June 3, Magic Mountain Ski Area, Londonderry Vermont
It’s full summer in the Green Mountains of Vermont: high temperatures and summer thunderstorms, every tree leaf-covered, every meadow knee-deep in new grass, and the entire world the richest shade of green. Even those New England resorts that pride themselves on being the very last to keep their chairlifts turning had packed it in a week ago. But there’s still snow at Magic Mountain, stored for just such a day beneath mounds of fresh straw, uncovered just in time for SMST2 and West River Nordic to stage a late, late, late-season fund raiser. It was a magic day . . .
The day’s races were both collegially lighthearted, and heatedly competitive. A two-lane slalom course challenged racers in head-to-head heats: slaloming down the gated course (a tricky prospect on nordic skis), a steeply banked turn-around at the bottom, followed by an all-out sprint back to the top.
The day was staged as a fund-raiser for the West River Sports Association, a local organization celebrating its 50th year bringing organized soccer and cross country skiing to kids in southern Vermont.
“This is our club’s primary fund raising effort,” said Jennie Freeman, former Director and current board member of West River Sports Association. “[It’s] now become an annual event on the first Saturday in June.”
Like many family-oriented ski organizations, West River relies upon the involvement of families and volunteers to cultivate skiing in winter communities. And the Dual Slalom event staged at Magic Mountain is just one more way that local kids get to rub shoulders with the professionals and Olympians of SMST2.
“Jessie’s even talked about getting the Euros over here next year, hosting a training camp and including this event as part of the activities. How fun would that be!”
SMST2 athletes and West River Nordic volunteers provided the energy and the labor to clear the mounds of insulating straw from the precious snow pile. Shovels and rakes, truck beds and wheelbarrows: this was old fashioned ski racing with the competitors, themselves, pitching in to set up the course and create the venue. The field included local contenders, near beginners, junior competitors, and masters standouts; all hoping to give SMST2 athletes a run for their money. World Cup and Olympic competitors could be seen holding back to keep things close in early heats, but when they decided to turn on the after-burners it really was an impressive spectacle to witness. And how fun it was to have the very best skiers putting on a show right here on this little patch of Southern Vermont snow.
Live bands kept the crowds entertained while all entrants got the chance to qualify, followed by a set of heats to determine the day’s champion.
“It’s really cool to see. Honestly, I just love the vibe here,” said Will Koch, SMST2 team member and lifetime area resident. “It’s amazing being part of this atmosphere, and getting to grow up in place where this is what people do for fun.”
Much to the crowd’s delight, Jessie Diggins and Ben Ogden emerged as the day’s winners . . . though Diggins did so on a pair of borrowed kid’s-length fishscale skis that somehow still seemed to be the secret weapon appropriate for the day.
Commenting on the victories from Diggins and Ogden, SMST2 team member, Will Koch said, “The results of this are somehow not too different from how we would stack up in a normal ski race.”
Peru, Landgrove, Londonderry, Stratton—this unassuming part of Vermont has cultivated some of America’s finest nordic skiers. Jessie Diggins keeps a home in Stratton. The Ogden family (Ben, Katharine, Charlotte) lives at the bottom of the valley, Sverre Caldwell (founder of SMST2, of Stratton Mountain School’s nordic program, and father of Sophie, Izzie, Austin) lives just down the road from 1976 Olympic silver medallist and Overall World Cup Champion Bill Koch (father of Will). Earlier generations of American champions grew up training just beyond the next ridge in the village of Putney, where John Caldwell directed the careers of the Americans who first began chasing the European stars of the sport. That list of pioneers included Bob Gray, Martha Rockwell, Bill Koch, Jennifer Caldwell, Tim Caldwell, and Sverre Caldwell, himself.
This part of southern Vermont has long been a favored training destination for Diggins, Julia Kern, Simi Hamilton, and a host of national and international standouts. Recently retired American Olympian and World Cup medalist, Sophie Caldwell, is still known to identify Wild Wings Ski Touring Center (Peru, Vermont) as her favorite place to ski. The tradition of nordic skiing is a long and enduring one in these valleys, and the nordic skiing lifestyle continues to thrive here, even today.
NCAA champions, Junior World Champions, World Champions, World Cup winners, Olympic medalists: some of America’s most accomplished skiers were once kids, themselves, growing up on these dirt roads, grassy slopes, and snowy trails. They’ve seen it all and done it all in the sport of nordic skiing; SMST2, and West River Nordic continue working to ensure that this proud legacy continues.