Every two years, the Williams College nordic team hosts its Winter Carnival 20 miles north of Williamstown, Mass., at Prospect Mountain in Woodford, Vt. By 2016, it could have a five-kilometer ski loop up to International Ski Federation (FIS) standards.
“It started with my coach, Bud Fisher,” said Williams senior Will Wicherski. “He’s been at Williams forever.”
Williams’ associate director of athletics, Fisher suggested that Wicherski study Prospect’s trail system to determine whether a homologated trail would be feasible.
“Within the EISA [Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association], there’s more and more of a move to get all our races on homologated courses,” Fisher said. “We’ve been thinking about it for some time, and we’re taking a probably a little bit more conservative, slow-paced approach to it.”
Wicherski characterized some of the EISA race loops as “really uneven,” pointing to Dartmouth’s Skiway at Oak Hill as an example.
“The climb is way too big and not that wide,” he said. “Our course at Prospect is kind of unfair. It’s old-school, not wide, and there isn’t a lot of climb. We can’t really have mass start races there.”
Homologating race trails evens the playing field, he explained. “Among the coaches, there’s more of a desire to hold races at homologated race sites. They know what they’re getting. There are more schools that want to host carnivals.”
Some New England schools already hold their carnivals on homologated trails, including the University of New Hampshire (which hosts in Jackson); the University of Vermont (at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe), and Middlebury (at Rikert) and Colby (in Waterville, Maine).
The course will combine existing trails with new sections. Much of Prospect Mountain’s trail network is on U.S. Forest Service land, where the permitting process makes large-scale alterations difficult. As a result, Williams wants its race loop to include minimal new trails.
Ultimately the college would like to create a course that will accommodate interval-start freestyle and classic races as well as team relays. Mass-start skate races require wider trails than interval starts, and Fisher said that while it wouldn’t be impossible to make them happen, it would be “very difficult.”
Interval-start freestyle, classic, and relay events require trails 5 meters wide. Even for interval-start homologation, some sections of trail — all on forest service land — would need to be widened.
Wicherski described southern Vermont/northwestern Massachusetts as “being on the edge of consistent snow,” adding that if the homologation project works out, the college may consider snowmaking in the future.
“Getting the course homologated is the first step towards snowmaking,” he said.
According to Williams’ Nordic Head Coach Jason Lemieux, snowmaking is a “long term goal/dream … it’s a battle we’ll wait to fight until the completion of the homologation project,” he wrote in an email.
Prospect Mountain’s ski roots trace back to 1939, when it started as an alpine-ski area with a rope tow. At 2,250 feet above sea level, its base elevation is the highest of any ski area in Vermont. In the 1970s, Prospect’s owners cut cross-country ski trails to enhance their business, and in 1992, Steve Whitham and Andrea Amodeo purchased the area after its previous owner abandoned it. Instead of reopening the lifts, they focused on cross-country skiing.
At 2,250 feet above sea level, its base elevation is the highest of any ski area in Vermont.
Getting Up is Half the Battle
One of the biggest challenges was designing an appropriate downhill from the main climb. Running under the old lift line, the A-climb diagonally crosses the alpine hill, ending up on a trail called Shay’s.
“We know where the A-climb is, but we don’t have a way to get down off it,” Fisher said.
This summer, they plan to build the descent. Williams will test it this coming winter, after which they plan to finish work on the trail.
The other challenge exists at the opposite end of the course. Prospect’s trail system is bisected by a forest-service road that sees heavy snowmobile traffic during the winter. During Williams’ last Winter Carnival, course workers had to stop snowmobiles 17 times during the races. “It’s a dangerous situation,” Fisher said.
To avoid the road, Williams would need to construct a short connector trail on forest-service land. They’ve applied to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) both for this and to widen trail sections where necessary. The carnival trail falls into the forest service’s small-projects category, which requires less time, ecological compliance and money than a large-scale endeavor.
Pending USFS approval, construction will start with trail work this summer.
We haven’t actually gotten an FIS [inspector] in yet,” Fisher said. “We wanted to get all the homologation parameters met before we do that. We launched into the project and came up with a number of ideas to us where show we get an A-climb and a B-climb.”
Lemieux estimated the project’s cost to be “easily more than $15,000.”
Approval will give Williams a 10-year permit. If the downhill from A-climb works, they’ll continue work on the land the following summer. At that point, they would bring in a course inspector from the FIS for any tweaks.
Peter Minde is a FasterSkier contributor and personal trainer specializing in functional strength and corrective exercise. Whether skiing, trail running, or cycling, he’s always looking to see what’s at the top of the next hill. From the wilds of north N.J., he skis for Peru Nordic. On Twitter @PeteMinde or at www.oxygenfedsport.com.