Every region in the U.S. seems to have its own iconic dryland hill climb. In Alaska, there’s Mount Marathon. Out west, it’s Agony. In the Midwest—well, uh… forget about the Midwest. But in the northeast, there’s one of the most brutal: the Whiteface Climb to the Castle.
Okay, okay, we know. Mount Marathon’s got more history. Agony’s steeper. This year’s Climb to the Castle is only the fourth-ever edition of the event. But there’s no question that the race, which features over 2,000 feet of elevation gain over five miles, is a spectacle. And with just one month to go before the start of the 2011 race season, it’s also a good indication of who’s hot, and who’s not.
This year’s field is a strong one, with Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong and U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Kris Freeman on the men’s side, and USST teammates Morgan Arritola and Liz Stephen headlining the women. Instead of making our own predictions, we’re asking readers to pick who they think will be the first to make it to the top (form below). To aid with prognostication, your cheat sheet is below.
• A couple of nordic combined skiers ran away with last year’s men’s race, with the aid of their blistering fast Maplus rollerskis. (Most cross-country athletes use Marwes, which are substantially slower.) Those athletes—Nick Hendrickson and Taylor Fletcher—will be back this year, but according to their coach, Dave Jarrett, they’ll be on different skis—“probably slightly faster than Marwes, but not like last year.” Most of the other athletes should be on comparable equipment—but we make no guarantees.
• Who are the contenders? Well, beyond the U.S. cross-country and nordic combined teams, Sun Valley, CXC, and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project will send full squads to the race. On the men’s side, Freeman and Demong are the obvious favorites, but the 20-year-old Fletcher served notice of his potential over the summer, setting the fastest rollerski time at an elite nordic combined competition in Germany in August.
U.S. cross-country development team member Noah Hoffman can’t be counted out in an uphill climb, either—he finished second to Ivan Babikov in the race up the Lonesome Pines alpine ski area at the SuperTour Finals last March. And CXC has a threatening quadrumvirate in Brian Gregg, Tad Elliott, Garrott Kuzzy, and Matt Liebsch. Finally, a dark horse could be Australian cross-country Olympian and aspiring nordic combined athlete Ben Sim.
• The women’s field isn’t quite as deep, but those with the fitness to test Stephen and Arritola include Dartmouth/Craftsbury’s Ida Sargent, CXC’s Brooke Gosling, and Craftsbury’s Hannah Dreissigacker.
A full list of the entrants that FasterSkier could confirm at the time of posting is below. The initial version of this post left out the participation of Australian Olympian Ben Sim. If anyone wants to revise their entries, just submit a second one.
U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team: Kris Freeman, Simi Hamilton, Noah Hoffman, Andy Newell
U.S. Nordic Combined Team: Brett Camerota, Eric Camerota, Billy Demong, Bretty Denney, Taylor Fletcher, Bryan Fletcher, Nick Hendrickson, Todd Lodwick
Central Cross-Country (CXC): Tad Elliott, Brian Gregg, Garrott Kuzzy, Matt Liebsch, Karl Nygren, Santiago Ocariz, Eric Wolcott
Sun Valley Olympic Development Team: Matt Gelso, Colin Rodgers, Mike Sinnott
Craftsbury Green Racing Project: Matt Briggs, Oliver Burruss, Dylan McGuffin, Patrick O’Brien, Tim Reynolds
Ski Club Vail/Team Homegrown: Sylvan Ellefson
Team Hardwood: Scott Hill, Nick Monette, Patrick Monette, Evan O’Dell
Equipe Quebec: Mathieu Fortin
Peru Nordic: Jerry Curcio, Jim Kobak, Joseph Korzenecki, Christopher Rose, Jon Santor
New York Ski Educational Foundation: Zach Daniels
Australian National Team: Jackson Bursill, Ben Sim
FasterSkier Elite: Nat Herz, Peter Minde, Topher Sabot
U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team: Morgan Arritola, Liz Stephen
Central Cross-Country (CXC): Jenny Bender, Jessie Diggins, Brooke Gosling, Melissa Schwartz
Sun Valley Olympic Development Team: Katie Bono
Craftsbury Green Racing Project: Hannah Dreissigacker, Lauren Jacobs, Ida Sargent
U.S. Biathlon Association: Laura Spector
Maine Coast Nordic: Adele Espy
And to get you in the right mood, here are some highlights of last year’s event, held in the rain, cold and wind. The contest form is just after the video.
Some cool FasterSkier schwag to the winner.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.