Monday, February 19, 2018

Williams & Bowdoin Carnivals

After a nice snowy weekend at Dartmouth, it was back to warm temps for the Williams Carnival.  By the time we got to Prospect on Thursday afternoon, we were in full spring skiing mode.  Sadly, the massive melting wiped out the stadium and kept us from accessing some tough climbs and fun descents, but the organizers did a nice job of pulling together a decently challenging 2.5k loop for Friday's 5/10k classic.  It was an unusual waxing day - super warm when we started testing, and then gradually dropping down toward freezing as the morning went on.  As with any klister day, we had to do some scrambling, but we got good skis on almost everyone's feet.  The team was really feeling the strain of schoolwork this week - mid-February is a tough time for us every year - and a lot of people were tired, but they managed to put up surprisingly solid results nonetheless.  Elliot was 9th and Christian 20th to lead the men, with Renae 14th and Gabby 19th for women.  These 4 have been amazingly consistent all year, to the point where it's easy to take these results for granted - I have to constantly remind myself how impressive it is that a sophomore and three first-years are putting up these performances every week.  Sam also had a nice race, scoring a big classic PR in 35th - lots of technique work paying off.  One other fun thing about this race was that a bunch of local HS skiers came out to watch the races - lots of them knew Ian since he grew up just down the road in Williamstown, so there were a ton of excited kids cheering for him every time he came around - very cool.

Things kept cooling, and the next morning we had a nice fast track to work with.  With no stadium, the originally scheduled sprint race wasn't possible - very sad, since this was our only sprint of the year.  Instead, we did a 3.8k prologue.  I've never loved the prologue as an event, but this was actually a really great race thanks to the fast snow and fun course - a couple big climbs in the first 800 meters, followed by a series of short descents and fast rolling terrain - tons of free skate, V2alt, and all the fast stuff that makes skating so much fun.  This race wasn't an NCAA qualifier, and this combined with the weird distance had me worried that the skiers might not be able to get fully focused.  Fortunately, no problems there - everyone was excited to let it fly, and everyone came back talking about how much fun it was.  Turns out we got some pretty good results out of the day as well.  Renae led the women in 18th, with Gabby 22nd for a skate PR and Lily 30th.  For men, Elliot was 6th, beating Gabby's record from last week for the best first-year result ever.  Sean was 22nd, Jake 29th, and Christian 30th.  Seven people in the top 30 - that's a good day even by the standards of this season!  Thanks to the strong team showing, we were able to overtake Williams to claim 5th place overall for nordic teams.

A few other notes on the weekend:  1) Rachel served as our third wax tech this weekend and was a great help.  She did a little bit of everything - testing, structure, klister touch ups, and a ton of glide waxing and scraping - and her efforts really helped make our good results possible; 2) Jane Culnane led a small but determined group of parents who went above and beyond to provide a great array of hot and delicious food on a damp chilly weekend; 3) Last but not least, a few of our men lost their minds and fashion sense and decided to get really bad/amazing haircuts:

As someone who lived through the late 80s/early 90s, I enjoyed this little dose of nostalgia despite the questionable aesthetics.

While some of us were racing and cutting hair in Vermont, others were back in Maine doing an informal race I dubbed "the Bowdoin Carnival" - a duathlon with several skiers from Colby and Bates at Pineland.  Russell and Orion broke away from the group, with Russell taking the win in the final sprint.  Many thanks to John Eldredge and John Tarling for handling timing and helping the skiers get organized!  Here are results:

MEN Total
Number First Last School Time Place
43 Russell O'Brien BOW 36:12' 1
45 Orion Watson BOW 36:13' 2
48 Anders Hanson COL 36:20' 3
44 Cirque Gammelin BOW 36:57' 4
46 Carter Hall COL 37:17' 5
50 Mark Young COL 37:31' 6
47 Gabe Forest COL 37:43' 7
54 Tucker Pierce BAT 37:49' 8
51 Addie Sinkler COL 37:55' 9
55 Ben Keener BAT 37:57' 10
52 Ben Theyerl COL 38:34' 11
53 Cole Fuller BAT 39:07' 12
57 Charlie Cobb COL 39:12' 13
Number First Last School Time Place
71 Talia Seltzer COL 29:44' 1
72 Meg Yoder COL 30:14' 2
75 Amy Bruce COL 30:43' 3
74 Julia Lazzeroni COL 31:06' 4

One more carnival to go:  Eastern Regional Championships at Middlebury this weekend.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dartmouth Carnival

For the first time since 2011, the Dartmouth Carnival took place at Dartmouth!  Oak Hill is a great race venue - narrow and winding trails lined by beautiful tall evergreens.  With a nice dose of snow just a few days before the carnival, conditions were excellent.  Friday's 10/10k classic was old school - a single 10k loop.  These days a 5k loop is standard, and it's pretty common to do several short loops when snow is low, but anything longer is rare, so this was a fun treat.  When I say "fun," I mean a certain type of fun - interesting, different, challenging, fun when you're done, etc (if you're a ski racer, you know what I mean) - because the Dartmouth 10k loop is really, really hard.  I raced it a few times myself back in college, and it still shows up in my nightmares now and then - an unrelenting series of switchback climbs followed by several technical downhill turns that are fun when you're on your game and not so fun when your legs are shot from all the climbing.  So this was not your typical course.  The men got it started with some respectable finishes - Elliot 9th, Christian 29th, and Orion 38th.  Ski feedback was mixed, so we did another quick round of testing and made some adjustments for the women.  The early starters looked solid, so we started feeling cautiously optimistic.  Then Gabby came by - WOW.  Fast, focused, everything driving forward powerfully - great skiing.  When Renae came through a few minutes later looking just as good, we knew it was going to be a special day.  They ended up 7th and 8th - combined with Elliot's 9th, this was the first time we've ever had 3 top 10 finishers in one day.  Gabby's 7th also set a new mark for us - best finish ever for a Bowdoin Nordic first-year, edging Hannah Miller's 8th place finish from the 2014 Midd Carnival.  Lily rounded out the women's scoring with a solid 28th, putting the women in 4th, just three points out of 3rd!  Overall, a great day that wouldn't have been possible without volunteer assistant coach John Eldredge, who made a special trip out to NH so he could help with the waxing.

Saturday's 5/10k skate was combined with an Eastern Cup - a large, competitive field and a charged, slightly chaotic atmosphere.  Elliot led the men in 13th (for EISA), with Christian 20th and Sam posting his first official top 30 finish of the year in 30th.  The women continued their strong trend, with all three scorers in the top 30 for the fourth race in a row - Renae 16th, Ellie 25th, and Gabby 28th.  I don't mind saying that we got some rather unusual but very positive feedback from the women about the skis - "too fast!"  A little hyperbolic, no doubt, but I'll take it.  The team's combined efforts put us in 5th for the weekend - hard to believe that this kind of finish is the new normal for Bowdoin Nordic!

Unfortunately, an otherwise great weekend was marred by a bad accident - Luca had a nasty crash in the skate race and dislocated his shoulder again.  I can't even describe how heartbreaking this is - Luca has had a lot of ups and downs with his shoulder over the last year and a half, and he's worked so hard to come back from his surgery last May.  He's a strong person, and he has an amazing family backing him up - I know he'll come back strong.  Even so, this is a tough blow to absorb.  We'll be sending all our love and support to help Luca through his recovery.

Monday, February 5, 2018

UVM Carnival

After the latest round of warm weather, the UVM Carnival had to be moved to Craftsbury.  I can't remember when the last time was that we didn't race at Trapps at least once in a season, so this was kind of sad.  But Craftsbury is a great venue and we were certainly grateful to have them step up and host - conditions were excellent all weekend.  Friday's skate mass start took place on a new course (for us, at least) that was super challenging - some long climbs, some steep climbs, and some long steep climbs.  It would have been a grind in any race, but 3-4 times around for a 15/20k was extra nasty.  The women got the day off to a great start with a fantastic team performance from top to bottom.  The field spread out right away as 5 skiers broke away early.  Renae stuck with a large chase pack for the whole race - even when they shattered in the final kilometer, she was able to stay right in the mix for a 13th place finish, just a few seconds from the top 10.  Ellie was really gunning for this race, and her aggressive approach paid off with her first ever top 20 finish!  Lily skied more conservatively and picked up a ton of places in the final lap to finish 26th, with Gabby right behind in 27th - first ever skate top 30 for both of them.  Fiona struggled a bit with the 15k skate races last year, so it was really gratifying to see her crush this race for a best-ever skate finish of 43rd.  Rachel showed great toughness, grinding up the big climbs to score a big PR in 52nd.  Her mom got to see her race for the first time of her college career, so that made it extra special.  The women were 4th on the day, with every racer scoring a skate or overall PR - a really impressive performance.

The men's race got off to a clean start, with all of our people in good position.  The race stayed pretty close for a long time, with Elliot settled in at the back of a lead pack of 15 or so.  Although he's been brilliant all season long, I was a bit worried that he wouldn't be able to hold on for such a long race on such a hard course.  My fears turned out to be groundless - Elliot actually gained a few spots on the last few climbs climbs and one more in the final sprint to finish 8th - a stellar showing for his first college 20k!  Jake also put on a strong charge at the end to finish 19th - first ever top 20 finish!  Christian was just behind in 23rd, with four others in the 30s - Sean (31), Sam (32), Russell (37), and Ian (39).  The overall nordic team score put us in 4th for the day - really a great showing for the whole team.

After a nice dinner with a big group of team parents, we woke up the next morning to cold temps and nice crisp tracks for the classic race.  The race was combined with an Eastern Cup - with 15 second intervals, there were lots of skiers to chase or catch rides from, and it was a great atmosphere for racing.  Gabby caught fire and absolutely crushed this race for 15th, with Renae close behind in 19th and Lily in 23rd.  For the men, Elliot was 15th and Christian was 17th - it was super fun watching him get onto a mini train and hang on for a nice classic PR.  Ian C found an extra gear out there and skied the best race I've ever seen from him.  One of the quirks of the combined college/Eastern Cup events is that the non-carnival skiers don't get included in the college results, and Ian was unfortunately not on our carnival team this weekend (with such great depth, picking the carnival team has been quite a challenge for me each weekend - a good problem to have).  Anyway, by my count Ian was 31st in the college field - a nice PR!  Although we skied well, UNH and Colby skied even better, and we had to settle for 6th place in the nordic team standings.  It's a mark of how far we've come that we're a bit disappointed by 6th place - going into the season this was the best finish in program history, accomplished just once before.  This team is raising the bar for Bowdoin Nordic!

Many thanks to the team parents - a huge crowd of them came out for this carnival and braved cold and windy weather to set up a wonderful post-race food table for the team.  I'm particularly grateful for Mike Ketchel's excellent photos from the skate race - here are a few:

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chummy Cup 2018

Last weekend was the 11th Annual Chummy Broomhall Cup - the Maine collegiate championship.  This race is named in honor of the late Chummy Broomhall, a Maine native and a US nordic skiing legend.  We usually combine this event with a carnival; this year we had a break in the EISA schedule, so we took the opportunity to hold the Chummy as its own event for the first time since 2011.  This year's venue was the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle - first time we've ever had the Chummy up north, and the first time our team has ever raced on those trails.  It's rare that we get to check out an unfamiliar venue, so this was pretty exciting.  Turns out that the NHC trails are fantastic - nice mix of terrain with lots of rolls and transitions, including several fun turns in the middle of fast downhills.  When we showed up to preview the course on Friday evening, the scene was gorgeous - blazing orange light shining through thousands of ice encrusted branches - one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen on any ski trail anywhere.  This picture doesn't even come close, but it's the best I can do:

The next morning was cold and clean and perfect for racing.  The team was as amped up as I've ever seen them - we've never won the Chummy, and everyone was determined to make this our year.  Not surprisingly, the men's race got off to a hot start - after some chaos, things calmed down a bit.  After Zane Fields of Colby went off the front, Elliot settled into a duel for second with Parker McDonald of Bates, pulling away in the last few hundred meters.  Meanwhile, Sam, Christian, Jake, and Sean were part of an absolute brawl with a few Bates and Colby skiers - the final climb into the stadium was just a boiling mass of skis and poles, with everyone battling for those precious points.  Sam ended up 6th, Christian 8th, Jake 9th, and Sean 10th - a solid showing, but still a few points behind Colby going into the women's race.  We knew it would take a near miracle to close the gap, especially with one of our best skaters (Ellie) out due to illness. but the women were game to try.

As it turned out, they had to wait a while to get their shot.  On their cooldown, a few men discovered a huge hole right on the edge of the trail - looking more closely, they discovered a hibernating mother bear and two cubs!  Not something you see every day at a ski race - certainly a first for me.  A true Aroostook County experience.  After a short delay, the race organizers were able to re-route the course, and the race was on.  A big pack stayed close together for the first several kilometers - Gabby and Renae were right in the mix with the top Colby and Bates skiers, with Lily detached but fighting hard to stay close.  The skiers disappeared into the woods again - standing on the final hill, I had no idea what was happening until I heard our men making all kinds of noise, and I figured we must still have skiers in contention.  When they finally came around the turn, it was Renae leading a pack of four - Kaelyn Woods (Bates), Kirsten Miller (Colby) and Gabby.  At the base of the climb, Kaelyn found an extra gear and broke away, closely followed by Kirsten - Renae and Gabby fought hard but couldn't quite keep up, finishing 3rd and 4th.  Seconds later, Lily came around the turn with a pair of Colby skiers and the same scene repeated itself - a final charge up the hill with our skier just off the back.  In the end, we had to settle for second, just 6 points behind Colby.  We really wanted this one, and it's tough to accept that we'll have to wait at least another year before we finally hoist that cup.  Still, we can't feel too sad - Colby has been killing the skate races this year, and it was going to take a perfect day to beat them.  On this particular day, they were just a bit stronger than us - hats off.  Our team gave it a great fight, especially the women - as Ian would say, they punched above their weight.  The season's off to a great start, and we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about February.  Back to action at the UVM Carnival this weekend!


Here are photos of the All-State teams (top 10):

Many thanks to Tim Whiton, UMPI, and the good folks at MHC for organizing a great race.  It's a fantastic venue, and we hope to have a chance to come back for more training or racing soon!  Thanks also to Andy Shepard of OSI for starting this event in the first place, and for keeping it going all these years.  It's a special tradition for the Maine schools, and I hope we have many more to come.

Friday, January 26, 2018


Once again, Kaitlynn Miller '14 has made Bowdoin Nordic history - today she was named to the 2018 Olympic Team!  We are all so excited and proud - such a great accomplishment and a well-deserved honor.  She is the 5th Olympian in Bowdoin's history, and the first since Joan Benoit '79 in 1984.  It's so incredible to see this happening right before our eyes for someone we know and love.  Right now I'm thinking of all the four years Kaitlynn spent in our program, and all the hard work and perseverance that she put into her ski career and her schoolwork.  Great athletes make it look easy, but I was right there, and I can tell you that there was nothing easy about it - there was plenty of struggle and plenty of lows to go with the highs.  Kaitlynn handled success and failure with grace and humility, and she never lost sight of the joy of this amazing sport.  She couldn't be more deserving, and I couldn't be more proud of her.  Can't wait to see what happens next!

(photo courtesy of Deb Miller)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

St. Mike's Carnival 2018

We blew up the St. Mike’s Carnival!  Best ever Bowdoin Nordic finish in an EISA carnival – 4th place!  Here’s how it happened:

Snow was thin at Sleepy Hollow, so Saturday’s 5/10k classic was held on a shortened loop with gently rolling terrain.  It was definitely easy enough for just about any collegiate skier to double pole, but not so easy that it was a clear-cut decision.  In the end, everyone on our team decided to go with kick wax – although we knew that many or most of the other skiers would choose DP, we decided that having a little kick would give us the best of both worlds.  It turned out to be a pretty good decision.  Waxing was a bit tricky, but we found a good option and went light and tight with the kick zones – just enough to allow the skiers to do a little stride or kick DP, but not so much that it would slow the skis down noticeably.  This was a situation where application really mattered, and I was super proud of our skiers for being confident enough to choose light kick and accept an occasional slip for the sake of fast skis.  The men got the day started with an excellent showing – four skiers in the top 30!  Elliot 10th, Christian 19th, Russell 23rd, and Orion 29th.  This alone would have been a great day, but it was quickly overshadowed by what came next – three women in the top 15, and another in the top 30!  Lily 11th, Renae 13th, Gabby 14th, and Ellie 29th.  Fiona also scored a big PR in 41st.  Absolutely shocking – I knew these guys were capable of fast skiing, but I never saw this coming.  When the women were out on course, some of the guys told me that we had 3 in the top 10, and I didn’t believe them.  Happy to be wrong!  This was a day where the whole team contributed, not only with good skiing but also good energy.  Sara deserves a lot of credit for the team’s success as well – she was a huge help with wax testing and application.  Kick waxing for 18 skiers is a big job, and we couldn’t have done it without her help.

The next day’s skate race was on a full 5k loop with some bigger hills.  Since it was a no fluoro day, we tested for the HF layer and structure to make sure we had the best possible skis.  Applying race paraffin is more time-consuming than fluoro application, and normally we don’t have time for this on the morning of the race – another thing that wouldn’t have been possible without Sara’s help.  Ian, Sara, and I turned out to be a very compatible testing team, with 100% agreement on everything we tested – that never happens!  We got the skis dialed in and let the skiers do the rest.  The men came out flying – Elliot outdid himself with an 8th place finish, which ties the best ever result from a Bowdoin Nordic first-year (Hannah Miller ‘17, Midd Carnival 2014), and Christian upped his game as well, finishing 14th!  Sean capped the scoring in 28th, with Sam and Jake just outside the top 30 and Cirque (43rd) and Luca (47th) scoring big PRs.  The women again rose to the occasion – Renae 16th, Ellie 26th, and Gabby 34th, with the men providing a fantastic cheering tunnel on the final climb.  It was an incredibly successful weekend, with everyone making progress and showing encouraging signs for the future.  The team parents also contributed mightily, with a great spread both days to keep the skiers happy and well-fed.

Everyone’s combined efforts put the team in 4th place overall (for the nordic portion of the carnival) – our best carnival finish ever!  It’s hard for me to express what a big deal this is for our team.  I’m in my 11th year as head coach of this program, and the progress has been steady but so painfully slow.  Two steps forward, one step back, for years and years.  We’ve had so many hard-working skiers come through the program, pouring themselves into Bowdoin Nordic and pushing the stone up the hill, and yet as a team we’ve always found ourselves in 9th or 10th, sometimes 8th on a good weekend.  Seeing ourselves up in 4th is somewhat surreal but incredibly gratifying.  I don’t know what the rest of the season holds or if we can replicate this result, but every single person on this team is ready to try.  Can’t wait for next weekend.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Colby Carnival 2018

It's a cliche among New England skiers that January is always good for a thaw somewhere along the way.  I don't know if weather data backs this up, but in my experience it's certainly held true.  This year, after two weeks of beautiful skiing, we got one of the most intense thaws I've ever seen - two days of super warm weather with pouring rain and a nasty snow-eating fog.  Sadly, it happened right on the eve of our first carnival of the year, the Colby Carnival at Quarry Road.  Our first race had to be cancelled, but the race crew did an amazing job to patch up the course after things froze up again. We ended up with a nice 1.7k loop, which held up remarkably well for the 5/10k skate despite hundreds of laps.  Our team had a mixed day - some people really killed it, while others didn't quite have the snap needed to take advantage of fast and squirrelly conditions.  Elliot and Renae were our top skiers in 13th and 21st, respectively, with Gabby just outside the points in 32nd - very impressive start to their college careers!  Fiona scored a PR, finishing 51st in a large and deep field, and Cirque came back strong after missing almost all of last season, posting a 55th place finish.  We were 6th in the team scoring, which tied our best ever finish (2011 Colby Carnival) - pretty exciting considering that this was only an OK day for us.  I'm super fired up to see what this team can do when we sharpen up a bit!

We had a lot of enthusiastic supporters at the race, most notably a great group of parents who set up a fantastic post-race tailgate.  Every year I'm struck by how lucky we are to have such a supportive group of parents, and this year is no exception.  Thanks so much, Bowdoin Nordic parents!

Here are some photos courtesy of ski team friend Dan Strodel '20:

Now we're enjoying some great skiing at Pineland - they survived the thaw nicely, and a storm today has us back in good shape.  Looking forward to the St. Mike's Carnival this weekend!