Skiers from around the region converged on Jackson, NH, for the Annual Jackson Jaunt. Most drove through some sort of precipitation as the first significant weather event of the new year was settling in. Leaving snow in Craftsbury, we hit a fine misty rain before leaving Vermont. Conditions stayed the same through Crawford Notch, but the snow base increased notably as we closed in on our destination.
The Jackson Jaunt 10km was initially billed as a Classic Race, but director Ellen Chandler made the call earlier in the week to change it to a freestyle technique. The decision was understandable as while there was an adequate base of snow, forecasts were not favorable, and setting tracks would be very challenging. Skiers did not seem to mind the change, though a couple lamented that it increased the difficulty of the course.
Overnight temperatures did not fall below freezing in Jackson. They held steady around forty degrees for the duration of the race. Skies were overcast with light drizzly rain. There was no detectable wind. The trail surface was soft transformed snow. The grooming was excellent, given what was there to work with. There was some organic tree debris, and thin spots were well marked. The course held up well during the event, with some stating that it seemed like it improved. It took finesse to ski well, as the snow would give out underfoot if skiers started thrashing. Pole placement was also an art as some lines had firmer snow than others.
The course was a slightly shortened version of the Homologated 5km Race loop on the Eagle Mountain Trail Network. This is a "rolling" loop that features 171m of climbing. Many skiers found it challenging to establish a rhythm on the course.
Starting with some dramatic changes in pitch (nothing like V2'ing into a single stick in the first ten seconds of a race), then kind of settling into some steady climbing, skiers made their way around to the Henry Trail. They then had a significant climb that turned left into a wall before relief with a descent. The downhill ended with a technical S-turn, and skiers returned to the stadium via the fun descent on the Wave. Skiers completed two laps for an approximate 9km.
Skiers registered at the touring center and warmed up by skiing up Yodel to the start in the Eagle Mountain Fields. One skier arrived without their bib and made another round trip as they were sent back to retrieve it. Many wise skiers arrived early to preview the course before starting the race - a decision that seemed to prove highly advantageous. Others figured they were familiar enough with the trail, did not want to spoil the surprise, or thought that the trip up Yodel was fatiguing enough.
Ellen Chandler utilized the rolling start where skiers are autonomous in choosing their start time. There was some strategy for a few folks, timing their starts to make for a good chase, though most decided to start when it felt right for them. A steady trickle of athletes left the stadium in random order. It would be interesting to see if there was an inversion of age to start order. Many wanted to get things going as soon as possible.
With the rolling start, racing takes on a different dynamic. Some skiers may never overlap on the course, which was the case today. Most found that they did not have much company during the race. With forty starters spread over an hour, this is to be expected. Today marked the first race with an interstate field for many in attendance since the Long Hall Loppet in 2020.
Amy Gunn was in action starting at 9:00 a.m. sharp. She claimed fatigue in her arms from an eleven-mile backcountry ski on Saturday but showed no signs of it during the race. A couple of other early starters were Bob Gray (Putney) and Karen Alence (MNC). Watching them get the day underway was inspiring but foreshadowed that things would not be easy. Nat Lucy (Mt. Washington) was in action today in one of the deepest divisions of the day, M7. He was edged by one place by long-time rival Kirk Siegel (BOC). Both were comfortably in the top half of the field. Kirk passed his teammate Brad Clarke (BOC) with "smooth gliding as if he was floating over the snow." Ed Momm (Gunstock) was also out in force, skiing close to Kirk and Nat in time and winning the M6 division. Ed prefers the longer distances but looked great today and was happy to be racing.
Chris Burnham (NWVE) timed his start to chase Mark Young (Gunstock). Unfortunately, Mark was quick off the start and gradually made a little time on Chris to take the overall. Kieth Kantack (Unattached) snuck in for second overall, and Chris settled for third. Tristan Williams (PVR40) had a solid race winning the M2 division. Matthew Katsenes (Unattached) endured the day to take second in the M2's.
When we arrived at the starting area, Dennis Page (Nansen) shared his reconnaissance information with James Donegan (NWVE) and me. He stated that "the downhills look dirty, but they are fine. There are a couple of rocks poking through on the Henry uphill, but if you stay on the trail, you should not hit them." Dennis set out, and James invited me to start together, which I declined. Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) set out to get things over with. James followed and quickly passed. James skied aggressively, pushing his limits over the course. A couple of technical turns surprised him, but he held it together. Jessica took a more conservative approach.
I felt good during the race but fell for the first time in a long time. Taking corrective action on the second lap, I went too wide on the S-turn and fell again off the course. There were a few craters on the course that were not mine. Brad Clarke had previewed the course and avoided the fate of falling which gave him the edge over me this time. Brian Northan made the trip from NY and won the M4 division. Jay Nutting (Down East Sled Dog Club) had to leave his four-legged advantage at home for this one. It was his first appearance at a Zak Cup race since the Bond Brook Race many years ago. Jay stated that his skijoring partner would have gotten really tired on today's course in these conditions. He took second in the M4's right behind Brian.
Christopher Naimie (Bow Nordic) was excited to be racing again. He has gotten some good k's in splitting time between Craftsbury and Proctor Academy. He was happy with his effort in the challenging conditions. Cipperly Good (NWVE) took advantage of as much restless sleep as she could, being one of the three doing the double this weekend. She arrived to start closer to the 10:00 a.m. side of the window of the rolling start. Her skiing yesterday at the Alumni Race prepared her for today. She focused on gliding and had another solid race winning the M3 category.
Torin La Liberte' (Clarkson) had a rough day. He was the one sent back to retrieve his bib. He did not seem too phased by that but, upon finishing, exclaimed, "that was the hardest I have ever skied that course." No one denied it was a challenging day to ski a challenging course. Everett Ingalls (Unattached) took the M9 division. Eddie O'Rourke (North Shore Nordic Association) toughed it out to take third in the M7's against Nat and Kirk. Laurel Smith (Mt. Washington) was happy to get a prize, winning the women's M7 division after a hard effort.
Those who raced were happy they did. It is always great to see who shows up on days like today. At the Rodrigues Sprints (in the rain), it was stated that these are "making memories days." It is true; the ones you remember are the ones you work the hardest for. There was no forgiveness on today's course, but the volunteers and staff at Jackson put on an amazing event for the truly hearty souls that could not help but show up and race. Most skiers chose to make a quick exit to avoid prolonging their travels in the inclement weather. The temperature was dropping, and hopefully, snow was on the way.