The days of the local ski hill have returned to Colby College. EISA racing took place for the very first time this weekend at the Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville, Maine. A large-scale community project which will, upon completion, feature mountain biking trails, snowshoeing, snowboarding and sledding in addition to competition-level Nordic Ski trails, Quarry Road is located at the site of Colby College’s former ski hill just a few minutes from campus.
The Nordic racing trails weave through open fields and climb along a hillside adjacent to the former Colby ski slope. In fact, the T-bar used during the areas initial operation still stands, and sledding takes places on a lower part of the slope that is still clear of trees. The climbs are steep, and the descents are twisting, and the venue weaves in and around itself in creative ways only legendary trail designer John Morton could conceive.
The warm temperatures that affected the snow at last weekend’s St. Lawrence Carnival also took a toll on Central Maine’s conditions this week, but once again a combination of hard work, as well as the new snow-making system at Quarry Road, resulted in a network of about 4.5 kilometers of skiable trails.
“These races are the second major event to be held at this new facility,” chief of race Pat Cote remarked to a gathering of coaches, “the first major event being getting these trails ready for racing this week.”
Though the planned 5k competition loop could not be used, tracks were set for Saturday’s classic race on a technical 2-kilometer loop. The full 4.5k loop created for the weekend was used for Sunday’s mass-start freestyle races.
Saturday: 5/10k Classic
Cold temperatures made for solid tracks during Saturday’s classic race. The abrasive snow conditions, as well as multiple corners that necessitated a bit of skidding for many, meant that kick wax was hard to maintain for the duration of the longer men’s race. More than a few bases ended up a bit scratched and shredded from the nature of the course, but conditions were fair for every racer. The decision was made unanimously to send top-seeded skiers out on course first to limit crowding, and the podium had been settled before the first 30 of 93 racers crossed the line.
Ben Lustgarten had been tantalizingly close to the top-3 before, but on Saturday morning the Middlebury Junior made absolutely sure that his first trip to the podium would involve a climb to the very top: his winning margin was nearly half a minute ahead of second-place Scott Lacy, who picked up his second podium of the year. Silas Talbot of Dartmouth also picked up podium number two of his 2013 season in third place.
University of Vermont skiers Jorgen Grav and Scott Patterson finished in 4th and 5th place, respectively, though the Dartmouth men took the victory in the team standings thanks to David Sinclair’s 6th place finish.
See below for an interview with race winner Ben Lustgarten
The women’s race saw a few familiar names near the top of the results sheet, with EISA rankings-leader Anja Gruber taking the win for Vermont. Annika Taylor of UNH finished ten seconds behind Gruber for 2nd place.
A few other names near the front of the race might have been more surprising. The final podium place on Saturday went to Dartmouth’s Emily Blackmer, a Senior and relative unknown on the circuit who only raced in one Carnival for the Big Green last year. Blackmer made the most of her first EISA race this season, finishing fourteen seconds behind Taylor to claim 3rd place.
Bowdoin’s Kaitynn Miller continued her incredible Junior season, improving on her best-ever school finish of 5th last weekend by one place on Saturday. Her fourth-place finish was only 6 seconds off the podium, marking another historic day for the Polar Bears.
Isabel Caldwell of Dartmouth rounded out the top five. As the only school with 3 finishers in the top-10, the University of New Hampshire took a narrow victory over the Big Green in the women’s team score.
Sunday: 15/20k Freestyle
Sunday featured exciting mass-start racing, with a bit more carnage and destruction than usual. The snow stayed hard and fast on day 2, leading to a large number of crashes on numerous downhill sections. Orange alpine-style fencing was set up on one corner, and more than a few racers found themselves in the netting before the day was over. For the most part, however, the race favorites stayed out of trouble. On the women’s side, much like the previous weekend of EISA racing, it was UNH and UVM fighting near the top.
The women’s 15k freestyle featured the same three athletes on the podium as the week before in Lake Placid, albeit in a slightly different finishing order. UNH’s Annika Taylor led the way, finishing the mass start with 20 meters of clear snow behind her.
That snow behind was being churned furiously, however, as the fight for second place involved a sprint finish between the Anja and Anya…By a boot-length it was Anya Bean of UNH ahead of UVM’s Anja Gruber.
Taking 4th for the second straight day was Bowdoin’s Kaitlynn Miller, whose consistently fast skiing has made her a threat for the podium in either technique on any day. Dartmouth’s Carly Wynn finished 5th.
Scott Patterson, who again looked to be untouchable in the freestyle technique, took the win in the men’s race by over a minute. Patterson made his move early, skiing away from the pack solo before the first lap was even completed. Patterson described his race quite simply afterward. “I was just skiing on my own, having fun,” he laughed.
Second place went to Steve Mangan of Dartmouth, and in his second podium-performance in two days Ben Lustgarten (Middlebury) outsprinted Rogan Brown (UVM) for 3rd place. Silas Talbot took 5th.
Mangan’s 2nd place, as well as the string of Darmouth skiers in spots 5 through 8, still left the Big Green just shy of the UVM men in the team score for the race.
Overall the new trails at Quarry Road were received enthusiastically by racers, spectators and community members alike. ”People in and around Waterville have been looking for a venue like this for a long time and are taking full advantage of it,” said Colby skier Jared Supple.
With top-notch organization, support and motivation, the area seems to have only begun to show its potential.
EISA racing continues next weekend with one of the largest Nordic events in New England, the combined UVM Carnival/Eastern Cup at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT.