Since 1982, the University of New Hampshire Nordic Ski Team has celebrated Veterans Day in the same way. They leave early in the morning – this year at 5:30am – and start the two hour drive north on I-93 to Lincoln, NH, to the beginning of the Kancamagus Highway.
From the base of Loon Mountain in Lincoln, the skiers don classic roller-skis and start the 11.8 mile uphill trek to the high point of the Kanc. Although this section is not a race, the â€˜Robel Award’ is given to the first skier to the top of this first segment. Robel Telemarkian, who graduated from UNH in 1997 and competed for Ethiopia in the 2006 Torino Olympics, consistently skied off the front of the pack during his Kanc workouts while skiing at UNH.
At the top, the skiers hop in the vans and head down the steep grade over the back of the pass to the parking lot of the UNH Trail. UNH Head Coach Cory Schwartz recalls, â€œIn 1983, the team thought they could ski down the 6-mile hill. They bailed after the second turn. They were skiing on three-wheel Rolettos. This included alumni Steve Poulin (now Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Swix) and Kevin Sweeney (who coached at Utah and now works at Swix).
The skate leg starts from the UNH trailhead: 30 miles down and back, continuing on the Kanc along the scenic Swift River all the way to Conway, NH. After refueling at the mid-way point, it is time to turn around and ski back up to the trailhead.
Once again at the trailhead, skiers change back to classic equipment and retrace the 5.5 miles to the high point. During this final stretch, things tend to get rather interesting for many of the skiers. â€œEvery year or two, someone bonks if they do a poor job of refueling. One year Patrick Weaver (two-time Olympian) was the assistant coach. He had to force feed a freshman and move her mouth to make sure she was chewing raisins to get some energy into her. This is extreme but it happens,â€ remembers Schwartz.
The best thing about the Kanc is that it is an experience for the whole team. It does not matter if you are an All-American, a skier fighting for the last spot on the carnival team, or just a first year that wants to keep skiing in college: the Kanc will push you to your limit.
â€œIt is more of a team-bonding exercise than a training experience. We do get needed over-distance hours, but to accomplish something like this as a team brings everyone together. At the end, the team is cheering every last person up the mountain.â€ says Schwartz.
Here are the women almost to the top of the Kanc
The men at Passaconway.
Shane MacDowell at the half way point.
Freshman Tasha Kullus with only four miles left, but the toughest 4 miles.