There’s a chill in the air, but winter is still months away. With New England’s weather forecasts predicting a sunny autumn weekend with temperatures in the mid-60’s (high teens Celsius), the coast of Maine looks like the ideal event destination this weekend. The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) is ready to oblige with the staging of The Maine Event: XCX Sprints on Sunday, October 23. This is one of the many events hosted by NENSA that is designed for skiers of all ability levels from those just learning, to enthusiastic Masters participants, to seasoned racers. It’s part of the NENSA philosophy that is organized by NENSA’s Competitive Program Director, Justin Beckwith.
“In New England, we generally look on roller ski events as festive, as gatherings,” Beckwith said, “As a means for aspiring skiers to gain race experience rather than pursue race victories. We try to maintain a fun, festive environment, and NENSA’s philosophy is reflected there. It’s as much about gathering skiers together as it is about competing.”
NENSA’s seasonal calendar identifies a large number of roller ski opportunities, but to call them “races” is to misunderstand NENSA’s efforts. The events that NENSA stages are intended to be less of a “race,” and more of a controlled event. Matched roller skis are provided for event contenders, so no one needs to worry about a mechanical disadvantage. Ramps, bicycle bumps, NENSA wave boards (designed and built by Beckwith, himself), and other fun elements are incorporated in nearly every event. “We want skiers of all skill levels and competitive ambitions to have the opportunity to gather together,” says Beckwith. “Racing can be part of that, but any festival can offer more.”
NENSA stages a variety of roller ski events and ski community gatherings throughout the summer:
Lost Nation Roll (Craftsbury, VT)
Rollins Roll (Mt. Kearsarge, NH)
Free Fall Roller Ski Race (Jericho, VT)
Keys to the Castle (Lake Placid, NY)
Climb to the Castle (Whiteface, NY)
The Maine Event: XCX Sprint (Pineland Farms, ME)
Mt. Greylock Roller Ski Race (Adams, MA)
NENSA also offers numerous clinics aimed at those new to roller skiing in the form of NENSA’s Learn-To-Rollerski clinics. There the focus is on learning roller skiing fundamentals: stopping and turning, basic technique fundamentals, agility skills, and games.
“When NENSA started, one of the goals was to strengthen clubs within the region.” Beckwith said. “By my tenure, many clubs were already well organized, and they were doing their own camps and programs. NENSA’s new aim became how to capitalize on the activities already being staged in New England by adding heightened programming and bringing the clubs together.”
NENSA events can also offer high-level competition, though in an environment that’s designed primarily to offer training experience for young athletes: learning the psychology of racing, the timing of warming up and warming down, the ins and outs of race-day fueling and hydrating, the strategies of racing against the clock, or the terrain, or other competitors. But the format and intent of each event needs to strike a delicate balance: “For years, I’d sent athletes to compete in the App Gap Challenge as part of Green Mountain Valley School’s summer training camp,” Beckwith remembered. “Even then, the App Gap event was called a ‘challenge’ rather than a race. It wasn’t so much a competition as it was a way for skiers to measure improvement year after year.”
While NENSA stages events that could be described as “races,” Beckwith made it clear that NENSA is not attempting to create a roller ski athlete, nor to stage events that would otherwise interrupt the progression of any ski-athlete’s summer training: “Too much racing in the summer can be an interruption to ski training,” Beckwith said. “Athletes need to consider that these races are not so serious, but that they are simply an addition in the summer season.”
While ski-event organizers in the West and Midwest are beginning to consider seeking FIS and/or USSA sanctioning for roller ski events in seasons to come, that’s not where NENSA is focusing its efforts. NENSA’s mission is to do more than one thing: development and growth of cross country skiing, and providing competitive opportunities for cross country athletes. NENSA’s combination of racing, skills events, instruction, and community gatherings may continue to be the way to accomplish that. Perhaps the place to begin on a glorious New England autumn weekend is on the coast of Maine. Go to NENSA’s website for further event information, and for THE MAINE EVENT Registration.