Taylor Fletcher put on a strong move in the later half part of the race to ski away from Nordic Combined teammate Nick Hendrickson and the cross-country team’s Kris Freeman to claim the victory in the annual NYSEF Climb to the Castle rollerski race in Lake Placid, New York.
In the women’s race Morgan Arritola (USST) led a strong pack, edging Liz Stephen (USST) by 14 seconds. Ida Sargent (Dartmouth/Craftsbury) took third, just 2.5 seconds ahead of former Darthmouth teammate Hannah (Craftsbury). Kristina Strandberg (Atomic/XC Oregon) rounded out the top-5.
Tuesday’s beautiful autumn weather did not carry over, and skiers were greeted by sporadic rain, wind, and temperatures at the start of 50 degrees. Race organizers worked to clear the start area of fallen leaves and the field of 28 women started promptly at 9:00. The course climbs up the Whiteface Memorial Highway, reaching the summit of Whiteface Mountain 5 miles later. There is no respite, with an average grade of 8% and not even 10 meters of descent to briefly rest.
Two-time winner Duncan Douglas was a no-show due to work constraints (read more on the conspiracy here!) so the annual showdown of Douglas on fast race skis, and Freeman on slower Marwe’s never materialized. But Freeman was still denied the victory. Most of the US Nordic Combined Team participated, including World Champion Todd Lodwick. The Nordic Combined skiers all competed on relatively fast Maplus skis – at least when compared to the Marwes that the cross-country team chooses.
By the one mile mark, a pack of six consisting of Fletcher, Lodwick, Freeman, Noah Hoffman (USST), Patrick O’Brien (Dartmouth), and Aiden Lennie had opened a small 15 meter gap on the rest of the field. Freeman took over the lead soon after, pushing the pace, and by three miles only Fletcher was still on his heels. With his faster skis, Fletcher was clearly not working as hard as Freeman, and as the one mile to go mark approached, he put on a strong move. Freeman tried to respond, but was unable to keep contact. Meanwhile, Hendrickson accelerated over the less steep terrain, ultimately catching and passing Freeman, to finish second, 14 seconds behind Fletcher. Freeman, spent from attempting to stay with Fletcher ended up 38 seconds back.
Nordic Combined skier Alex Miller crossed the line in fourth, 5 seconds behind Freeman, and Noah Hoffman, the second skier on Marwes, was 5th 16 seconds up on Lodwick. CXC’s Brian Gregg turned in a strong performance, taking 7th, ahead of Dartmouth’s O’Brien.
The women’s race was more evenly matched ski-wise, and the group of Arritola, Stephen, Sargent, Dreissigacker, and Strandberg pulled away from the filed. The US Ski Team’s Arritola and Stephen looked strong and spent most of the race at the front, with Sargent also taking her turn pulling. The pack began to string out without a specific move from any one athlete, with Arritola proved the strongest. Sargent and Dreissigacker both skied on Pro-Skis, generally somewhat faster than the Marwe’s that other top women used.
“Its always hard and its always nasty weather up here,” said Arritola after her victory. “It’s an effort, a big effort!”
Lindsay Williams, skiing classic (perhaps due to her relatively recent surgery for compartment syndrome) led over the first mile, demonstrating good form and the efficiency of classic rollerskiing on climbs.
Overall the field was one of the strongest to be found in US Skiing, with a top end better than any SuperTour. The weather remained blustery, with occasional rain showers throughout, intermixed with burst of sunlight and stunning views of the surrounding valleys. The finish was completely fogged in, hiding the peak New England colors.
“We had a great turnout for the third annual NYSEF Whiteface Climb to the Castle Rollerski race,” said race director Margaret Mahar. “Snow is always a possibilty at this time of year at the summit, but during the course inspection we were pleased to find the road clear.”
Last year the course had to be changed due to snow and ice at the higher elevations. This year’s times were significantly slower than two years ago, the last time the full course was run. Kris Freeman was roughly two minutes slower. The slow times were due to the wet roads and windy conditions.
Several junior skiers stacked up well in the elite field. David Sinclair (GMVS) finished 20th in the 47 man field, ahead of the likes of Mikey Sinnott (SVSEF) and David Chamberlain (Fischer/MWSC). Fletcher and Hendrickson are both juniors on the Nordic Combined side.
Sophie Caldwell (Dartmouth) was the top female junior, finishing 9th.
This event is a fundraiser for the NYSEF Nordic Program.
Complete Results will be available on NYSEF.org.