After a three week postponement due to lack of snow and two years of suffering on the endless skating section of the Rec Division course (also due to lack of snow), Sugarbush and Mad River Glen put together their longest course yet. It combined the original Race Division course with the bootpack up FIS (2011 & 2012) for 11+ miles and 4700 ft of climbing.
This race has been the monkey on my back; one third place and three runner-up finishes in the past four years. I had hoped this year would be different but three different illnesses in the three weeks leading up to the race limited my training to a mere 4 days on skis in the month of February. I had my doubts about my fitness coming in and with two-time winner Jan Wellford and a slew of QC racers having done very well at Burke two weeks prior, there was plenty of competition. Especially since the Burke victor, George Visser had upgraded his gear to the not-yet-released Dynafit RC1 boots and bindings mounted on 14/15 World Cup Skis.
From the starting bell, the pace was furious to get on the narrow section of trail leading over the bridge and onto the open slopes of Lower Antelope. My heartrate was pegged and I still wasn’t keeping up, even on the flat lower stretches. I backed off and watched Jan and George skin away and I dropped back to 7th place after the lower mogul section. I hoped that a few people had gone out too fast and I would be able to move up a few spots in what would be a 2hr+ race. Slowly, I started picking off people one by one. My first victim was Lincoln, whom I passed 2/3 of the way up the the first climb. I passed Daniel and Adam on the Long Trail and Adam hung on my heels until the top of the bootpack. I had also unknowingly passed George as he had broken one of his RC1 bindings and went a bit off course on the LT. Nearing the top of the booter, I had also closed in on Philipe and was somehow in 3rd. Jan was nowhere to be seen…
400ft of fast and firm moguls, a short groomer, and then 1200+ ft of more firm moguls lead to the Slide Brook work roads. Thankfully, the ‘bush had run a groomer through there to break up the heinous crust which also allowed ample room to skate on the two short uphill sections. At the transition there was no sign of Philipe ahead, but George and Daniel were close behind. George passed early on the last climb and Daniel pulled ahead right as we crossed the Slide Brook Chair. I stayed on his heels and with only 300’ of climbing to go, I had dropped to 5th but Philipe and George were now within sight!
There were few opportunities to pass Daniel and make a move for the other two, but by the time the four of us exited the forested skintrack, mere seconds separated 2nd from 5th. I was last into the transition, but two quick rips and stuffing my unfolded skins into my suit had me into 2nd. On the descent, Philipe and I leapfrogged each other 3 times. After being passed the second time, I knew there was a sharp uphill turn leading to a short herringbone climb. I stayed in Philipe’s draft planning on cutting the corner as tight as possible to make my move. The volunteer stationed at the corner was waiving us in. As I made the turn I saw that Philipe was unable to make the turn and crashed. I pushed hard up the small climb and only after cresting did I glance back to see if anyone else was still giving chase. I was in the clear and cruised to the finish in 2nd, monkey still firmly attached!
This week racing moves to Mt Greylock in MA where the Thunderbolt Ski Runners are holding two events. A down mountain race on Saturday and a fully backcountry SkiMo race on Sunday (Sunday is collaboration with NE Rando Race Series). Sunday should be a real leg burner with ~6k ft of vertical.