from last year, where it seemed only Cipperly dared take on the likes of Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, Harvard, and UNH. Cipperly was super psyched to have some team support again. She checked out the wax bench, asked how we were doing, and was all smiles. I think she thought the overlays were cool. I wonder if the only way they work is if you think, "what kind of turd spreads all this money on their ski bases and then skis the way I do." Anyway, Cipperly did not seem too convinced that there was magic in the fluids and blocks, and it did not matter because the snow was so fast.
Sooooo, the weather has yet to cooperate with cross-country skiing this year. That has not discouraged the crew at Quarry Road. Even as the snow conditions camera showed pooling water on the bare ground most of the day Saturday, race organizers were very optimistic that Sunday was going to be a fantastic day of racing.
As we set out from Tops Market in Hardwick, Tyler and I hoped the optimism was correct. As we hit the road, we drove into a flurry and dreaded one of the worst ski conditions, cold powder on wet, icy snow. As the sunrise guided our journey east, the flurries ended. The only accumulated snow we saw was at elevation in the mountains or on ski slopes. Travel was easy, with instinct guiding the way as the GPS was having technical difficulties.
We arrived at the usual hustle and bustle of a skiing morning. People were preparing and warming up. There was the usual banter about how psyched people were to see what all the off-season training and preseason camps had done to improve one's fitness -at least in the college ranks, that is. The masters go more by feel, and it seemed that most were feeling good about the day.
At registration, the volunteer handed me my bib. It was pristine and wrinkle-free, aside from crisp creases in the folds. "Brand new bibs!" I exclaimed. "No, we got those in 2018," she replied. Well, probably never been used due to the pandemic, thinking to myself of the impact the disruption of COVID-19 has had on everything. The thought was a bummer for a second, but then I thought this year is different, and the volunteers and staff worked incredibly hard, without a doubt, against significant odds to produce the race I was about to enjoy.
Next up was trying to sneak in a lap on the closed course. That thought was denied as the presence of two friendly volunteers were enforcing the closure. I could ski a little on a strip in the stadium and get the information I sought. The news was good. The snow was fantastic! Walking on the temporary bridge over the pooling water and mud between the Welcome Yurt and the course, I shared the news with Tyler that there was no chance of getting on the trail before our start.
The snow was partially transformed into granular. The fear after the rain was that it would be crunchy ice and sheared off boilerplate. There was nothing of the sort. While there was plenty of evidence of the previous day's deluge, Waterville got much more rain than Vermont; the snow was perfect for an intense skate race. It was draining well, and there was a deep base measurable in feet in most places. Tilled, leveled, firm, fast, and most importantly, fun! The sky was clear, and there was a little wind, but with all the energy at the race, it was simply a happy day!
The talk of the day was the course. How much can be said about a 0.3-mile loop? Well, how's this, for starters? No one had ever skied it before! We were going in the reverse direction, and it just hasn't been done. I tried to get the scoop from Colby Sophomore Jack Young, and he said he had never skied the loop in the direction we were about to. I got a STRAVA segment top ten, so this indeed proves the course was neutral. Jay Nutting, the former Virginia Tech runner who has put some serious k's on the loop, was happy as turning left is more ingrained in us track and field folk. Unfortunately, this course modification precluded Zoolander from being able to participate.
The course was simply the Pine Tree and Charlie’s Inner Sprint trails. The ground was bare, but snowmaking was concentrated on this loop, creating an elevated ski track. The Pine Tree trail has a dip going into the woods and returning to the stadium. There were no real technical challenges on the course. While some may think this makes things easy, it creates a straight-up drag race where the key is to keep your engine pegged at full throttle without blowing it up—pure guts with no recovery.
Perhaps not the ideal first effort of the season, but it was what people were looking for and received. It's odd, but Tyler and I were satisfied to have spent eight hours or more driving just to ski for twenty minutes. The people at Quarry Road delivered.
The open race got underway on time. The format was seeded fifteen-second interval starts. Due to the short course, ten laps, and deeply stacked field, ten-minute breaks were built into the start order. This optimized racing while not congesting the course. It worked very well as the lower-seeded skiers got on course while the highest-ranked skiers were finishing. The speed disparity was leveled between the fresh skiers and those so depleted they were running on
fumes. Tyler noted this effect in his race when he latched onto a collegiate skier, thinking he was doing great, only to find his energy drained shortly after that.
While the men raced, Cipperly cheered on the hill. It was good to have her support where it was needed. It was a key to carry your momentum correctly on this spot of the course as you could glide halfway up the hill, or if you wobbled just slightly, it turned into a protracted scramble. The racing was clean, with the perfect amount of traffic on the course. Moving about the field was easy, and one never felt like a trail hazard. The snow was fast, and times were close.
Tyler was the first skier to start for NWVE. While it was a scene watching the collegiate skiers race across the muddy field, running in their ski boots to make their start by 5 seconds, the masters were ready with 15 minutes to go. Some of us even had time to put our warm-ups back on and take them off again. We discussed how things have been, that fluoros should be legal if you are over 40 (as if that would solve the problem), and that it was nice to see everyone. Max Olmstead (Fort Kent) filled us in on the conditions in the north, making us jealous.
Chris Naimie (Bow Nordic) had scraped his storage wax off for his first ski of the season. Perfect!
Tyler took to the course conservatively off the line but ramped up quickly as he joined the race traffic. I got on the course, yielding to another skier but finding the courtesy unnecessary. Jay set out right after. Laps went by fast initially. I tried to keep track of other skiers, as they were all doing the same. I noted that I was gaining a little on Tyler during the race's second half. Jay kept even with me for the first half. The swirl of skiers kept everyone in the action for the whole race. Not to mention the fans lining the course cheering everyone on.
Lap counting became the focus as a person exceeded the digits of one hand just as the equilibrium dipped into the red, compromising concentration, and the next wave of fresh skiers began entering the course. Ten laps are hard to keep track of, but everyone did it. Tyler, Jay, and I all finished happy with the effort. Nothing more satisfying than being on the verge of hurling to place in the bottom third of the field. Stowe Nordic's Cap Chenowith may have explained it best years ago. "These races are interesting because everyone is making the same physical effort; you just have to wait for the results to see where you fall."
We quickly got off course to reciprocate Cipperly’s enthusiasm for us as she started her race. Some of the women were on the tail end of our start wave, but Cipperly was in the next segment, so we had time to get our warm-ups back on before she set out on the course. Sporting the NWVE top, the late 90’s Colby bottoms, and a pair of Atomic Beta's, Cipperly drew a lot of cheers. Apparently, someone was yelling camber to her. Pondering what that meant was a good distraction in a race like this. If anyone knows what “CAMBER, CAMBER" means, pass it along. Usually, it is best to just go with it in these situations, which is what Cipperly did. She double-lapped her masters competition and cruised in with a bit of pep left for the finish. Obviously, the camber worked.
Cipperly was quick to get out of the stadium. We packed up the table and made a quick exit for the long drives home. It was a great day in Waterville, and the trip was worth it. Skiers left happy and excited for the next things to come. The Quarry Road opener was just the thing to supercharge the season!