As of Tuesday, the long-term weather forecast for Rumford, ME, host of the 2012 U.S. National Cross Country Championships, was not looking promising for accumulating natural snow by the start of racing on January 2. Right now, there is not a spot of natural snow on the course at Black Mountain.
According to a 15-day forecast, temperatures will fluctuate above and below freezing leading up to January, with small chances of snow and “wintry mix” here and there.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because the lead-up to Nationals last January, also in Rumford, featured almost exactly the same snow outlook. There is now a little under three weeks to go until the freestyle sprints kick off the week of racing, but this time race organizers are planning further ahead.
Chief of Competition Carlie Casey said he and his crew have already begun making snow on the trails.
“People are doing the usual snow dances, but we’re not counting on it, obviously,” he said. Over the next few weeks, his goal is to stockpile enough snow to cover a 3.75 k homologated course, as well as separate men’s and women’s sprint courses that will partially overlap the main loop. There will be an additional adaptive ski loop.
Even if it does get a few degrees above freezing over the next few weeks, Casey said that they’ll be able to continue making snow.
Black Mountain acquired four new snow guns this year, and two more arrived on Monday. Casey is expecting an additional two guns in the next few days.
To manage the preparation for U.S. Nationals in the absence of a Nordic Director, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) has hired Technical Delegate Al Serrano to guide and work with the organizing committee. According to Serrano, Black Mountain will focus its snowmaking efforts on getting the trails ready for Nationals directly after this Saturday’s Uphill Snowmobile Race, giving them two weeks of running all eight snow guns.
“As we approach this weekend, we’ll have a better grasp of how they’re doing,” he said. “I’m fairly confident [they’ll pull it off]; I’ve asked them to realistically look at how many hours it would take to do what they want to do, and they’ve promised a 3.75 k loop.”
Last year, organizers scrambled to put together a manmade course in time. Pipes feeding the snow guns froze, limiting the volume of snow they could put out. The 20/30 k distance races were held on a 2.75 k slushy loop, prompting the race jury to change the mass start to an individual start to mitigate crowding.
This year, Casey said they’ve made the necessary repairs to the pipes, and will have a backup generator on hand to extend their snowmaking capability beyond the reach of their power lines.
Though 3.75 k is a step up from the manmade loop last year, in both length and terrain variation, it could still be a challenge to hold a mass-start distance race on it. Serrano said he’s made trail width a priority as organizers start working on the course. At a minimum, he wants a 2.5 k loop with the entire width of the trail covered, and to then work up to 3.75 k.
Serrano is hopeful that the advanced planning and experience of last year will work in their favor.
In Casey’s mind, the worst thing that could happen at this point would be for an unexpected warm front to raise temperatures above snowmaking conditions. Asked if there was a contingency plan yet in place at an alternate venue, he said that, based on the forecast, not at the moment.
“We may, in our next organizing committee meeting, need to discuss the possibilities,” he added.
The most logical nearby picks for a substitute host are Craftsbury, VT and Presque Isle, ME. Craftsbury can sometimes be colder, as it’s further away from the ocean, and has a brand new snowmaking system. Presque Isle also can have better snow than Black Mountain, and has hosted Nationals in the past.
“As each week comes, we’ll evaluate where they are,” Serrano concluded. “I’m not expecting a Christmas miracle with snow storms.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.