It is only once every few years that Saint Michael’s College hosts an EISA event. Before this past weekend the most recent SMC Carnival was in the winter of 2010, just prior to the Vancouver Olympics. For their competitions this year, racers were treated to great snow and enthusiastic hosts at the Sleepy Hollow Ski and Bike Center in the woods of Huntington, Vermont. It was a weekend of classic-only racing on narrow, wooded trails, and heavy snowfall throughout the first day of racing contributed even more to the scenic locale.
Friday’s races were 5 and 10-kilometer classic races in individual-start format, while Sunday featured a rare and exciting event: a 4×3 kilometer mixed-gender classic relay.
Friday: 5/10 kilometer classic
Racers arriving and skiing Thursday afternoon were greeted by a relatively flat course featuring long, non-technical descents and smooth gradual climbs. With the recent World Cup exploits of Petter Northug and Dario Cologna double-poling an entire 15k classic race on skate skis in Davos, Switzerland earlier this season, there was hushed talk of some racers attempting the same on Friday. The fast snow and gradual nature of the course certainly lent itself to the idea.
Upon waking the morning of the race, competitors were greeted with three to four inches of fresh snow on the race loop, with more falling heavily. A relatively benign course was suddenly transformed into a grueling test through slow conditions.
That didn’t stop two UVM skiers, Cole Morgan and Tobias Trenkle, from opting out of kick wax and putting their poling power to the test: the two Catamounts took to the course on skate skis and were able to earn top-15 finishes. Despite the commendable upper-body devotion of Morgan and Trenkle, kick wax proved to be the way to go this day, as Fabian Stocek of Dartmouth strode his way to a win in the men’s 10k event. The win marked the first EISA victory for Stocek, a sophomore from the Czech Republic who honed his US skiing chops at Holderness before racing for the Big Green.
Stocek was followed by UNH racer Eirik Fosnaes in second and UVM’s Jack Hegman in third. Hegman is a native of Huntington, Vermont and spent much of his formative years training and racing at the venue. Another Hegman, younger sibling Ben, also finished in the top-10 with a tenth place result.
A very notable race on Friday was that of Colby skier Silas Eastman. Eastman, with a previous best finish of 12th in this season’s Bates Carnival 20k classic, burst into the top-10 for the first time in a big way. Eastman narrowly missed the podium and nabbed fourth place in the grueling blizzard conditions.
For the first time this season, Fosnaes led the UNH men to the top of the team score, besting UVM by just three points. Dartmouth finished in third another four points back, likely hindered by the absence of common scoring members Patrick Caldwell (racing at U23 World Championships) and Silas Talbot (racing down the road in the Craftsbury Supertour)
Conditions were consistent all day, and the women raced through blizzard conditions as well for their event. Absent from the race was the previous weekend’s double-victor Annika Taylor of UNH, and topping the results was Heather Mooney of Middlebury.
Between the two of them, either Mooney or Taylor have won every EISA race this season, and neither show signs of slowing down. Mooney took the win with a commanding 30 second margin over runner-up Mary-kate Cirelli. A fresh face to the UVM squad but no stranger to the Vermont scene after racing just down Route 7 in Rutland during high school, Cirelli has been on the podium in nearly every race this season. Despite her consistently-strong performances Cirelli is still searching for her elusive first EISA victory.
In another mark of a strong day for the Mules of Colby, Olivia Amber skied to 3rd place to round out the podium, though the Middlebury women owned the top-10 en route to another strong team finish. Stella Holt (seventh) and Kelsey Phinney (eighth) helped the Panthers top both UVM and UNH on the day.
Saturday: 4x3k Mixed-gender Classic Relay
Cold temperatures and new snow from the day prior combined to create slow conditions for this event, but bright sunshine and a lack of wind made for an incredibly bright atmosphere. It seemed everyone was excited to take part in such a unique event: a mixed-gender relay had not been held for at least eight years on the EISA circuit, and team spirits were running high with flags, glitter and face-paint in abundance.
For racers and spectators alike, the race could not have unfolded with more excitement. The lead changed several times over the course of each leg as skiers fought hard over two steep climbs and a chaotic exchange zone.
Six top teams stuck together for much of the first lap, but a strong race by Middlebury’s second-team scramble leg Kelsey Phinney gave her teammate Jacob Voltz the lead heading up the first of two significant climbing sections on the course.
Voltz was eventually chased-down by a group of skiers including Silas Eastman of Colby, who had shown his top form in the classic technique the day prior. Eastman was able to tag off at the front of the race to his Mule teammate and perennially-strong classic skier Amy Bianco. Bianco led with a small gap to the field up the long climb on leg three.
The lead for Colby wouldn’t last, however, as Middlebury’s hard-charging Heather Mooney caught up to the front of the race during her leg of the event. Mary-kate Cirelli also moved up to put UVM in a scoring position.
In the final exchange Mooney tagged her teammate Patrick McElravey only a few seconds before Cirelli handed off to fellow Catamount Jack Hegman. Up the first significant climb Hegman had McElravey in his sights and was pushing hard to give chase. Despite the gutsy effort by Hegman, McElravey was able to hold the gap. In the end the first Middlebury team of Stella Holt, Adam Luban, Mooney and McElravey was awarded the victory over UVM.
Though they rarely spent much time leading the race itself, the top team from Dartmouth was consistently in the mix, and took the final spot on the podium.
Photo Gallery: Exchange zone excitement! (all photos courtesy of Silke Hynes)
Adam Terko is the assistant coach of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team