Brayton Osgood’s 24th place in the Engadin is just one example of how deep the field is in the FIS Ski Classics, said John Downing, the XC Oregon Program Director. Osgood, 29, finished in 1 hour, 43 minutes and 11.9 seconds. Fabio Santus (ITA) in second place finished in 1:42:16.3. Remo Fischer (SUI) won the race, clocking in at 1:39:51.3.
“Brayton’s race was not even a minute out of second place and 30 seconds or so from the top-15, so the men’s field was super tight. Given how he’s had to ski himself into form all season from a wicked back injury late in the fall, I thought that was a great result,” Downing said.
Osgood landed in Switzerland with plenty of time to prepare for the Engadin and get over the time change and jet lag.
“I was in Switzerland for a week before the Engadin. Switzerland was great,” Osgood said to FasterSkier, citing perfect weather and plenty of skiing right out the door. “I can’t imagine a better way to spend the first week of March.”
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Trouble from above
Leading up to the race was a week of perfect, stable weather conditions: no clouds, evening lows from -6 to -10 Celcius and afternoon highs from +5 to +10 in the sun. Despite the high afternoon temps, the snow stayed pretty cold and dry for most of the week, only starting to transform on Friday afternoon and then a little more on Saturday when the clouds started to roll in, Osgood recalled.
And those clouds with some wind added did mess up the conditions, especially for racers in the first wave, leaving snow piles and snowdrifts on the course.
“The Engadin was a really tough race. At the start on Sunday, we were met with blowing snow and temperatures around freezing. At least the wind was at our backs, so it pushed us along the lakes. It was blowing so hard the trail turned into waves of windblown powder, but it stayed fast thanks to the icier snow underneath,” Osgood said.
No wind was hardly better
While it would be reasonable to think that trees would provide shelter from the wind and improve the conditions for the front line skiers, this was only a partial bliss, Osgood explained.
“Once we got to St. Moritz and headed into the trees, the wind stopped, but the snow didn’t. By Pontresina the trail was covered with half an inch of wet cement. My skis were about average for the front group for the whole race, but ‘average’ went from ‘feels pretty fast and good’ to ‘these are maybe the slowest skis I’ve ever had and I would never race on them in a million years if I had the choice,’” Osgood said.
For the next portion of the race, from Pontresina to Zuoz, nothing really happened in terms of leaders and lead groups. It was a grunt of a transportation stage.
“Nobody really moved around in the group from Pontresina to Zuoz, because it was so much harder to move outside of the line. Hats off to the guys pulling the train, and especially to Remo Fischer, as that cannot have been easy work. It wasn’t fast skiing where I was 30th in line, but it was still a lot better than trying to pass,” Osgood said, noting that after putting that stretch behind them, the field totally changed.
“Once we hit Zuoz, the race exploded, and I tried to go with the front of the group. I stayed in pretty close contact until about three kilometers to go, when my legs decided to call it a day. I guess I’d burned a few too many matches early on. Those last couple Ks were pretty tough, but it was a good race all in all,” Osgood said.
Marathons: all-in-one package deal
For Osgood, the marathons represent an interesting racing experience, and learning to know yourself, your gear, your limits and the course.
“Marathons are all about making as few efforts as you can, but making those efforts count. Knowing the course – I also did the ESM in 2009 – and where it was important to be near the front – approaching St. Moritz mostly – made a difference as I was able to ski pretty relaxed once I’d established myself in the top 40. Otherwise I didn’t manage anything very special; I just tried to stay right with the guys in front of me. That worked out pretty well until it got hard at the end, and at that point you just have to be able to race a really fast 5K. I had a pretty fast 2-2.5K left, which I guess wasn’t quite enough.”
Next up for Osgood: The Norwegian Birkebeiner on Saturday, a 54-kilometer classic race from Rena to Lillehammer, where skiers have to carry a 3.5-kilo backpack to symbolize the weight of the baby king that the Birkebeiners carried to safety across the mountain in the year 1205.
Complete results from the 2011 Engadin Ski Marathon here.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.