Gilford, New Hampshire, March 11-13– This weekend Gunstock Nordic Association (GNA) played host to the 2011 TD Bank J2 Championships, an annual event where top skiers aged 14-15 from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and representatives from Utah, Colorado, New York and a lone skier from Australia race for three days. The event serves as a stepping stone for young high schoolers to experience higher-level competition and to further develop ski racing in New England.
Day 1: 5 k freestyle
Teams traveling to the race course were greeted by high 30s, dense fog, torrential rain and loose wet snow. GNA however has spent the season preparing for freakish New England weather, and thanks to record snowfalls in January and artificial snow making capabilities, the snow managed to stay for the entire weekend.
In the ladies race, Tara Humphries from Yarmouth, ME, came in from her third-ranked seed to win, her time of 18:08.3 beating out Shannon Nadeau of Hopkinton, NH, by one second. Humphries’ teammate Sadie James of Mt. Abram, ME, came in for the last medal slot in a time of 18:21.1 and helped secure the top girl’s team score for the day with 1755 points. Team Vermont was second with 1627 points.
In the boy’s race, Sean Doherty of Conway, NH and also an unofficial member of the Youth Men Squad of US biathlon (official members must be at least 17 years old) stormed in for the win with a time of 15:12.4. His 40 second win margin was a bit of anomaly in an otherwise tightly packed field, with 17 skiers packing in behind second-place Jack Elder of Yarmouth, ME within a minute spread. Rounding out the podium was Noah Williams racing for the Ford Sayre club of Hanover, NH. The Vermont boy’s team were the top guns of the day with 1680 points, ahead of team New Hampshire by 11 points.
Day 2: 5 k classic and freestyle sprints
Morning sun and rising temps dispelled the fog and rain of yesterday, although it did little to improve the mushy conditions. Nevertheless, wax teams managed to nail the wax for the morning classic race.
Doherty came across the tape the fastest for another dominating 40 second winning margin, this time leading a New Hampshire podium sweep. Williams moved up a slot from yesterday to come in second with a time of 14:05.0, and Blaine Ayotte of Concord, NH made his breakthrough on the regional scene with 14:12.2 for third. The New Hampshire boy’s team paced the field for the morning with 1732 points, ahead of team Vermont by 25 points.
In another case of a racer coming from the back for a win, Kate Kerin of Hanover, NH, came in a time of 17:06.3, edging Nadeau by three seconds for the top podium slot. Coming in for the last medal slot was Massachusetts’s first top three performance for the weekend from Rebecca Smith of Wellesley, MA.
For the afternoon sprint, the conditions little improved even with the dropping of the temperature. Mash potato snow and a 1200 meter course with steep pitches and a grueling 200 meter slope to the finish demanded skiers to stay tough throughout the entire race. Spectators described racers looking as though they were “finishing a 10 k race instead of a sprint.”
Doherty secured the win for the boy’s standings in the last individual race, slogging in for a time of 3:39.21. New York got to make some noise with their podium finish for the weekend from JT Paganelli from Honeoye Falls, NY, slipping in with a time of 3:41.54. Maine also got its first podium appearance from Thomas Sullivan from Yarmouth, ME, coming in third with a time of 3:44.26.
In the girl’s race, Nadeau finally got first place after being denied twice by tight margins for her own individual victory, coming with a time of 4:29.91, an astronomical nine-second win over the girl’s field and securing her own win in the individual standings. The Maine girls answered however with two skiers of their own, with James and Humphries sliding in at 4:38.05 and 4:38.58.
In the overall team scores, Maine boys and girls lead with 10290 points combined going into the last event.
Day 3: 4×2 k mixed relay
The sun came out just a tad more for the exciting conclusion of the weekend event, a mixed gender relay.
In the beginning, Maine and Massachusetts had several teams putting time ahead on the rest of the field with the first two classic legs. New Hampshire’s top relay team however- including skate legs Doherty and Nadeau- came back from a 25 second-deficit for an exciting win and continue their yearly streak of wins in the relay for the J2 festival. Massachusetts’ top relay was second, and team Maine took the last top three slot.
Team Maine secured the overall girl’s and boy’s win with 13990 points. In second was team Vermont with 13699 points and third was team New Hampshire with 13141.
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.