The Rangeley Loppet was my last race of the ski season. A thoroughly forgettable affair that I can’t stop thinking about and is still haunting me three days later.

I had a good start. I went out with the fast college boys like I had planned. I was going to bury myself in this last race if that’s what it took. I felt up to the challenge.

My warm-up skis had been dragging in the fresh, wet snow.  My race skis, with high fluoro wax and a Jetstream topcoat were running much better.

So far.

But these skis hadn’t done well in warm, wet weather this season. They were a colder grind, but already a few seasons old, and I had my suspicions about them.

Well founded.

I could feel the wax wearing off. The skis starting to drag. And only after a kilometer and half.

Then they simply stopped working.

I was off the back of the college group.

I stepped into the tracks to reconsider my plan.

I waited while the second group caught up. I tried to ski at the front but drifted back, one skier at a time. The harder I pushed, the slower the skis went. Then I was off the back of that group. I tried to latch onto the next group and that went no better. Then I tried to just enjoy the ski and that wasn’t in the cards either.

By half-way through the lap, I was dangling off the back of the Dartmouth-Colby women’s pack, out for an easy over-distance effort, and pushing my limits to keep pace with them.

So when we came through the start/finish for the next lap, I packed it in.

I wasn’t interested in a death march.

The only upside was that I got the food table before everybody else and put a pretty sizable dent in the cookies.

After the race, everybody had the same story of slow, sticky skis. It’s a tough calculus. Ski selection, grind, wax, topcoat, rill. The really serious guys might test a dozen different combinations. I had one pair. Live or die by them.

I’ll get them re-ground in the off-season. Maybe finally get a good pair of dedicated warm skis. Or maybe just stop caring so much about the performance and try to enjoy it.

The rest week — a real rest week with days off — started on Sunday.


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.

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The Solemn Brotherhood of Craftsbury



The big one.

Of epic proportions in every dimension: The longest distance. The most varied terrain. The longest drive. The most complex waxing.

We members of the Brotherhood — Frank, Andy and I — had decided to arrive the day before to preview the new 16km loop and to test waxes. We had started calling our little group ‘the Brotherhood’ a few years ago in Mont-Saint-Anne, where we followed a psuedo-monastic daily regimen of eat-ski-eat-sleep-ski-eat-beer. We’d taken vows of hypoxia and carbo loading, prayed to snow gods and bent prostrate subsequent to all-out efforts in Tuesday Night races. We were reverant, if not fanatical.

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A Perfect Loaf

The Sugarloaf Nordic Marathon had been looming like a white whale over the end of the 2017 ski season.   Good conditions in late March can be as elusive as a giant fish in the south Pacific. Form and fitness can be fickle. And once the first signs of spring arrive, the doldrums aren’t far behind.

It takes an extra effort to close the final leagues, to have that prey in sight, to be ready to hurl the harpoon.

So it was not unexpected to find myself pondering why I persist in this sport, or any sport, year upon year. Why endure all the training, logistics and travel? Why deal with the equipment and expense? Why suffer needlessly and endlessly in deleterious conditions? If only for a few fleeting moments of brilliance when all the time and effort sunk becomes its own reward for rising above it? If only to prove that I was once a good athlete and could perhaps be one again, if only time weren’t against me?

This year’s edition of Sugarloaf already had a different feel to it. The mid-week Nor’easter had dumped 20 inches of fine, fresh powder on the course. Temps would remain cold, meaning no slow, sloppy snow. Waxing for cold, skate conditions was a simple, straightforward affair.

I was far from exhausted despite racing nearly every week and weekend since late December. Gone were the insomnia inducing fears of how I would cover the distance without cracking in the final kilometers. Confidence in my body and mental fortitude had grown.

Thus, as I lined up for the start of Sugarloaf beneath crystal blue skies and warm sun, I was calmed. I had eaten well and had a belly full of good coffee. Daresay, I was even looking forward to a 50km skate marathon (knowing full well the actual distance would be something shy of that number).

The race exploded from the gun.

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Rangeley Loppet 2017

Five kilometers past the edge of the civilized world  I was already suffering. My legs had felt blocked and wooden in the warm-up, which had been a challenge in the single-digit temperatures, and they felt no better on the gradual descent from the start line.  I strained to fill my lungs, my chest constricted by extra layers of windproof clothing.

The fast college boys were already pulling away. Up the trail, a thin line of a dozen or so skiers skated into the woods and vanished. There were a few guys caught in no-man’s land, struggling to catch the leaders while the gap widened.

I had tried that before and I knew it didn’t end well. Forty-five kilometers at 4ºF and predicted strong winds would make for a long day.

And I was playing the long game, following my strategy of a conservative start, though the signs from my body suggested I was already over the limit. I settled in behind my teammate, Frank, because I knew he would pace us smartly over the distance.

We took turns settings the tempo. At first, it was just the two of us. We caught a few guys and a few guys caught us and then we were a group of 5 or 6, working well together, but always a guy going a little too hard up the hill and a little too slow down it.

I realized my skis were fast.

By and by, my legs started to come around and my breathing evened out. Each time I started to suffer, I glanced at my heart rate monitor to make sure I was still sitting below threshold, and each time my heart rate hovered around 161 bpm.

On the climbs, my hands burned beneath the heavy gloves and I started to sweat. On the descents, it all froze up and my eyeballs watered and I was too skittish to blink. My skis were fast, despite the cold snow.  I was navigating the downhill elbows and doglegs mostly in control, though I’m not sure the skiers behind me would have agreed.

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A little while back, I ruined an otherwise perfectly lovely Saturday afternoon by racing the “Westonloppet” at Leo J Martin Ski Track.

The brainchild of a sadistic actuary, the Westonloppet was a mad distortion of cycling’s Hour Record.  Skiers would race for TWO hours around 1.157 km loop. The skier covering the most distance quantified by lap count over that time period would be declared the winner.

To further complicate matters, it was a sunny day, with temperatures hovering around 31.5 degrees Fahrenheit, just cold enough for the snow guns to be blasting pappy, fondant granules of “snow” onto the course. In summary, it made for wet, slow snow that sucked at the skis.

The racers lined up–nearly 35 of them–which should have come as no small surprise because nordic Continue reading


Craftsbury 2017 or The Big One

The Craftsbury Marathon is the long game.

For weeks beforehand, you agonize over the trail conditions and the weather forecast. You question your fitness for a 50 km classic race. In the days leading up to the race, you struggle with travel logistics and advanced waxing schemes. You check a plethora of weather apps, consult teammates, wax gurus and the gods. You reach back through the years to the times when you had fast skis and good kick and try to cross-reference past results with future conditions. Some fellows keep notebooks and spreadsheets. Others, elaborate formulas, algorithms and fleets of test skis.

I write nothing down.

Whatever it is, I’m guaranteed to screw it up. So I take a less-is-more approach to waxing. Especially after last year, when I agonized over ski selection and picked a pair that were too stiff because I though they’d run klister a little bit faster and suffered needlessly in the final laps.

In 2017, I had developed a simple race strategy and waxing plan. I had two pairs of skis that were nearly identical and I had arrived early enough on Friday to do some testing and course recon. It had been snowing all afternoon so the conditions were different than the frozen granular I had been expecting. The test skis–Rex PowerGrip Purple covered with VR45–iced up pretty quickly on the fresh, ungroomed snow.

That was an omen I chose to ignore because the conditions were indeterminate. There would be more snow overnight and the race director described an all-night Pisten-Bully operation that would grind the new snow and the frozen deck into an unholy covered klister situation.

So I scraped the skis clean down to the chola binder, packed them away, and headed to the Village House for dinner. I ate a good meal of spaghetti and a little red wine. I was stretched out in bed by 7:30, well before my typical arrival time, digesting peacefully while reading David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard to distract myself from the wax call.

It snowed all night. Continue reading