Photos: Brett Macy Pictures
NENSA has proclaimed this season the season of miracle snow. The miracle snow did not happen for the originally scheduled date of this race, but it sure came through for the rescheduled race on Sunday! Skiers had a pristine white blanket of snow to ski on for the 2023 Hard’ack Challenge.
It was a busy weekend for NENSA with the BKL Festival in Craftsbury and the Rangeley Loppet. However, 21 hearty skiers rose to the Hard'ack Challenge. There was a great mix of skiers, and the locals were enthralled by the presence of an Olympian praising their little event. Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) returned as she loved the flow of the trails and the old-school feel of the event.
Skiers arrived after a day of heavy snow. The perfect amount fell in St. Albans for the event. Enough to freshen the base with a soft layer of powder without overwhelming the small machine grooming equipment and its operators. The race was two laps of a 5km loop using most of the trails at the site. Temps were in the low thirties at race time, and as the snow got skied in, speed improved.
The course utilized the whole trail network starting relatively flat and then rolled into a sustained climb peaking at the top of Mashtare's Massacre. The race this year was in the opposite direction of the last time it was held, so we skied the Massacre the "hard" way. I am still not convinced. After reaching the highest elevation, skiers enjoyed flowy downhills back to the meadows at the start of the race. Skiers backtracked but turned into the woods and had some rolling terrain before returning to the stadium for a second loop.
Due to uncertainty with the start format, the start time had been pushed to 9:45 a.m. for the rescheduled race to accommodate a possible interval start. Most skiers were ready to go at 9:45 a.m. A couple did not get the memo and were still
warming up. Some brief race instructions were given, the timers were ready, and the race was off.
Jake Hollenbach (NWVE) took an early lead using Eric Darling's (NWVE) poles. Jake had a mishap during warmup and broke a pole for the second week in a row! Eric helped out, and Jake was good to go. After the start, two skiers timing their warmup for 10:00 a.m. hopped in the race. No one objected, and they seeded themselves well. Charles Martell (SMC) tucked in behind Jake and tried to hang on as long as possible. Charles stayed on Jake for about 3km before the gap started widening.
Michael Gaughan (MNC), Tyler Magnan (NWVE), Andrew Bates (Unattached), and Brook Hodgeman (NWVE) all chased. I started with Sarah Pribram (NWVE) for the first stretch but made ground on those in front of me when the climbing started. Andrew Bates fell at the top of the field, where he caught a tip on the inside of a turn. I was able to pass as his skis were tangled and set my sights on those remaining in the front pack.
Tyler and Michael continued to race each other while Brook started to fatigue. Andrew had another fall that set him back. On the second loop, the race began to draw out. Andrew found his footing in the soft snow and stuck to the middle of the
trail, where it was firmer. He made up time, cruised by Brook and me, and started working on Tyler. Michael was able to gap Tyler, but Jake and Charles were long out of sight.
Once skiers settled into their pace, Sarah was on her own. She maintained contact with Andrew and me for over half a lap, but we pulled away when Andrew got into the zone. Chris Rose (NYSEF) tried to keep pace with Sarah but could not match her speed. Chris was excited that there was a local race about an hour from his home on the other side of the lake!
Jarlath O’Neil Dunne (MNC) led a strong group of skiers, including Owen Lenz (MNC), Teddy Tremblay (BFA), and Jamie Wilsey (NWVE). This group would trade places throughout the race, but Jarlath would hang on and hold his position. As they fatigued, Jessica Bolduc reeled in some of this pack on her second lap. She had a solid race, then quickly exited to catch a flight to Chicago. Jamie tried to keep pace while Jessica pulled away. He passed several skiers and had an exciting sprint with Teddy for a tie finish.
Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) saw Sean Rose (NYSEF) as within reach and began chipping away at his lead over her. She paced herself well and made ground on the climbs and technical sections of the course as Sean ran out of energy from an ambitious start. Mashtare’s Massacre took its toll on Sean while Trina was prepared for the climb.
Perry Bland (NWVE) has reported that Michael Mashtare (BFA) has been “skiing well.” Being the namesake for the course's main element, it seemed fitting that Mike would don a bib in this race. Mike has participated in some alumni races, but it has been more than a few years since he has hopped in with a NENSA field. Mike skied well and worked with Ken Zou (SMC) and Landon vom Steeg (Ford Sayre) for much of the race.
Perry Bland (NWVE) and David Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) had their work cut out. While the course and grooming provided skiing reminiscent of the good old days, all the young guns in this race were pumped for the Hard'ack Challenge. The soft conditions caught a few of the hotshots off guard, but excellent course prep allowed them to adapt quickly. It was not advantageous for Perry and David to have decades of soft snow experience. David elected to classic ski in the tricky condition where the snow temp traverses zero from slightly below to slightly above. The transition happened during the race and was clearly evident between laps one and two on skate skis. David lost all his kick and limped it in. Perry was happy to be out and visiting with club members and gave enthusiastic encouragement when he could. He, as always, shared his coaching wisdom and even stuck around for a while after to watch the thrash that is the BFA Alumni Citizens Race.
It was another great weekend to ski race. It almost felt like spring skiing in St. Albans. The snow was fast, and the temperature was just right, except for David, who elected to classic ski. The season will come to an end before we know it. There are still a few opportunities to ski and surely more days like we had on Sunday. Great job to all who participated! Thank you, Tyler, for directing such a fun event and securing an excellent prize spread!