It seems like every second year, U.S. Nationals comes out on the losing end of its battle with Mother Nature.
In 2007, the first of two years that the event was hosted in Houghton, Michigan, there was barely enough snow to ski on. And in 2009, the first of two years in Anchorage, Alaska, most of the races were cancelled due to a debilitating cold spell that left temperatures far below the FIS legal limit for racing.
Well, this first year in Rumford, Maine, is no different.
With warm temperatures, no snow in the forecast, and an ill-timed trip with the pisten bully, the courses at Black Mountain are looking a little thin, with dirt spots and rocks in more than a few spots.
“I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic Director John Farra in a phone conversation on Friday night.
“I skied the 5 k and the sprint course, and it’s clear that if nothing changed we could get by. But for sure the jury is concerned about what seems to be a warming trend and potentially some rain.”
Heading into Sunday’s classic sprint, race organizers have already had to make a few adjustments. While the men were originally supposed to compete on a longer, 1.6 k course, they will now ski the same 1.4 k loop as the women.
“We at least decided to focus on the 1.4 k so that we could really get the groomer focused on making that the best possible sprit course we could get,” Farra said.
“We just got to the point where we said, this women’s 1.4 k is a FIS homologated trail. It’s actually a pretty damn good sprint course—in some ways it’s almost a harder climb. It’s a legit 1.4 k sprint and we just can’t be pressuring ourselves to have that second option.”
On Saturday, many of the worst dirt spots on the sprint course had been covered by snow – and that was the only part of the trail network open for skiing. The stadium in particular was covered in an abundant layer of trucked-in snow, and seemed to be in solid shape.
But with temperatures hovering in the 40’s all day and dozens of racers reduced to doing their entire workouts on the loop, snow on some other parts of the sprint course was rapidly melting away.
And while Sunday’s sprint will almost certainly go off without a hitch, competitors were worried about the races later in the week. With rain in the forecast for Sunday and no snow predicted for the following week, it is hard to picture Black Mountain finding a good loop for the distance races.
“Are we going to be able to have a 7.5 k?” asked Farra. “No, I wouldn’t bet on it—but who knows. Then we say, oh, okay, well if we can’t have a 7.5 k, can we get a solid 5 k out of it? If that goes to the shitter, can we get away with 3.75 k?”
Still, despite the rumors flying around about how the distance races would be held – would the schedule change? What about the venue? – Farra said that they had no concrete plans for the rest of the week, and were working on making Sunday’s sprint the best possible race. After that, they would tackle the other courses.
“From our perspective, all we need to be focusing on is obviously getting off this first race,” he said. “Very quickly after that we’ve already started looking at the best case to the worst case — there’s five options in between — even if they’re not ideal — and people don’t want to think about it.
“I’m pretty confident we’re going to have racing in Rumford,” he continued. “I don’t think there’s any question of that. I think it’s just a matter of what it’s going to look like. Could be better, could be worse.
“People are pretty cool about it today—everybody I talked with said, eh, well, you know, that’s the way it goes.”
-Nathaniel Herz contributed reporting.