Bretton Woods Marathon or Waxing Quixotic


Bretton Woods was the very first ski marathon I did, back in 2009 . Coming from cycling, I thought ‘classic’ meant it was a race that had been around for a while. I signed up only to find out that it meant classic technique. I didn’t ski classic at the time, much less own the gear. Rather than back out and forfeit the entry fee, I went to Bikeway Source and bought some classic gear and set about learning to ski classic in the 2 or 3 weeks before the event. The race took me over three and half hours and I barely walk for the next week.

Flash forward to 2018 and Bretton Woods is on my calendar once again, after being cancelled due to lack of the snow that last two editions, and conflicting with the Bill Koch Festival and work-releated travel since 2013. With over a foot of snow in the week leading up to the race, it is all on, and by now, I have mastered classic technique.

Alas, with classic, technique is only half the battle. The forecast predicts temperatures warming  from -2ºC to 2ºC  over the course of the race, the worse possible wax conditions. The escape clause is a permitted ski change at half-way.

At the Profile Deluxe motel, Andy and I panic over the wax. I’m overcome with the cloying, claustrophobic smell of Febreze. I fall asleep watching the Olypmic Opening Ceremonies. Lots of cross-country skiers from tropical countries.


The next morning we call Frank for advice on the way to the venue: “Wax for the first lap. Plan to DP the second.”

At the nordic center, I make a sandwich of VR 45 and 55N under the toe — based on the Swix recomendation — on my race skis that I had meticulously prepared with HF Red and Jetstream, a wet rill,  VG35 and VR40 ironed into kickzone.

At the last moment, I  wax my back up skis, too, as an option for the transition. A quick and dirty job of pure 55N and whatever glide wax was on there from the last time I had used them. I have my skin skis, too, just in case things got really complicated but I’ve never raced them and they’d never felt very fast in training. Last resort.

In the warm-up the race skis feel okay. Kick is good. Glide is a little slow. For the hell of it, I try the back-ups. They’re WAY faster. And the kick is better. I don’t overthink it. I go with the faster ones.

From the start, Chris Burnham goes out way fast and is never seen again.

I make the chase group. Pace myself. It feels slow and the skis are gliding good and kicking great, so I settle in for a long day.

Then a guy goes to the front and starts hammering and I go with him and then we were all in a thin line, up and down the hills. On Sebosis, the guy is really pushing it. I can barely hang on. My heart rate is pegged. I’m feeling a little sick.

At the feed I ask him if he’s doing the doing the full distance.

“Yeah, how about you?”

“I was planning on it. But at this pace…I’m not so sure.“

“C’mon!” he says.

So I go.

We climb to the top of Clinton, cross into a new climate. Suddenly, it’s warm and humid. The sky is spitting wet, melting snow. The skis stop kicking.

I turn to my companion: “What are you running?”


That’s the last I see him. The bottom falls out. The group explodes.

Two skiers flee down the trail. The rest, including the hammer man, fall out the back. I’m grinding but now on my own, trying to close the gap but my skis are dragging and slipping on the wet, warm snow. My pole baskets are clogged with soft, wet snow and slipping every time I push off. I have to tap my poles together to clear them and each time I expect they’ll crack. I’m in overdrive and my arms are getting tired and I’m falling further behind, all the way to the transition.

I stop. Drink half a bottle of Cyto. Suck down a gel. Switch to the skins. They’re the only things with a chance of working over the full course. Twenty-one more k’s to go and I’m already cracking. But the new skis feel faster. I get a little respite, a little recovery, and I start to feel better.

I’m all alone now, nobody in sight on the trail ahead of me. I hammer the climbs. The kick is powerful  and reliable on the skins. Back on Sebosis, I recall the previous lap and try to push just as hard. By the top, I catch Dave Herr and move into 3rd place. We exchange pleasantries, compare waxing strategies, then bid each other farewell and I’m off again.

It’s all going well until the top of Clinton again. The skins are still kicking, but the course is so churned up, it’s hard to find clean tracks. I get caught and passed by a Ford Sayre skier on a pair of rocket ships and he jets away on the downhill. I’m able to catch him up on the next climb, but lose him again on the descent which has been beaten into a thick berm of mashed potatoes and my edges are grabbing and then I fall.

I try catch him a few more times until I’m blown and now glancing back and trying not to get caught. My arms and shoulders ache. The skis are dragging now and I’m emptying what little I have left into Dark Forest.

Finally, the hotel is in sight; a long, lingering look back shows no competitors but I keep pushing and pushing until I cross the line.

Fourth place. First in age group. Exhausted.

One of the toughest skis I’ve had in a while.

Afterwards, at the banquet in the grand Mt. Washington Hotel, I eat my fill of pasta and collect my award: a Bretton Woods Marathon pint glass. I’ve won a few of these over the years. A few more seasons, I’ll be able to open my own bar.




One thought on “Bretton Woods Marathon or Waxing Quixotic

  1. Hey, what’s wrong with skiers from tropical countries? You’ve been skiing with one for years: me.
    I just never thought I could have represented Colombia in the Olympics…. now I’m starting to wonder. As if…
    Maybe if you had trained on tropical countries you would have mastered the wax for humid conditions, lol.
    Best race report I’ve read in a while. Like to hear you suffering a little, reminds me you are human.

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