With so much hype over the Yellowstone “Skiapalooza” Thanksgiving Camp, I figured a story about one of the “other” Thanksgiving camps might be of interest.
Since I'm not really among the nation's elite level of Nordic skiers, I just couldn't justify making a long trip from my home in Los Alamos, NM, all the way up to West Yellowstone. It may only be two states away, but that is some serious geography (and in this case, topography…) to cover.
Way out on Slate River road — all the way to Pittsburgh!
Olympian Ingrid Butts shows us how it’s done
As chance would have it, we were once again sitting here at home without enough snow to ski on, so the willing members of our local ski club made the trek north to Colorado. With some careful speeding in the unpopulated expanse of the Land of Enchantment, we were able to leave Los Alamos at 5 pm on Wednesday evening and be at our rented cabin's doorstep by 9pm. Since it was Thanksgiving, we had a lot of stuff to pull out of the car that we don't normally carry around on ski trips, like a turkey, numerous sacks of groceries and bottles of wine. Geez, with all of that AND ski gear, it was a loaded trip.
Anyway, the CB camps have always provided an excellent opportunity for early-season skiing, clinics, and a little racing for skiers who may not be able to travel all the way up to Yellowstone, or didn't get registered into the clinics on time. With the exception of one or two of the clinics, CB's class sizes are relatively small and offer plenty of personal instruction with video analysis. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that having Ingrid Butts and Jesse Crandall analyze what's going on with my skiing and then provide feedback on what I need to do for improvement has been extremely beneficial over the past couple of years that I've attended the camp.
Finally, the Sunday races give campers an opportunity to implement some of the concepts learned in the clinics — if there's any energy and strength left. As mentioned previously, there are normally two separate 5 km races for both classic and free techniques. This year was a little different due to a “small” snowstorm that left about 6″ of heavy snow on the trails. The difficult logistics of overnight grooming in an area that was too thin previously meant that the race was relocated to a more remote location with more snow. Since the course was out-and-back on a Forest Service road, Western State's Nordic coach, Jesse Crandall, decided to consolidate the races into one longer classical event of about 7 km.
Jesse Crandall has infinite enthusiasm for Nordic skiing, and it showed on race morning. Not only did we all see him at the previous night's dinner party where he was announced as a new board member for the Crested Butte Nordic Center, but he went out afterward and groomed the course, then showed up early the next morning to have the course and his entire team, including himself, ready for the race. That morning, he chatted with me about the previous day's results from Yellowstone (looked up from FasterSkier.com) and how a few of my friends had faired.
The race is a mostly local affair, with a few of us “out-of-towners” there to spice things up for the event that allows the WSC ski team to stretch themselves a bit with some competition before the real collegiate stuff kicks off. Nevertheless, it is a race in the early season and everyone is a little nervous, especially since it feels like you've forgotten how to do this and if you ever knew how to do it at all in the first place.
As we all scrambled around to get in a bit of a warm-up and figure out what wax to use on the newly fallen sticky snow, Jesse mostly took care of his team. I couldn't believe it when I saw him peel out of his coaching garb to line up for the race himself. I laughed inside as I listened to the half-joking nervous chatter among the young college kids, especially the women. The women nervously traded places because they were afraid they would get run over by each other if they didn't double-pole fast enough. Guys are never honest enough with themselves to do that. Ironically, I think the young woman who was most adamant about her lack of double-pole ability ended up winning the race for the women. I also think she must have been a freshman.
On the guys' side, the race took off fairly fast with the front group consisting mostly of WSC skiers. I did my best to hang on the back and not get into anybody's way, but I know I must have annoyed a couple of the guys in the back by skiing too closely in the double-pole sections and ending up on the tails of their skis when they started kicking again. It's early season and I was a bit rusty, but the race was fun and I was reminded of how hard this sport is and why I do it in the first place.
Our group split up and of course, I was at the back. I scratched my way up to a couple of the WSC suits ahead of me at the top of the course and I saw that Jesse Crandall was one of them. He's a fast guy and I was happy to be anywhere near him. I suspected he must have been pretty wiped out from the week's events, but I didn't care and just did what I could to hang on. At the finish he started a long sprint to pass one of his guys and stepped out of the only fast track on the course into a soft, much slower track. As I passed him, I looked over and it was like seeing a piece of paper getting thrown out the window of a fast-moving car. I felt bad for him, but again, it meant I did better so I didn't care…anything to help my fragile ego…