Long Hall Loppet
NENSA’s most ardent skiers converged once again on Jackson, NH, for the Long Hall Loppet. This year's event drew nearly 160 racers for likely its largest field yet. The Long Hall Loppet is a special event to me as when the world was preparing for a new normal at the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Ellen Chandler's innovative thinking opened the doors to what was possible to sustain our sport. The rolling start, individually packaged feeds, the tailgate ski lodge, one loop course, and more were not new ideas and may have even been a throwback to the good old days, but what was done at that Long Hall impacted skiing greatly and allowed NENSA to thrive during the pandemic.
Things were different this year. Skiing, specifically citizen skiing, has rebounded nicely since the disruption. While there continues to be some reluctance, registration surged, especially during the extended hours. This practice does make things more complicated for race directors, but again Ellen and the crew at Jackson are up for the challenge. Numbers may have exceeded expectations, but with the Long Hall being a low-key, low-maintenance race, Jackson was prepared. The 400 skier limit was not tested, but with a doubling of the field in the final hours of registration, attention can be drawn from where it most needs to be. That did not impact the organization of the race.
Skiers arrived at a welcoming venue with the promise of a fantastic day to ski. Early spring conditions give us the best snow with ambient temperatures for skiing. No need to worry about layers or having your warm-ups handy. No frostbite or freezing concerns. At the same time, the snow speed will stay consistent for a good chunk of the day, making for a pleasant all-around experience.
Pleasant, that is, except for the course. The challenge of the Long Hall is no secret:
“It celebrates one of our "signature" distance trails and honors a man, Gordon Hall, who helped build this trail with his own hands (and family and tools!) and supported JacksonXC in many ways through his 92 years. This is the first year of the Long Hall Loppet that Gordon is not alive to enjoy the tales from the trail; his JacksonXC friends miss him, and after Saturday, we think you will have great respect for his vision in creating this trail!”
The course features over 600m or 1800ft of elevation gain, with much occurring on the continuous four-mile climb up the North Hall Trail and Maple Mountain Loop.
Even though there is transparency in the magnitude of the climb, the course still claims many victims who vow "never again." Much like the Bogburn, participants tend to return to rechallenge themselves. This is my third time participating in this race, and I must admit, for the first time, the climb was not as bad as I remember.
This year there were many skiers eager to start early. When timing opened at 9:00 a.m., a line of around 40 skiers raring to go organized. Timers sent skiers off, one at a time, in 10-15 second intervals. The Rolling Start was just about your typical Eastern Cup Interval Start, except with random seeding. There were some good matchups, but the course's variability played to the skiers' differing strengths.
Along the Ellis River, the snow was fully transformed and fast. The grooming was excellent, with a track set for those who opted for the classic technique. When the course turned onto the Hall Trail, it became more powdery, and that trend continued as skiers gained elevation. Along the descent, the snow returned to being transformed as skiers approached the Start/Finish line. Many skiers expressed that the snow got slower on the climb. The observation is most likely accurate, but the pitch and fatigue surely did not help speed things up.
Jud Hartmann (NWVE) wanted to get things going and was among the first starters. He recognized that the corduroy was fast and wanted first tracks as much as possible. The start position has had a significant impact in the past. In 2022, an early start was consequential as deepening ungroomed powder was on the North Hall trail. Early skiers broke trail in up to 8 inches of powder, while later, skiers took advantage of the human-powered grooming. Jud had the right play this year, though.
Jud had several people participating in the tour division to catch and went about doing so right away. Following Jud was Ian Blair (BOC), Kirk Siegel (BOC), Tyler Magnan (NWVE), Roger Prevot (Craftsbury), and me. Tyler is a race veteran who started fast, reeling in as many people as possible. I did the same hoping that I would see Tyler on the climb. I caught most of the people before me but never saw Tyler until the finish line. Kirk was surprised that I caught and passed him and changed his strategy. His skis were fast, and when Chris Burnham (NWVE) and Tim Van Orden (Prospect) went by, he could draft the day's top two on the flats.
Starting just a little behind me was Alex Jospe (SMS), Andy Elliot (Team Maddy and Trek), and a bit further back, David Herr (Unattached). David followed his usual trajectory of catching skiers throughout the race and got Alex and Andy on the long climb. He made contact with me at the top and settled in for a bit before passing me. The motivation of having Kirk in sight was great, but once he started down South Hall, he was gone. David went by, and I followed him down the hill. Alex's superior technique kicked in on the downhill, and she closed quickly with Andy. Alex got by on the final S-turn, but I was able to keep Andy from passing me before the finish. Alex surged to catch David, and the effort gave her the Women's Overall win!
Bob Burnham (CSU) and Sarah Pribram (NWVE) also started close to each other. Bob had Sarah in his rearview mirror on the climb up North Hall, as Sarah wanted to draft Bob down South Hall. Unfortunately, the plan did not quite work out, as Bob got out of sight before Sarah began her descent. The Burnhams had a good day on South Hall as this is also where Chris distinguished himself from Tim and put most of his time in the winning margin. Tyler was impressed with how fast Chris flew by.
Ian Blair (BOC) was off his game, as noted by some who passed him. A ski with a good edge made a big difference on the speedy snow, and skis without it are hard to control. His big frame was probably also a disadvantage on the narrow trails, especially up the climb. Half of the trail seemed faster than the other on the ascent, but there was a risk of catching a tip. Some took the chance.
Bill Donahue (Gunstock), Jeff Palleiko (Gunstock), and Rob Bradlee (Freedom Trail) had later starts that may have put them just over the new grooming advantage threshold. As the day progressed and the snow warmed, things would get slower. As the corduroy was compacted, the glaze on the climb was pulverized into powder. Fast snow became more difficult to find as more racers ground it up. All were happy with the day but noted a lower-than-average finish.
George Aponte Clarke (Portland Nordic) had a great ski and was among the first-timers psyched with the course. He looked the part with flashy Yeti socks and skied his way to 11th place, just behind 3-time Olympian Carl Swenson (Jackson). Tyler and David were happy to call the day a success finishing in front of the Olympian.
Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) was back for the second year. She was happy that the snow was much faster than last year’s. She took about 20 minutes off her time from last year, which seemed on par with those who raced both years. Start position also aided her ascent on the results page, with this year being much better than last year’s. Trina Hosmer was not the biggest fan of the course. She was happy to get through it but vowed: "never again." We will have to wait and see. She looked great making some of the final turns and had plenty of pep for the finish. Lisa Doucett (CSU) was another Long Hall veteran that improved her time significantly.
Bruce Katz (Unattached) skied the Long Hall for the first time. He agreed that the climb was more than what he was thinking. Many make the mistake of thinking of the White Mountain Classic with its climb up Yodel, which is a big climb, but the North Hall Trail more than doubles that on the unsuspecting "flat" side of the road. Bruce was not too phased by it and noted that the Lake Placid Loppet was harder. This observation inspired an informal poll, and the consensus was that while very different, the Long Hall Loppet was easier than the Lake Placid Loppet. Survey results were mixed when the Long Hall was compared to the Rikert Grand Prix Hill Climb.
Cipperly Good (NWVE) had skied the trails before but never raced them until today. She had a strong finish and looked great, crossing the line. She expressed that we did not see the barely conscious condition she was on the top half of the climb. Cipperly quickly grabbed her warm-ups and headed out for some more skiing. Karen Alence (MNC) and Ellie Bouffard (MNC) chose the classic technique. It was not a bad day for it, though many of the skaters were not too careful about the tracks as they saw red on the climb. It did seem that the tracks were slower, so most opted not to use them, even on the downhills.
Karen and Ellie did their best for MNC, but Rosalie Wilson (Ford Sayre) rallied a strong club contingent, including several new skiers who participated in the Long Hall as their second race ever after the Hard’ack Challenge. This will set the stage for an interesting Club Relay as MNC and Ford Sayre have gone back and forth at the final event. It will be tough for MNC as Ford Sayre may have sealed the deal at Long Hall with twelve skiers to MNC's two.
Many of NENSA's World Masters used the Long Hall to tune up for events later in March. Some were fans of the race, and some were not. David Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) was not very pleased with the course. I will not repeat his gut reaction; it will only make people want to do it more! I do not know how Bob Gray (Putney) felt about it. Gina Campoli (Craftsbury) agreed with David, while John Brodhead (Craftsbury) was in the Clarke camp. Despite their first reactions to the race, they all looked great and should represent the US well in Europe! Good luck to all!!
The Long Hall was a great success, nearly doubling its field from last year. Feelings may be mixed on the course, but all can feel good about the accomplishment in finishing. The race's short history is significant to NENSA and skiing as a whole. It is a unique event that more people of all abilities are gravitating to. You are free to make what you want of it, which was the original intent! I am sure many are recalibrating for next year.
After the race, the crew at the J-Town Deli and Country Store put us all to shame with the quick pace of their service, setting PRs right and left, cranking out orders for a famished race field. Ellen Chandler and the crew at Jackson pulled off another amazing event. The skiing was fabulous, the day phenomenal, and the company fantastic!