NENSA capped the Winter Race Season with the Rikert Grand Prix. The Grand Prix has been years in the making and is a three-day event culminating the ski season with challenging skiing and festive celebration. The spring conditions added to the fun, and all races were spared any precipitation, including the forecasted rain. Participants were amazed at the conditions and basked in the energy of kicking back in the final race weekend of the season.
Day One was a 3km Prologue. The course was on the 5km manmade loop minus the steepest climbing and technical sections. Skiers started in the field behind the Milk House, taking a round-about way into the first loop of the 5km racecourse. We skied the whole first loop then into the second loop, where we took the Sheehan cutoff eliminating the top quarter of the loop and some steep terrain. We skied onto the third loop crossing the Forest Service Road and taking the second cutoff on Craig’s Hill and returned to the stadium to finish.
Conditions were spring-like and melting in the sunny 50-degree weather. We started in a puddle, hit some icy patches, but the first climb was good fast snow. Moisture crept through the snow in places, but everything was very skiable. At the bottom of the First Loop, as it turns into the Second Loop, was 50-meters of ice. There was a film of slush on top, making it navigable on skis without too much trouble. The rest of the Second Loop was fine, and the Third Loop was virtually all snow! During warm-up, the disparity of the variable conditions was concerning as ski speed would dramatically change depending on the full spectrum of frozen to running water under the ski. The course was also very dirty with tree debris. We have skied on much worse as in some races. The Rikert snow looked as though it would hold.
Skiers attacked the course setting out with determination. It was impressive to see the power of the collegiate elite setting the pace. I used to think, “that’s energy I would not waste,” now I know it’s energy I no longer have. As skiers lined up, it was fun to visit with those who showed up, and everyone seemed to be amazed at how mild the day was and that the snow was fast for the most part.
John Thompson was the first NWVE Member to start. The race had a fifteen-second interval and was basically a VO2Max Test Time Trial. John skied without any company and turned out a solid performance. I was next to go for the club. I was chased by Jeremy Huckins (Stowe Nordic) and Michael Gaughan (MNC). Jeremy caught me at the top of the first downhill and Michael at the top of the second. I did not mind as they gave me more confidence in the descents and probably significantly improved my time. I also passed a couple of skiers, keeping me maxed out for the whole race. Jamie Willsey (NWVE) had a race similar to mine, with Mark Isslehardt (Craftsbury) and Jimmy Burnham (CSU) overtaking him on the course but also passing a few skiers. Thomas Clayton (NWVE) and Tyler Magnan (NWVE) were near the tail end of the start list and set out on a mission overtaking skiers as they advanced up the results page.
In the women’s race, Jessica Bolduc was the only NWVE skier. The women’s race was seeded much like the men’s, with the elite athletes first, then masters, then late registrants. Jessica agonized about signing up but finally admitted that she wanted to at least try part of the weekend. She was pleased with the conditions and format. She had a little company with June Yates-Rusch (Frost Mountain) on the first loop but then had the trail to herself to ski it in.
The Club was off to a good start in the three-day event! Several skiers remarked that they had not pushed themselves that hard in a long time and were feeling it. The club cooled down and pondered what the next days event would bring.
Day Two was a mass start Classic 10km race. A night of warm rain had subsided, and a brisk wind averaged the temperature inversion at Rikert. Skiers arrived to a new scene. The puddle we had started the prologue in was gone, as was all the snow on the trail to the first loop. The racecourse had been modified to the entire Third Loop with an uphill mass start from the Forest Service Road to the stadium. There was a 180-degree turn at the top of the hill where skiers would lap four times before finishing at the Milk House.
The snow on the course was icy and fast. It was also deep and fully double-tracked. The modification of the course to the Third Loop was popular with me. I feel this one skis the best of the three loops and has a nice flow. The first two tend to tempt heartrates to break the ceiling, but the third has just enough ebb and flow to keep things under control until the final kick.
The Women took it out fast, and the leaders cranked out six-minute laps. We wondered if that was right but went with it, as it was high-speed conditions. No NWVE Women raced on day two. The collegiate women put on a show, especially UVM’s, Anna Bizyukova, who dominated racing sleeveless and shorts. Master skiers of note were Audrey Mangan (Craftsbury), who finished in the middle of the elite field. Michele Smith (CSU) and Katie Hill (MNC) also stuck it out to contest the General Classification (GC) in the three-day event.
As the women raced, the men prepped. Jeremy Huckins (Stowe Nordic) joined NWVE at the bench and took notes. His unfamiliarity with the club’s Stick-for-Kick Index may have been to his detriment. Where I favor a little slick, Sarah likes one step warmer; Perry is using Extra Blue or Universal, and the other nuances such as buffers, bridges, and a speed shell. Most violet universals were working, but the snow was very abrasive and dirty. The women reported losing their wax as the race progressed. I went with a klister base green binder then a thin layer of a cold violet to bind a softer violet multigrade (KM3) + NERO to the base. I tested, and while it worked, I still wanted more for the incredible striding on this course. A little Rode KRS3 did the trick, and I was in business. Jeremy stuck to the KM3 + NERO.
The uphill mass start at Rikert was mostly clean, and skiers were on course. The field spread out quickly, with many UVM Men electing to double-pole the event. The masters were kicking, at least those with toothy wax. After hours of pre-race testing, Rob Bradlee (Freedom Trail) dialed it in too much. He may have been about where Jeremy was with a kick that worked with concentration, but it was just a little too slick in race mode. There was more double poling than anticipated for those two. For the top NWVE Men, the question was, “Can we hold off getting lapped by Ben Ogden (UVM)?”
John Thompson (NWVE) and Thomas Clayton (NWVE) battled with Taylor Carlson (MNC) and Charlie Cobb (MNC). Taylor was tenacious and could not be shaken off no matter how hard they pushed. John would hold him off, but Thomas dropped a little late in the race as his technique deteriorated. They both barely held off being lapped by Ben. Tyler Magnan (NWVE) squeaked onto the first page in a battle with Kirk Siegel (BOC). Kirk was in town racing with his son Andrew, representing the University of Wyoming. Tyler also was involved in a mishap that cost Jimmy Burnham (CSU) a pole giving me a carrot to chase. I started conservatively and played a long game, knowing my klister would not wear off. I chased Bob and Jimmy Burnham (CSU) and saw others faltering in the distance. Jeremy and Dennis Page (Nansen) were losing wax. I had offered Dennis a spot at our bench not for the tailgate application method but for seeing what he had for klister, but he declined. As I started my third lap, Ben Ogden came by. As for what it is like to ski stride-stride-stride-stride for pole with a current Olympian? I cannot say. He went by so fast I do not even think I saw him. I only heard cheers for him and his teammates as we crested the hill in the lap zone and then consolatory “good job Damian” from Jim Grossman and the weekend’s groomer extraordinaire Chas Lyons. On the last lap, I lapped Chris Naimie (Bow) and passed Jimmy, Bob, and Dennis at the top of the hill and tried to gap them as much as possible before the significant descent. As we crossed the Forest Service Road for the final time, things were close. I ran up the last hill and held them off at the line.
After day two, skiers were beginning to show significant exhaustion. Everyone was happy with the course and that the rain stopped for the event. Another long cool-down ski was enjoyed, and upon departing, several made a side trip to the Snow Bowl to inspect the pitch of the Final Stage.
Day Three featured the most anticipated stage of the race. The Hill Climb up the Middlebury Snow Bowl. Billed initially as a hill climb and ski-cross event, the course was shortened to primarily a hill climb. It was a little less than 2km but a punishing course. Participants were again treated to a precipitation-free event which all were happy about.
The course was soggy at the bottom of the slope. Skiers started pursuit style and crossed the base of the resort, hitting the bottom pitch of the Ross Trail. This was an easy climb, but turning at the top revealed the biggest challenge for many of the skiers. A downhill with a wet spot bleeding through the snow just as the trail turned and leveled off. It seemed that the wet spot would not slow the skis immediately, but when the wet bases hit some soft snow in an unfortunately placed dip, they pitched the skiers forward, with many losing their balance and face planting. Most skiers warmed up here and tried different approaches with similar results. Those with skill made it through; those without were 50/50. Once through the Ross slush pit, skiers crossed the resort base again and climbed the Lang Trail to the top of the Sheehan Chair Lift. The Lang trail had different pitches, and at some points, it seemed you could touch the tips of your skis with your chin. At the top, the trail leveled off for about 20m for a final sprint if anyone had anything left.
Once again, skiers attacked the course. Bullitt Timing had some world-class monitors that displayed the skiers’ names, a countdown to their start, and red and green signals. Skiers rolled off the line in a mixed pursuit. One skier quoted Clubber Lang from Rocky III when asked for their prediction. “Prediction? Pain.”
The race was a blur for most. Digging deep into the pain cave just to stay upright and moving forward. John Thompson (NWVE) had quite a challenge from Andrew Nadler (Ford Sayre). Thomas Clayton (NWVE) also had company from Lorenzo Atocha (Frost Mountain) but held him off at the line and in the GC. Tyler Magnan (NWVE) chased and overtook Callie Young (Dartmouth). I got tangled with Miles Rakov (Freedom Trail) in the slush pit at the bottom of Ross. His binding broke off; I got up and kept going. Eli Enman (NWVE) had a top 25 time that would have held off Anna Bizyukova (UVM) by not one but over two full seconds. He was there with his daughter Acadia Enman, who seemed unphased skiing to the finish and was looking forward to going rogue and skiing back down. Jamie Willsey (NWVE) was back in action after a day of downhill skiing on Saturday. He held position against Jeff Palleiko (Gun Stock), who was pumped for the event. Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) also returned to action using the uphill training from the Long Hall Loppet to hold off CSU’s Michele Smith. Michele took home the Gold in the Master’s GC for her perseverance. She was reluctant to comment if she would do it again before the awards ceremony.
The vibrant New England Cross Country Skiing Community celebrated the season at the awards. First, the Masters were honored, and each received a NENSA mug. Then the days champions and finally the GC winners. After the official awards, a prize drawing was held with thousands of dollars in merchandise. There was enough for everyone to get a prize. People talked about the upcoming races for the diehards, including the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race and the Mud n’ Ice Quadrathlon. Slowly skiers made their way home content that they had ended on a high note. Thanks to the staff and volunteers at Rikert for making this an incredible weekend in challenging conditions! It was a lot of fun and a great way to finish the season.