This weekend we trade the Green Mountains for the White as the EISA descends upon Jackson, NH for the last carnival of the year and EISA Regionals. The host: Jackson XC, a non-profit organization that maintains trails in cooperation with the Jackson community and promotes easy, early access to Nordic skiing.
Unlike other Nordic organizations, Jackson XC relies on the willingness of outside parties. The organization owns some of its own land, too, but most of the 100km of trails – homologated and not, groomed and backcountry – operate under special use land permits from the town, the White Mountain National Forest, and 74 private landowners.
This collaboration creates a unique sort of skiing community, particularly as it is set in America. Trails run through town under covered bridges and past businesses. People commute to work on skis. A family in Jackson with young children runs a skiing school route, whenever possible. It’s an atmosphere not unlike a skiing village in Europe, says Ellen Chandler, executive director of the non-profit. “The people who live here can integrate skiing into their lives, especially the children. They have three opportunities to go skiing every week,” she says.
There’s a speed camp – a Bill Koch equivalent – and after-school skiing and skiing in gym class. To further provide access to the youth of Jackson, all skiers under 10 ski free at Jackson XC and the non-profit provides free rental skis and boots to kids at the grammar school. On the older end of the ski accessibility spectrum, Jackson XC hosts Friday Gliders, a weekly afternoon program. “That’s basically retired and other people who have Fridays off. They ski for two hours and then come back and have snacks and boxed wine,” says Chandler.
Along with elite races like an EISA Carnival, Jackson XC hosts other events through their extensive trail system, which connects up with AMC trails and Back Country Adventure trails. The Jackson Juggernaut, a point-to-point race through all the different sorts of trails in their system, was tentatively scheduled for this Sunday, but has been postponed to next year.
In concept, the Juggernaut would begin with a skin up Black Mountain, followed by a ski down, a road crossing, and then a trail all the way from Black Mountain to the village, through some of the homologated area the EISA will ski known as “the wave.” It didn’t get off the ground this year, but Chandler says they’re “definitely going to get it done next year.”
The organization also hosts the Long Hall Loppet, a 20k freestyle race through the Ellis River, Kellogg, and Hall trails. It’s a NENSA Racing Series race also open to recreational skiers as both a classic and a freestyle tour.
This weekend, the EISA’s last carnival, and regionals, will join this strong community in the northern reaches of New Hampshire. The village “invites” racers to ski, and for the most part the race course feels, genuinely, like it’s winding through a village, says Chandler. Technically, she says, the course meets all the necessary specifications – the widths are appropriate, and the number and difficulty of the climbs is adequate – but it’s not a course that will beat a racer up. It’s the sort of course where skiers defeat themselves. It’s all about, Chandler says, transitions.
“The place, I think, where you win or lose are transitions,” says Chandler. “There’s an element of finesse.”
For the community, these races are an indication of potential futures in the sport of Nordic skiing. For Chandler, they’re symbolic of a big reason why she does the work that she does, particularly with the younger generation. Early and easy access means more access, and more access means more kids on skis, and maybe more kids in top-end competitions who didn't grow up in the club system.
“My goal, to tie it back to racing,” says Chandler, “is that one these kids, or half of them, or maybe ten of them – they’ll get to middle school and see that we have racing, and they’ll say ‘Yeah, I know how to do that.’ I know most of the NCAA athletes have grown up in a club environment, but not all of them have. I think that’s just it, just opening the door to normalize incorporating cross country skiing into people’s lives.”