Just when you were ready to swear off ski racing forever and find a warmer hobby, today's Bates Carnival races delivered a day that reminded everyone why they fell in love with the sport in the first place.
As temps fell overnight, yesterday's mess of precipitation switched to fluffy snow and covered Black Mountain in three inches of powder. The course buffed up into soft corduroy, making a skiable track that held fairly firm, a world away from yesterday's apocalyptic conditions.
The sun also shone bright, making the low teens temperature comfortable for racing and spectating. Given that it was the northeast, the weather wasn't quite perfect, and the infamous "Black Mountain Breeze" blew a little misery into an otherwise perfect day. The wind also created some variable conditions in the track, with windblown snow creating a few surprise snow drifts on the course.
The women began the action at 10:00, taking on a single lap of the same course as yesterday, although almost everything else about the race had changed - technique, weather, snow conditions, distance, and even the field (today's race was combined with a NENSA Eastern Cup) were all different than Friday's character-building races.
After the UVM women's day in the (proverbial) sun yesterday, the Middlebury women took advantage of today's actual sunshine. Saint Lawrence senior Jackie Garso took the lead early, covering the 5k in 13:18.3, and staying in the hot seat until a pack of Panthers took the course by storm.
First up was junior Alex Lawson, who tore through the first half of the course to take a solid lead by 2k. She continued her assault through the late climbs, roaring to the finish in just 12:43.5.
Fellow Panther Sophia Laukli started just four bibs behind Lawson and hung close to the leading splits, threatening to add to her hoard of carnival wins (the last four-straight races.) By the finish, Laukli had lost fifteen seconds to Lawson, but the pair of Panthers had first and second place locked up.
Middlebury came tantalizingly close to a podium sweep, but UVM's Margie Freed nicked Middlebury's Annika Landis by just half a second for third place. Dartmouth's Abby Drach finished fifth and early leader Garso took sixth, matching her career-best result.
Lawson, grabbing her second carnival win of the season, was coming off a season-worst performance yesterday, where she finished eight place. She described her race plan as "My goal was to ski smoothly but aggressively throughout the course, especially on the flat and gradual sections...I don’t usually have such a fine tuned plan, but I’d been feeling a little flat and thought it might be a good opportunity to try out something a little different."
The day warmed slightly before the men's start, with the snow softening to a creamy consistency that was fast in spots but combined with the Black Mountain Breeze to make the climbs especially taxing.
Through one lap, there were several usual suspects at the top of the men's leaderboard. UVM's Ben Ogden came through the 5k in 10:47.5, 8 seconds ahead of Middlebury's Peter Wolter. Four more skiers were within fifteen seconds of Wolter, setting up a pitched second lap battle.
With just fifteen second intervals separating starters, the course filled with first and second lap racers. Constant action kept spectators' heads on swivels (and course-crossing marshals busy) while racers battled the rolling climbs.
At the bottom of the course, splits had Ogden and Wolter dead even. Ogden, the earlier starter, came through High School Hill first, flying through a tunnel of sound and fury built by the assembled throngs of spectators and women's racers. He finished in 23:02.2, and all eyes turned to Wolter and his quest to dethrone the Catamount.
Wolter took his own trip up High School Hill, doing his best to follow in the footsteps of his female teammates earlier this morning. As he crossed the line, frigid fingers reached for phones and refreshed live timing to see who had taken the win.
UNH first-year Scott Schulz continued his streak of speedy skate racing, grabbing fifth place and leading the Wildcats to 96 points and third place on the day (as well as finishing exactly twenty seconds behind his older brother.) Bowdoin scored 96 points and finished second in the men's race.
After two days of racing and eight events spread across Black and Sugarloaf Mountains, the overall carnival came down to an impossibly slim two-point margin. Middlebury scored 850 points, handing UVM (848) its first loss of the season.
Today's winner Alex Lawson, along with the rest of the Panthers, was thrilled with the team win. She said "I’m excited to see what we can do these next two carnivals, because I think there is still a lot more potential on the team, and I know despite the many successes this weekend we are still hungry for more."
Full results for the weekend, including splits and team scores are available here.
Thanks to River Valley Graphics for sharing photos of this weekend's races. Full galleries of both days are available here.