Jay Peak, VT hosted the first race of the season in New England on January 14th. The snow drought that has plagued much of the country also had the northeast begging for more snow. Luckily, almost daily snow the week prior allowed for the resort to drop ropes and open up many of its legendary glades. The abundant new snowfall was accompanied by high winds and bitter cold. The forecast was calling for a HIGH of 4F and a windchill of -17.
I packed just about every layer I owned and headed out early just in case the roads were in poor shape. The 200 mile drive was uneventful even though much of the interstate was down to a single lane due to drifted snow in the passing lane. I must have let my guard down after 3 plus hours in the car and promptly buried my car in a snowbank while pulling into the Nordic center parking lot. Some quick shoveling and a generous tow from a patroller had me out of the snowbank and into a parking space.
The external thermometer on my car confirmed the weatherman’s prediction with a reading of 3 degrees. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel as cold and brutal as the weather for last year’s race. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing up high putting all of the upper mountain lifts on hold. With the inability to get ski patrol to the summit, the course layout had to be altered. Less vertical at 3200 feet, but most of the difficult skiing was left intact.
Seven competitors, with a few familiar faces, headed out for a few km on the Nordic trails before joining up with the ski area. The Nordic section of the course had been well marked with paint and was nice to have frequent reassuring markers on an unfamiliar course. Soon after joining the ski area, the paint disappeared. I knew the first ascent well as it was the same as the previous 3 times I had done this race. I made it to the first transition in the lead and didn’t see anyone coming behind. A marshal was guiding racers from the transition area to the groomer. Unfortunately, after a short downhill on the groomer, I missed the unmanned turn and went a short ways to the next intersection. After losing some time with my wrong turn, I looked up the slope and saw a racer climbing up towards the next transition. I guessed that it was last year’s winner, Colin. Back on a familiar part of the course, I booted up a short bit and decided to don skins. I pulled into the transition just as Colin was starting the descent. Colin is a much better descender than I so I knew I had to ski well on the most difficult trail on the course to have a chance going into the last two short ascents before heading back onto the Nordic trail. Normally this ski is a mix of wind slab and icy moguls. To my delight, all the snow the week prior had Kitzbuhel in excellent shape with small moguls and plenty of chopped up powder.
At the bottom of Kitzbuhel, again there was no marking or marshal, I missed a turn and descended all the way to the Bonney base instead of taking the more direct route to the next ascent. Colin was again in sight and I was gaining on the short ascent but he skied out of the transition before I arrived. A quick groomer run led to another skins on transition to get back to the Nordic trails. I reeled Colin in on this section and was at the transition area just seconds behind. Lots of poling, skating and herring-boning soon had me in front of Colin trying to hang on through a few small rollers and the uphill finish. The Nordic section of the course always seems to be longer on the way in, especially with someone breathing down your neck. I was able to hold on and edged out Colin by a few seconds. After crossing the line, we headed inside right away as my nose was starting to turn white.
Thanks to Jay Peak for putting on a great event in less than ideal conditions and being generous enough to give away some free lift tickets and water park passes to the top finishers. They plan on hosting another race on March 3rd with the intent of racing on the originally designed course.