Wednesday, February 15, 2017

UVM and Dartmouth Carnivals (plus Snowmageddon)

I've been slacking - it's almost time for the Midd Carnival and I still haven't posted anything about UVM or Dartmouth!  It's not because these were uneventful carnivals - lots of good stuff going on these last couple weeks.  Here's a brief rundown:

Stowe got a nice refresher just before the UVM Carnival, and we had nice conditions for the skate sprint.  Lily was the top women in 52nd and Mac led the team with an impressive 15th in the qualifier, but the big story of the day was Sam - he's always been more of a distance grinder type guy, but on this day he found an extra gear and qualified in 24th!  Sean just missed it in 32nd - with 2 open skiers in the heats, he still achieved a top 30 finish.  The heats didn't go our way, unfortunately - Sam crashed and Mac's skis were a bit slow, and they ended up in 26th and 24th, respectively.  Still quite a good day with all of our men's scorers in the top 30 - something that's becoming a regular event!  That night we had our traditional dinner at the Miller house, with a great turnout of team parents in attendance.

Next day was beautiful and crisp - perfect for a classic race.  The women got it started with a good solid day, with Hannah leading the way in 17th (for college skiers).  Kaitlynn and a few other elite skiers competed as guests, and Kaitlynn won the overall race by a solid margin - good day for the Miller sisters!  The men followed up with an absolutely stellar performance.  Ian was taking splits - we've never done much with splits in our program, but this year we decided to give it a shot, and this was our first day trying out Racesplitter.  When the early splits started coming in, we didn't dare to give them to the athletes - they were so good we were afraid to believe them!  Turns out that they were real.  Mac caught a ride from Williams' top skier and hung on all the way to the finish to take 8th place (for college skiers), and Sean was right behind in 10th.  Orion and Jake were separated by less than a second in 25th and 26th, respectively.  Two men in the top 10 and four in the top 30!  We've accomplished each of those feats once before, but not on the same day, so this was quite possibly the best day we've ever had on the men's side.  Just a great, great day and a lot of fun to watch.  Happily, we had a lot of parents there to witness it and also some enthusiastic alumni!

At home between carnivals we enjoyed some great skiing at Pineland, including a nice OD with some beautiful crust cruising.

Just as we were gearing up to leave for Craftsbury and the Dartmouth Carnival, a big storm came in and just kept getting bigger.  With some last minute scrambling and some help from supportive professors, we were able to get out of town just before things blew up.  Driving wasn't great going across New England, but with the worst of it confined to the south and the coast, it wasn't too bad.  Temps dropped quickly after the storm, and we woke up to a nice cold day for our 3x5k skate relay.  Our top men's team of Sam, Sean, and Mac battled to a 9th place finish - our second best relay finish ever.  Hannah, Ellie, and Lily put up the top finish for the women - a very respectable 14th.  After the races, the teams got together for their usual Carni Crush activities.  As usual, I stayed clear of the festivities, but I'm told that our team's crushing was more or less tasteful and not too embarrassing.  I understand that ice cream and dancing with wolves were involved.

The next day was a combined carnival/Eastern Cup, so there was a huge crowd of juniors, as well as a few masters and a handful of elite skiers - quite a scene.  Sean was our top performer for the men in 19th, and Jake found his form to post his best finish ever in 24th.  The women followed and skied one of their best overall races of the season.  Hannah was 10th, with Lily in 37th and Ellie 52nd.  Fiona, Rachel, and Katja all had PRs - really solid skiing by everyone and a good finish to a rather hectic weekend.  Many thanks to all the parents for their support, particularly Deb Miller for hosting the team for two weekends in a row!  With Hannah wrapping up her college career, this looks like the end of a great 7-year run - very sad but also very grateful to Deb for all that she's done for the team over the years.

There's one final note to this long post:  after a great OD workout on Sunday, the snow started coming down again.  This storm was even bigger than Thursday's - big enough to cancel classes for the first time in 10 years.  No idea how much actually fell, but it was a lot - I'd guess at least 18 inches and possibly more.  The skiers enjoyed their day off and had quite a romp around campus!  Nice way to recharge after a carnival - should be enough to see us through the season with great skiing the rest of the way.

Monday, January 30, 2017

UNH Carnival 2017

Jackson was its usual gorgeous self for the UNH Carnival last weekend - I'm pretty sure they have more snow than anywhere in New England.  The course was in great shape despite a little rain on Thursday.  And we had an intriguing twist to this particular carnival - the University of Utah came all the way across the country to use these races as a course preview for NCAAs, so the competition was extra tough.  On Friday morning, we did the usual pre-race scrambling of a classic day - since it was a klister day, it was a little extra frantic, and the gusts of wind that blew over our tent didn't help.  But everyone stayed pretty calm and got to the line on time.  Orion was our first starter - he looked like a mini Kris Freeman as he came ripping across the field and into the woods, and I knew it was going to be a good day.  All of the guys were gunning it, but also keeping technique together nicely - the best classic skiing I've ever seen from this group.  It showed up in the results - Mac 22nd, Sean 23rd, and Orion 27th, with the others not far behind.  It's even more impressive considering that there were 4 Utah skiers ahead of them.

The women had a tough act to follow, but they skied great as well - Hannah was back on track in 12th, with Lily 39th and Fiona 56th (also with 4 Utah skiers near the top of the field).  This was a big step forward for the women's team.  They beat some good teams and were close to a few others - an encouraging indication that this young group is getting stronger every week.

One last highlight from the day:  former Bowdoin Nordic and USST coach Marty Hall was there to watch the races.  It was great to catch up with one of the legends of US skiing - good to see that Marty's passion for ski racing is as strong as ever.

That evening, we celebrated our fine races with our new Jackson tradition of Thai takeout, along with a skier-led revamp of our team Instagram account.

Shortly after the skiers had finished waxing up their warm skate skis and gone to bed, dry sharp snow started falling heavily.  Oops - someone didn't check the forecast carefully enough... I was a bit stressed the next morning, but the new snow mixed nicely with the old stuff and the temps warmed quickly, so we ended up right in the zone for warm skis.  We got a bit behind with topcoating the skis, but fortunately H. Marshall and Cirque showed up to help and saved the day.

The men's mass start was fairly clean.  All of our skiers settled into a solid mid-pack position.  At first they were all spread throughout the pack, but as the race went on our top skiers came closer and closer together, until they all finished in mad scramble just a few seconds apart:  Mac 26th, Sean 28th, Sam 30th, Jake 35th, and Christian 39th.  A great day, particularly for Sam - his first top 30 finish ever after years of hard work. We're four races into the carnival season and the men have put all 3 scorers in the top 30 in 3 of them.  We've never had that kind of depth before, and it's super exciting to see all these guys pushing each other to new heights.

The women's race was equally exciting.  Hannah eased into the race cautiously, starting around 30th and moving up gradually.  By the end of the first lap she was on the edge of the top 20, and heading into the last lap she was in the mid teens.  After a frantic last few kilometers she ended up in 15th, nearly chasing down the 13th and 14th place skiers in the final sprint.  Ellie had a nice finishing surge as well, making a great power move over the last little rise to pick up one more place and finish 45th, and Lily rounded out our scoring in 54th.

Overall, this was a very successful carnival - the team as a whole skied as well as I've seen from us in years.  I can't wait to see what we can do in these next 4 weeks!  Many thanks to all the parents who came out to cheer us, set out food, and lug heavy stuff up and down the hill to the stadium.  Particular thanks to Orion, Doug Hands, and Steve Fuller at Flying Point Road for the great photos!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SLU Carnival 2017

First carnival of the year is always an exciting time - after months and months of training, we finally get to see how we stack up against the rest of the league.  Pre-season time trials and races are great and necessary, and they give you a vague sense of how competitive you'll be in carnivals, but you never really know until you get out there.  So we were fired up and also a bit nervous for the St. Lawrence Carnival last weekend.  Day 1 was a classic sprint.  The course was pretty flat, with just a couple gradual climbs and no technical dowhill turns to kill speed.  Even just 5 or 6 years ago it would have been a bold move to double pole the whole race on a course like this, but these days everyone is doing a ton of upper body training and pushing the limits of what's possible with double poling.  So it wasn't a surprise that most people decided to double pole this race - probably two-thirds of the women and all but a handful of the men.  Our skiers looked sharp - all those long DP workouts and rollerboard sessions paying off!  Lily rocked her first-ever college race, qualifying in 22nd.  This was super cool - we knew she was a talented skier, but we weren't expecting her to break through so quickly!  The men put 3 in the heats - Mac 10th, Sean 21st, and Russell 25th, with Ian just missing out in 36th.  Everyone fought hard in the quarterfinals and stayed in the mix, but in the end only Mac was able to advance.  Lily ended in 24th, Sean 23rd, and Russell 27th.  Two first-years in the top 30 - great start to their careers!  In the semis, Mac was in good position at the halfway mark, but his skis dragged a bit on the downhill and he lost some ground.  He brought himself back into contention with a powerful effort over the last few hundred meters but ran out of room and had to settle for 11th - still a great showing and one of the best-ever results for a Bowdoin skier!  The men ended up 5th on the day.  We haven't had a lot of top-5 team finishes in our history, so this was exciting - hopefully the first of many this season!

Day 2 was a 5/10k skate on the Ladies' 5k loop from the 1980 Olympics.  We've raced this course several times before, including at NCAAs 2 years ago, but I must have forgotten just how steep and unrelenting the hills are - it was a bit of a shock to see what a grind it was just testing wax!  The course skied extra tough on Saturday, with warm, soft snow that seemed to grab skis and stop them dead with every stride.  Our women were up to the task - they paced themselves well and kept their form together nicely on the big climbs.  Ellie led the way in 44th, with Lily right behind in 47th - a solid showing, especially considering that this was the biggest EISA field I've ever seen, with 109 finishers in each race.  Rachel also had a nice race, finishing 78th.  Her last college race was 2 years ago on this exact course.  This race she looked like a totally different skier - it was great to see how far she's come since then.  The men's race turned into a bit of a slog - that second lap was just brutal, and the course got more and more chewed up with each skier.  I was really happy with how our skiers looked - they held it together well on the tough climbs when most other skiers were absolutely falling apart - good pacing and good focus.  I was a bit surprised to find that we hadn't been able to put anyone in the top 30 - they just looked so good out there!  Oh well - just a reminder that there are lots of other people training hard and racing fast in this league.  Jake was our top finisher in 34th, despite a couple falls and a twisted ankle, with a whole string of our other guys just a few seconds back.  The first-years have been impressive all year, and on this day Christian (39) and Orion (42) looked like veterans.  I'm eager to see what this group can do in the coming weeks!

UNH Carnival coming up - one of my favorite venues (Jackson) and one of my favorite race formats (15/20k mass start).  Can't wait!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Quarry Road Training and Racing

Quite an eventful week for us!  After a magical start to the winter, we got hit with a nasty January thaw last week.  Pineland lost a ton of snow and had to shut down for a couple days.  This was frustrating, but fortunately we were prepared - the day before the thaw hit, we'd just done a session on mental strength with sports psychologist Tiff Jones.  There was a challenging team exercise combining memory and movement - it was fun and a bit nerve-wracking watching the skiers figure it out, but they did a great job.

While Pineland was closed we took a day trip up to Quarry Road.  This worked out just fine, since we had the Quarry Road Eastern Cup races coming up - nice chance to preview the courses.  The night before the races, we got together at the Alsobrook house for cookies, Pictionary, and 21st birthday well-wishes for Sam.  Three small children were very excited to hang out with the skiers, and there was much showing off.
Saturday's race was a skate sprint.  The refrozen snow was nice and fast - perfect for sprinting.  The team looked really sharp in the qualifier, but we didn't know exactly how they'd fared because the timing got messed up and the posted results were constantly changing.  It was pretty frustrating to sit and wait through lengthy delays and uncertainty, but once again our skiers used their recently honed mental strength skills to roll with the situation.  When everything finally came into focus, we had several people advancing to the heats - Hannah (4th), Mac (6th), and Sean (22nd) made the open heats, with Ian, Russell, and Lily just outside in the junior heats.  Hannah absolutely dominated her first 2 heats and won an exciting battle in the finals to take the overall victory!  Pretty sure that's the first time we've ever had a skier win an Eastern Cup - quite an accomplishment with a very strong field full of top juniors and college skiers.  Mac advanced to the semis and narrowly missed the finals.  There was a very short turnaround between the semis and the B final, and as the racers started off the line it was clear that people were fighting fatigue.  Mac was up to the task, though - he got off to a good start, stuck with the leader in 2nd, and pulled ahead in the final stretch to take the win and 7th overall - great tactics, and a very encouraging sign of fitness to be able to rebound so quickly after the semis.  After waiting patiently for hours and hours, our junior qualifiers toed the line with darkness approaching.  Russell went huge at the start and pulled away to win his first heat.  There was a little excitement before the finals because someone had taken his skis by mistake - he ended up racing on a pair of our test skis.  These had formerly belonged to Walt Shepard '10, which means they were meticulously cared for and still very fast despite their advanced age, much like Walt.  Russell hung tough on his borrowed skis to take 3rd overall for the junior heats, with Ian 11th and Lily 10th.  A VERY long but fun and successful day.

The next morning was a 10/15k classic mass start.  Conditions were pretty straightfoward - abrasive klister skiing - but any time klister is involved there's going to be some scrambling, especially with a mass start and especially with so many people to wax for.  Fortunately, former Bowdoin parent John Eldridge, a local master skier and occasional coach, joined us for the day as our volunteer wax tech.  John's help proved to be crucial - we were able to do some good testing and get the women's skis dialed in on time.  Hannah was on fire and pulled away for a commanding lead late in the race, but she had a dramatic crash on a sweeping downhill turn and went tumbling off the course.  She did a great job of recovering and getting back into the race to salvage 4th.  This was disappointing, obviously, but she was more or less unhurt, and it was really encouraging to see her skiing so well for the second day in a row - definitely looking ready for prime time.  The other women were solid and put up strong races - Ellie even came away thinking she might like classic skiing after all!  Things got frantic in the waxing tent before the men's race, but fortunately we had the cool head and skilled hands of Jake Adicoff available to bail us out, and we got everyone to the start on time.  The men's race was just as chaotic as the women's, with lots of crashes on the technical turns.  Most of our guys stayed out of trouble, and the whole group looked strong, with Sean leading the way in 12th behind a cluster of top college skiers.  The veterans were clearly a bit tired in this race, but the youngsters picked up the slack, with Christian, Orion, and Ian showing great energy and putting themselves right in the mix.  Right now the men's team has a level of depth that we've never enjoyed before - it's going to be fun watching these guys push each other all season.


Overall, two very good races and a great tune up for the upcoming carnivals.  The weekend wasn't without cost - like every team, we had our share of crashes, resulting in some injuries and broken gear.  We'll dial it back a bit in the coming days and hopefully get everyone healthy soon.  Many thanks to John for choosing to spend his Sunday with us - we had good skis today, and we couldn't have done it without him.  Same goes for Jake - gold star for him.  Looking forward to the St. Lawrence Carnival this weekend!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Gunstock/Jackson Weekend

Just got back yesterday from a delightful weekend in New Hampshire - great way to start the new year!  On Saturday morning we did a 8/12k skate race at Gunstock - a competitive field with a nice mix of college, high school, and master skiers.  It's good for our skiers to see a healthy crop of master skiers - a reminder that ski racing doesn't end after college.  There were two racers in the M11 (80-85) category - WOW!  That was very inspiring for those of us who are starting to feel the effects of our advancing age.  The course was fun as well - rolling terrain that you really needed to work and some fast downhills with tough turns.  Good showing by the group overall - Hannah was 2nd overall for women, and Russell led the men in 10th.  Our next 4 guys were all within 16 seconds of Russell, which was pretty cool - looks like we have lots of people ready to challenge for scoring and carnival team spots.  Pat on the back for Katja as well for putting up a nice race despite flying from Anchorage to Maine just the day before - can't go much further than that and still stay in North America!

Women's Results
Men's Results
Right after the race we drove up to Jackson - after a nice afternoon ski we settled into our lodging right across the street in the legendary Eagle Mountain House.  We put the wraps on a fun and busy day with some Thai take-out and our first Maine vs. World challenge, a memory competition.  With so many people and so few Mainers on the team this year, we have 3 teams:  East, West, and Central.  Team East took the first round on the strength of a clutch final round performance by Lily.
Sunday was v. cold but also beautiful and sunny.  We started the morning with a downhill lesson and several mini-laps through the toughest turns of Jackson's 5k race loop, which we'll see again soon at the UNH Carnival (and hopefully NCAAs).  With some solid improvements in turning skills, we switched over the classic and finished the workout with a long easy cruise through the woods.  The tracks were perfect, the views were fantastic, and the downhills were fast and technical.  Just a great, great day of skiing - one of the best days we've had in a long time.
One other note from the weekend:  US Nationals got underway with the 10/15k skate and classic sprint races.  Jake raced and was solid in both, with his best performance coming in the skate - he finished 105th in the biggest Nationals field I've ever seen.  Kaitlynn Miller '14 was 22nd in the skate and qualified 1st in the sprint, ultimately finishing 3rd to earn her third Nationals podium in the past 2 years!  She'll be back at it later this week in the 15k classic and skate sprint, while Jake is on his way back east to rejoin the team.  Looking forward to lots of great racing to come!