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Course Spotlight: Craftsbury Outdoor Center

The full scope of New England’s Nordic skiing collective will be on display this weekend in Craftsbury. After a lone blank spot on the EISA carnival circuit map, college skiing is back, hosted by UVM. But also, at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, concurrent to the EISA carnival, is an Eastern Cup, a SuperTour event, and adapted novice races on Sunday.


This top-to-bottom collation of the region’s Nordic skiing is distinctive; there are few other collegiate events that can be as inclusive and accommodating to the full range of the sport’s participants. I mean, March Madness doesn’t host games for over-50 adult leagues and high school basketball players.


Ollie Burruss has moved through some of the stratum of the Nordic world visible this weekend. First a youth and high school skier, in college Burruss raced in the EISA for Harvard. Now, he is the Chief of Race for this week’s carnival, and he says that the gathering this weekend is a testament to the sport.


“To me it’s just the coolest thing, and it shows that even as we’re struggling with climate change and with COVID we still are strong and we’re all still supporting each other,” says Burruss.


The races this weekend also honor a man who exemplified the inclusive, and attractive, power of the Nordic skiing community. The official title is The Henchey Memorial Carnival, in honor of Bill Henchey, a mainstay in Vermont race organization and a holder of various titles across many years of UVM EISA carnivals. Described by Burruss as “personable and gregarious,” Henchey passed last year.


Henchey was originally, says Burruss, a runner from Connecticut with an alpine skiing background. After living in Stowe and getting involved in the ski industry, Henchey eventually gravitated to race organizing and Nordic skiing. Opportunities followed. He became an FIS official at races across the country, and started taking on more and more responsibility, particularly for UVM carnival weekends. In the early to mid 2010s Henchey started working at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, after many years at Trapps.


Being in the spotlight as an event organizer is rare, and for a reason, Burruss explains. Skiers and coaches get attention after successes, but you should only hear from an event organizer if something is going wrong. A characteristic of a Henchey race is that you didn’t hear from him, and didn't need to. His races ran smooth as can be.


That's because, says Buress and Patrick Weaver, he put care into the races and took on responsibility. Patrick Weaver, UVM’s head coach, says that Henchey was the “backbone” of UVM carnivals for at twenty years. “When the snow was melting, and somebody needed to go out and preserve the trail, he was out there doing it,” says Weaver. “If the course froze up, and was just solid, he was out there too.”


Henchey’s professionalism, and ability to put on a stellar race, is evident throughout the Craftsbury ranks, even after his passing. Of Burruss’s time racing in the EISA, he says that UVM carnivals were always very well done, largely because of Henchey. Weaver, similarly, says that Craftsbury’s preparation for the college circuit is always an impressive production.


“They go all in, all the employees, the volunteers, everybody. It’s top notch,” says Weaver. The course this weekend will reflect that. Weaver described wide trails, a lot of good hills, and quality snow.


If the races this weekend run smoothly (quite a feat considering the number of competitors: 600 on Saturday, says Burruss), it will reflect Henchey’s long dedication to the New England Nordic community, and a fitting memorial, and not only in symbolic terms. Henchey taught Burruss, the Chief of Race, the ropes and pushed him into Nordic event organizing.


Speaking over the phone, Burruss recalls a Henchey story. It was early in Burruss’s race organization career, a few years after he graduated from Harvard, and the first race he helped Henchey organize. He and Henchey went to set the finish line for a race, and Burruss immediately knelt in the snow and started freehanding some tape in a straight line across the ground, which Henchey took as an opportunity to impart some wisdom.


“He said, ‘What are you doing? Do you remember geometry?’” says Burruss. “’We gotta square this line off.’ He just opened my eyes so much to a lot of the little, tiny things needed to make a race run.”


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