The Henchey Cup drew the largest Masters field yet of the 2021 season. The two-day Vermont Cup Finale attracted racers of all ages from across the state. Skiers are growing more comfortable with racing as the word spreads that these events are fun and easy to comply with. As results pour in, it is also getting easier to seed the field, making even more exciting racing.
Craftsbury has been able to accommodate the demands of the people this year, with the Vermont Department of Health offering guidance and USSA yielding a little on the course requirements of its events. The State of Vermont has certainly stipulated many regulations to comply with that go in tandem with creating a popular racecourse. Less lapping means a longer loop, and Ruthies has been heavily utilized for this purpose. A favorite of many, its sustained climb offers just the right amount of challenge without pushing skiers into the red zone, but they feel it later when their legs declare fatigue on the climbs later in the course. It also has a very skiable downhill section that keeps the burn going a long way without realizing it. As fun as fast is, it is never easy. This racecourse goes back to the origins of the Outdoor Center, and completing it is a benchmark in the achievements of young and old. Competing on it is a highlight that often sets a standard in a racing career. Everyone needs to have a Ruthie’s story or two or twelve.
Racing got underway on Saturday with the Women’s Race. The loop was the straight Ruthie’s Race loop. Skiers left the Lower Field, climbed Chip Hill, went out Main Street to Six Corners, and got on Kirby’s Downhill and skied right onto Ruthies. After skiing the loop, they took the direct route back into the Lower Field.
Camille Bolduc (Craftsbury) thought the loop would be easy to race on. “Way easier than doing the Race Loop.” More seasoned racers warned her not to fall into the trap of that thinking as it provides a different type of challenge. Their wisdom said that racing is racing no matter what the course is.
While the women raced, I skied a perimeter loop with Tom Thurston. Craftsbury has warned that spectating was forbidden, and we were careful not to intersect the racecourse while skiers were competing. Conditions were great with a bountiful packed powder base with a couple of inches of new snow groomed in perfectly as expected. Temps were in the low-teens with overcast skies and undetectable wind. These factors contributed to “slow snow,” but it was incredibly nice skiing and hard to hold back to save some for the race.
The fields were ordered by age, starting with the youngest. Julia Thurston (MNC) reviewed strategy with her coach Adam Terko, then followed through with a decisive win in the U16 race, one 7.5km lap. The Junior and Senior skiers were next and posted some impressive results. Caitlin Patterson (GRP), who has been racing on the World Cup, set the standard decimating the field by almost three minutes. Some other notable finishers were Rose Clayton (MNC/Colby) taking 6th, Camille Bolduc (Craftsbury) in 7th, and Emma Strack (GMVS/SLU) in 8th. These three have turned it up a couple of notches this season, producing some remarkable results. Just outside the top ten was another contender that has been quietly working her way up the results page, Hattie Barker (MMU/MNC) taking 11th in the stacked field. Hattie’s trajectory has made some big gains this season as well!
After the Junior and Senior fields got underway, there was a slight break in the action as the Masters got ready. Thirteen Master’s women in total for an EC-type race is the biggest field we have seen in years! Craftsbury was out in force to defend their lead in the Club Series/Hall Mark of Excellence Rankings. The coaches donned their racing threads in a rare show of power that proves the method to their madness transcends time by crushing all but one of their pupils in the results. Anna Shulz (Craftsbury) came through the lap with a 90-second advantage on the field. As Anna set out on her second lap, she maintained focus with steady movement staring down whatever was in front of her. Coach Audrey Mangan (Craftsbury) was able to close and took second. Sara Falconer (MNC SR) skied to third place, making a coaches sweep of the podium. Ollie Burruss (Craftsbury) shouted to Pepa, “what did you put on those girls' skis” with excitement as the women lapped through the stadium.
Sara Graves (Stowe Nordic) was just off the podium in the 15km contest. Heather Voisin (Onion River) was excited to race. She has been training with a master's group and crushed some intervals earlier in the week. This was after a significant Birthday Ski effort where you ski 1km per year old. Being a Master, the number must be something over 30. Heather had fast skis and overtook competitors in some speedy sections. Rosemary Shea-Cobb (MNC) had a great race too. She steadily worked her way up through the field. Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) was not feeling the free speed from her skis. Her wax tech realized he might have gone a little too warm on the wax as temps did not rise as fast as expected. Jessica still skied well and has inspired others with initiating the Birthday Ski Challenge. Allison Van Akkeren (Craftsbury) raced wisely, drafting those that passed for as long as she could hold on. She loved the course and the skiing and elected to take the long way home after the race on the race skis. As for Camille’s prediction of an easy course? “I felt like I was going to hurl each time past the cabins.”
On Sunday, the Men competed on a similar course but added Lemon’s Denis’, and Moss’ on the way out and Screamin’ Mimi on the way in to make a 10km loop. Many were familiar with this loop from the Master’s wave at the Kendall Cup earlier in the season. Jake Hollenbach (NWVE) looked forward to the loop as he had done the open field, which used the Race Loop earlier in the season for their race. Having raced back to back that day, I let him know that two Ruthie’s Loops would not be a more sustained effort than four Race Loop’s. The snow was similar to Saturday, but the clouds gave way to the sun, and there was a little wind in the few exposed areas.
The Men’s Masters wave was split into two groups with the division between the M2’s and M3’s. There were 32 competitors in this field! Just as with the women, this was not your average Master’s field. It, too, was top-heavy with coaches. Coach Jake Barton (Craftsbury), Coach Adam Terko (MNC), and Coach Brayton Osgood (Dartmouth) had a close race for 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively, behind some GRP skiers. Only 45 seconds separated them over the 20km grind. Like Sara the day before, Neal Graves (NWVE) put a bib on for the first time this season. He felt a little rusty and out of shape but still posted a top 10. Tom Thurston (NWVE) was very happy with his race. He left it all out on the course and felt a short cool-down was sufficient as he was heading toward a major bonk after the effort. Tom was also happy to have edged Ethan Dreissigacker (Craftsbury) who was described by his dad Dick Dreissegacker (Craftsbury) as 747 trying to take off. Ethan’s long wingspan teetered, going up Chip Hill trying to get the momentum to fly. Jeremy Huckins (Stowe Nordic) came out for what seems to be an annual event. He has been coaching the Stowe BKL, and it seems he has made time for his own fitness. Nate Laber (MNC), Michael Millar (MNC), and Michael Gaughan (MNC) showed the benefits of training together as a tight pack in the results. Eric Eley (WWP) was guilted into racing by George Deane (Unattached). Eric was true to form and as fit as ever. He did think that it would have been excellent conditions for a Classic race with many in agreement. An interesting thing about this race was that it featured not only Eric and George but also myself and Brendan Barden, all from the late 90’s (Would '97 be the year we all ran together?) UVM running team. The order of finish was a little jumbled from back in the day, but we all got STRAVA thumbs up from our then Captain, now Head UVM Running Coach Joe Gingras! Mark Isselhardt (Craftsbury) was also of that UVM vintage. Luke Shullenberger (NWVE) had a solid race winning the M4 division. Luke was too quick to be caught and saw no one for the whole race. His result is a testament to his self-discipline. It was a different story for Rick Costanza (MNC) and me who raced out of the comfort zone the whole way. Rick knew I was stalking him. I caught him after on lap and drafted. Once I made a move, he realized I was running on empty, but he was not, and forced me to crack on Screamin Mimi as we closed in on the finish. The mutual effort pushed us ahead of Adrian Owens (Craftsbury), which has not happened in several years. Steve Crafts (MNC) caught Brendan Barden (NWVE) from a minute back. Brendan latched on to Steve and ended up moving up significantly from his results in Woodstock. Brendan was very psyched and went for a 20km cool-down. Eric Remick (Craftsbury) and Jamie Willsey (NWVE) had a close race, with Eric having the edge this week on the home course. Perhaps a rematch on the bike would be interesting? Joshua Brown (Mansfield) was happy not to be last this week, and totally pumped that he beat a really good runner, George Deane. George accomplished his mission after having doubled his ski training for the year!
It was a weekend where it was hard to stop skiing! The events are going well and everyone participating is very appreciative of the work that goes into pulling these off during a pandemic. It provides so much more than a race. This weekend was also in memory of Bill Henchey. Bill was mostly a behind-the-scenes guy, a critical eye as a TD, a perfectionist as a groomer, and I always thought of him as a curmudgeon that saw us as messing up his corduroy with our skis. I never got the impression that Bill thought much of me as an athlete, coach, and parent. Still, when he was Chief of Stadium at a Super Tour, it sure felt good to earn his trust and receive his scowl of approval as the volunteer in charge of reconfiguring the stadium in a short window between the start and the lap. He could not hide his sense of pride and the gleam in his eye when big things happened, thanks to his attention to detail.