Fantom Ski Season

photo courtesy of Alex Jospe

I’ve written about the Craftsbury Marathon but there has been more — not a whole lot more — due to this challenging Northeast winter.


The annual holiday camp at Mont-Sainte-Anne was a success, redeemed at the last minute by a heavy storm and nearly continuous snowfall for the next five days. I skied mostly classic because the classic conditions were so good and most of the early season races are classic technique. I did some really long skis. I did the training race, and did respectably. I finally figured out how to descend in classic tracks without losing control. Plus, I managed not to fall and separate my ribs this year, which made a huge difference coming into the competition season…

Leo J Martin Ski Track

The return to the Boston area was marred by lack of snow — natural or otherwise — at Weston. There was barely a kilometer of poorly groomed manmade stuff, typical to what we would have in early December, which meant for limited terrain and crowded conditions as the high school and EMBK skiers spread across the track, stopped or fell at inopportune locations. Throwing down high-speed intervals in that crowd made for some creative skiing but not dissimilar from a typical Tuesday Night Race. Eventually cold temperatures and even a little natural snow allowed the loop to expend to nearly 2.5 km, but that still felt woefully short. The new operators still have a lot to learn about grooming and snow making. A marginal year could have been much better.


On MLK day, I drove up to Bretton Woods to ski the Geschmossel on a thin, abbreviated course. We drove through falling snow, heavy at times, and into an welcomed winterscape in the shadow of Mt. Washington. Despite the additional snow, the recommendation was still to use your “rock” skis. Since my race skis are essentially rock skis at this point, it was an easy decision. As was waxing. Since most of the long, steep hills had been removed, I applied a very thin layer of VR40 kick wax which left my skis fast with just enough grip for the few times I needed it.

Three strange things happened in this race.

First, I found myself at the front of the race, setting the pace in pursuit of some high-school kid who took off way too fast. On the long, not terribly steep grind that defined the first half of the race, I mostly double-poled, with some kick-double pole and little bit of striding to break things up. I was going hard. But with the race distance not quite 15km, I could afford to do so.

Second, I descended well, without losing time and without crashing, with only just the slightest fear of crashing. I had been able to carry my newfound confidence from MSA to the twisting, choppy descents at Bretton Woods. By the foot of the descent, we caught and passed the high school boy who had blown up.

Third, I won the race. In a sprint. Against Tom Thurston, who typically drops me at will. I barely got by him. I wasn’t even sure where the finish line was. I sprinted all the same, but prepared to keep going in case the actual finish was around the bend, out of sight. It wasn’t clear to me that we had crossed the “line” until Tom stopped. I turned to him and said, “That was a good race, Tom.” And he replied, “Yeah, if you think coming in second is good.

White Mountain Classic

The next weekend was Jackson 30km, shortened again due to barely-there snow conditions and classic tracks that seemed a figment of imagination. Jackson is always a tough race for me. Yodel was the stuff of nightmares — both going up as well as the crazy fast return descent on tired legs — and in all the years I’ve done it, I’ve only gone up it once without slipping and redlining. This year was no different, but I was at least able to keep up with the group…until the next hill…where my ski slipped out to the side and I tripped myself and had to start from a standstill. I was having a really hard time finding the wax pocket on my skis and getting reliable kick. Only once — the second time up the first hill of the Wave — did I connect everything and stride smoothly and under control. The rest of the time, I had to herringbone but that proved to more effective than striding and slipping. I was still hitting the red zone, but at least I was keeping pace with the others.

On the flats before the final descent, I broke clear of my group with a faster skier. I was even able to overtake him on the descent of Yodel. And once I had done that, I went full bore down the hill. I’d never descended Yodel so quickly. In the back of my mind were all the times I had fallen or had to scrub speed coming down this hill. There was just the final left-hander and I would be clear. And I nailed it. Carried all my speed onto the flats and double-poled like hell until the finish, winning my age group.

Craftsbury Marathon

I’ve already explained this near disaster.

Stowe Carnival / SuperTour /Eastern Cup

The final Eastern Cup race of the season was also a ski-up race for my son who will move up to CSU next season. That’s the only reason I made the long drive to race with the fastest pro and college skiers in the country. The race was moved to Craftsbury after a warm rainstorm decimated the snow at Stowe, which put us on some of the same trails as the marathon from the week before.

Saturday was the individual-start skate race. Four laps of a 2.5km course. Watching the other skiers was sobering. Their warm-up speed was faster than my race pace. I started near the back since I had no seed points so the course was all skied up. I went pretty hard. Really hard, actually, posting the highest average heart rate for any effort this season, on the edge of blowing up. The one saving grace was parallax from the marathon. Same four laps though these laps were much shorter than the marathon so it seemed a little easier psychologically because I hit the stadium much faster with each lap. But the intensity of my effort was so high, it all but eclipsed any perceived benefit.

Sunday was classic, individual-start. I was cooked from the day before. Conditions were mixed granular, hovering in the high-20’s with some fresh new snow mixed in. I agonized over the wax choice and procrastinated successfully. In the end, I used the race skis I had prepped for the marathon the week before — the pair I should have used that day. The skis were fine, but I was tired. Too tired to go all out.

Results at an Eastern Cup race are relative. Suffice it to say, I didn’t finish last. But I was close.

My son had a good time, too, though he was far more interested in the Pisten-Bully and farm tractors, than skiing fast.

Weston Tuesday Night Races

After missing the first few weeks due to poor conditions, the Tuesday Night races kicked in. I tend to bury myself in these races. Go as hard as I can, for as long as I can, with mixed results this season so far. Never better than second, never worse than third — unless you count that DNF were my ski caught an edge and rolled me over, onto my pole, breaking it in the process. It was my good pole, too. And of course, there was one week in very warm,wet conditions were I skied clear of everybody except Rob Bradlee and his magic wax job. Until half-way, when my skis slowed down and he dropped me. Going down a hill. Into the wind. I’m still laughing about that…


The race season is slightly past half-way and with only race cancellations to look forward to. I’ve already started running, despite having really good ski form and fitness, because the next set of races looks iffy. And Boston is just around the corner…


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