RUMFORD, Maine – After two consecutive years of hosting US Nationals on thin snow and shoveled courses, racers got to compete in a championship event last weekend that included the true competition network of trails at Black Mountain of Maine.
This year the Bates College Carnival, which doubled as the EISA Regional championships, got underway Friday with bright sun and rapidly warming temperatures. The wax of choice for most became klister as the women’s race neared. Benches and tents were set up trackside, and the pulsing buzz of blowtorches filled the warm air. The long climb to the course’s high point necessitated good kick, but too much icing from stepping outside the tracks would mean a long sticky run down into the stadium.
Friday: 5/10k Classic
Some splits showed Middlebury’s Annie Pokorny with a lead at the aforementioned high point, the top of a brutal hill with direct sunlight that climbed the back side of Black Mountain’s infamous “High School Hill”. By the finish of the race, however, it was Dartmouth’s Mary O’Connell who was the champion by a mere 1.7 seconds.
Third place went to Emily Blackmer, another young Dartmouth skier having an impressive season.
The men’s race featured three favorites starting one bib after another. Benjamin Lustgarten, Sam Tarling and Scott Patterson held bibs 61, 62 and 63, respectively. Despite their close proximity to each other on the start list, the three racers skied remarkably individual events. Only 8 seconds separated 1st from 3rd, as none of those three men were able to pull away or catch the skier ahead.
At the conclusion of the race it was Patterson who took the victory, ahead of Tarling and then Lustgarten. Though they are all distinctly different in stature and skiing style, these three men have consistently paced the rest of the field in classic races all season.
Saturday: 10/15k Freestyle
Saturday’s mass-start freestyle races, 10k for women and 15k for men, were again warm, though the sun was not present as a dusting of snow fell atop the course throughout the morning.
The course was slightly modified from Friday, featuring the long climb up the the high point once again, before now swooping immediately downhill in order to climb straight up the main section on “High School Hill”.
“The course was absolutely brutal,” remarked Colby skier John Dixon. “There was very little rest between the A-climb and High School Hill, so by the time you hit the steepest sections you had been climbing a long way already.”
Not a problem for the skiers in this field. After winning her last two carnival races in a row, Dartmouth’s Mary O’Connell sought to break up the field once again and charge to victory. In the last freestyle race at Middlebury, it was Anja Gruber of UVM who fought to regain contact before slipping on the final lap. This time, Gruber would have none of the yo-yoing that hindered her in the previous mass start. The UVM skier stuck right on O’Connell’s heels, and together the two separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
They stayed together, in fact, until the very end. In a sprint to the line it was O’Connell who claimed her third victory in a row. UVM was able to celebrate a double-podium performance, as Linda Danvind-Malm took third.
In the men’s race, Scott Patterson did what he has done for an entire season now: gap the field by a wide margin and look calm doing it. In similar fashion to last weekend’s skate race, it was Sam Tarling and David Sinclair, both of Dartmouth, who attempted to hang with Patterson’s now-signature turn of pace. Also in similar fashion to the most recent skate race, Tarling was able to hang on long enough to secure 2nd place, while Sinclair was eventually swallowed up by the large chase pack encompassing places 3 through 13.
Taking that third spot ahead of the rest of the field was Dartmouth’s Silas Talbot. Along with Scott Lacy in 4th, the Dartmouth men went 2-3-4 in the event. Black Mountain’s long, straight finishing stretch once again lent itself to many memorable sprint finishes as skiers fought for top places in the last race of the season.
In a unique post-race concept, the competitors in the men’s field waited together until the full conclusion of the event before taking to the course in a giant group. Regardless of finishing place or team affiliation, the skiers of the EISA were all out as one to celebrate the end of the season. This “mass cooldown” was a great spectacle, and a show of camaraderie that this reporter hopes will be a new final-carnival tradition for years to come.
The NCAA Championships, hosted by Middlebury College, begin March 6th.
Adam Terko is the assistant coach of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team