The following was submitted by Kevin Brooker, who attended the 2018 Ski Orienteering World Cup and Ski Orienteering World Masters Championships last week in Craftsbury, Vermont. Brooker, who wrote an introductory piece on ski orienteering, set out to explain how the event made its way to the small town in the Northeast Kingdom.
CRAFTSBURY, Vermont — Even within the tiny and tight-knit American world of nordic activities, ski orienteering is relatively unknown. Just like traditional cross country racing, the American devotees are rabid enthusiasts determined to have an impact on a sport dominated by Scandinavian athletes. Overseeing the sport is the International Orienteering Federation (IOF), whose mission is to promote the overall sport of orienteering and all of the subsets such as ski-o, mountain bike-o, and the largest segment: foot-o.
The IOF organizes a World Cup and World Championships for all segments and does its best to move these events around the globe. Like most international competitions, it takes several years to pull together an event. In addition to an appropriate venue, the organizing committee must have international experience, a lot of determination and grit.
Just how did the Ski-O World Cup Finals and Masters World Championships end up in Vermont and how did it go?
Ken Walker, event controller for this year’s championships in Craftsbury, explains the genesis of the event:
“I was approached several years ago while ski-0 masters racing in Europe about bringing World Cup ski-0 races back to North America. We held very successful races in Truckee, California, in 2012 and competitors wanted to return. I suggested doing it in the East and [Craftsbury Event Director] Adrian Owens was enthusiastic about holding them at Craftsbury. This was a natural choice, knowing the fine trail network and an organization welcoming competition events. My official job was national event controller. It basically means I check to ensure the races are fair, accurate and safe, and we follow the International IOF rules.”
With a well-formed idea, Walker and Owens approached Judy Geer, co-owner of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center (COC), about hosting the event.
“When Adrian Owens approached us about the idea of hosting this race, which he did well over a year ago, I was pretty quick to say, ‘Sure, sounds like fun!’ ” Geer explained. “It seemed like an opportunity to share our trail system in a new way and welcome an international group of nordic skiers to Craftsbury. At the same time, we had no idea how to host such a race so it was critical that there would be a knowledgeable organizing committee to really put it all together. Luckily, we had that. “
An East-Coast venue secured, Walker and Owens assembled an organizing committee (OC) to bring the event to Vermont. The committee had more to do than just run a race; they had to educate the Craftsbury staff and teach them about ski-o.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center coach Ollie Burruss had this to say about his ski-o learning curve:
“I would just add that the organizing committee has been incredibly helpful in educating those of us at the Outdoor Center without a background in ski orienteering – I think that would be almost all of us, actually. We are quite comfortable hosting high level cross country races, but this series added new elements to our race day preparation. Without the OC stepping up and providing input, suggestion, education, and the like, we would not have known where to start.”
Much of a ski-o race shares a lot of similarities with a more traditional cross-country event. Both have individual starts and mass starts. With the exception of ski-o competitors wearing map holders, the starts and finishes look identical. Craftsbury was able to utilize their expertise and equipment setting up timing and start and finish areas. Where the Center needed some help was setting appropriate courses and the OC provided two expert competitors and course setters.
Alex Jospe and Andy Hall are two such experts.
“As course setter, my main task is to design an orienteering course that is appropriate for each class,” Jospe explained. “For the elite skiers, this involves very technical skiing and very technical navigation, with a mix of challenges from route choices to fine-scale navigation execution, all done at top speed. Ironically, those are the easiest courses to set, because the competitors can handle just about anything you throw at them. The tricky part is designing a course that will be navigationally challenging for the elder classes, without totally thrashing them on the ski trails.
“Setting a course entails laying everything out on paper, and then going out into the terrain to make sure that all the trails and tracks line up the way they are supposed to,” she continued. “I also spend a lot of time skiing various route choices, to get a sense of how long it will take for the skiers to complete the course. Then we print out the maps, and go out to set up the checkpoints, which are marked with an orange and white flag. Each of these flags (called ‘controls’) has an electronic timing unit on top, so that competitors can carry a timing chip and get splits instantaneously at the finish.”
With the event completed, how does the OC feel about the event?
“We’ve been on a steep learning curve about this sport, and it’s really been fun to finally get to watch the races this week!” Greer noted. “We hope the competitors are enjoying Craftsbury as much as we’re enjoying having them here.”
“Our expectations have been more than met, with terrific support from venue staff and the trail groomers,” Walker said. “It is fun to host nearly 200 European racers and introduce more Americans to ski-o.”
With years of racing, coaching, and organizing races, Burruss had this to say: “I really appreciate the patience they [the organizers] have showed and I hope we have held up our end of the bargain. It is a cool event and I’m glad we were able to help bring this level of racing to the NEK [Northeast Kingdom].”
The experience of setting dozens of courses for many levels of skill and age, with snow cover ranging from gray ice to a foot of fresh snow, Jospe summed up her experience:
“Hosting this event at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center has been amazing. They are generous, interested, and enthusiastic — we couldn’t do this without such good support! It’s really cool to bring so many international competitors to this corner of Vermont, and everyone is appreciating the friendly vibes.”
For those of us fortunate enough to participate in this world-class event, the hard work and effort by the OC and huge staff of volunteers at the start, finish, registration, and out on the course is greatly appreciated. The trail grooming was exceptional and the rest of the COC staff was extremely professional. Everyone worked together to provide a fantastic racing experience to spectators and participants alike.
- IOF Ski Orienteering World Cup Finals videos: Sprint | Middle distance
- Alex Jospe interview on Vermont Public Radio
About the Author: Kevin began nordic skiing to keep in shape for bicycle racing at the dawn of the skating revolution. He lives in Vermont with his wife and two kids, who are fortunate enough to have great skiing right out the front door.