The race season was coming to end in Australia. It had been a great season in terms of the amount of snow but sometimes only the tough and focused survived as blizzards and high winds affected the racing at times. The last race of the season in the Snowy Mountains — the Kosciuzsko Tour was to suffer a similar fate.
The traditional 18km course is the highest athletic pursuit in the country. It starts off at the top of the chairlift at Thredbo Alpine Resort and travels to 2060 metres, just 150 metres below the height of Mt Kosciuzsko, our highest peak and ends up following a snow covered Kosciuzsko Road to another alpine resort at Perisher Valley. However such a high exposed course means due to safety concerns that the weather gods have to be in your favour. This year despite plenty of snow, a snowstorm moved in the day before destroying the course and reducing visibility down to 100 metres on race day.
So officials decided to run the race around the Perisher Valley Nordic Trails. The continuing snowfalls had made track conditions somewhat backcountry and passing and avoiding the deep stuff was going to be difficult. Due to time constraints the race was shortened to 7.5km, just one lap and no time for mistakes. Also the traditional age-group interval format was ditched for a mass start.
National team member Chris â€œDarloâ€ Darlington warmed up with some ski testing before the race. He decided to go with the skis that former World Cup skier Anthony Evans had given to him. A Nagano Olympics 50km stamp on them attested to their authenticity. These skis are rockets and at the start, â€œDarloâ€ quickly double poled and was away with Victorian Masters skier Lindsay Bridgeford trying to keep up. I unfortunately had fallen behind former National women’s champion Camille Melville who does not like to be passed.
Camille took medals at the World Masters Championships in Lillehammer this year and is former placegetter in the World Marathon Cup. She does not expect people to move over for her whilst she is passing and she does not move over for them. Despite a few desperate calls for â€œtrackâ€ I knew I would have run the touchline between groomed and the deep to get past her. On that first long hill whilst the pack madly scrambled around her, I fell into the deep stuff twice. As I got to the top of the hill I saw the pack disappearing off into the distance.
But then I found my skis were running well, real well. So good were they that I caught Camille on a long downhill and she is normally fastidious about her skis and is also a good glider. I rounded her on another short steep uphill, which had a wide enough track and took off after third and fourth places. Up ahead I could see Mark Abernathy, a local instructor and a fine skier who annoyingly does little formal training. I had never beaten him in a skate race but this time he was coming back to me!