The Williams Nordic ski team raced bravely through slush and powder this past weekend, furthering the hopes of several Williams skiers of making the NCAA championships. It was an event marked by extremes in individual performances, as skiers raced to personal bests in some events, and “set the record for being passed by people,” as one member of the men’s team put it, in other events.
In addition to being the only carnival where both men and women race the same 10K distance on both days, the Williams Carnival is the only entirely student-run carnival on the entire New England circuit. Before listing results it is important to mention that without the time and effort put in by Scott Lewis, the Williams Outing Club, and all of the officials, timers, course marshals and bib sorters, this event never could have happened as successfully as it did. A great “thank you” from the ski team goes out to you all for a job well done.
Friday morning was clear in the Purple Valley, but as the vans climbed up Route 9 towards Vermont’s Prospect Mountain, they climbed into the clouds. The highly-touted “spectator downhill” became invisible from the start-finish area, and as a UNH skier commented, “I was just hoping there wasn’t a truck parked in the middle of it, because I couldn’t see anything.”
The wet conditions did nothing to stop several of the Williams men from skiing to top positions, with Jason Lemieux ’01 leading the way in twelfth place, Ben Kamilewicz ’99 in fourteenth, and Nick Trautz ’99 finishing twentieth in the 10K skate race.
The Williams women suffered the loss of top skier Sylvia Englund ’99 to mono this past week. Sylvia is now resting up and taking medication in the hopes of coming back even stronger than before. Friday’s race was difficult without her, but the women pulled through with strong performances by Maren Eggert ’98 in thirty-third, Ellen Jacobson ’01 in thirty-fourth, and Elly Spensley ’01 finishing thirty-sixth in the 10K race.
Saturday morning greeted racers and coaches not with fog, but with three inches of damp new powder. It was a beautiful sight blanketing the trees for spectators, but a nightmare for coaches who had to figure out a way to make skis stick to the snow for 10 kilometers of classic racing.
Cold, powdery snow calls for the use of “hard” or “stick” wax, which comes in a tin and is applied to the ski with a cork. Icy, wet, or very old snow calls for “klister”, a sticky wax which comes in a tube and is applied with a torch.
Saturday’s race featured conditions which were a perfect blend of the two, with temperatures hovering around the freezing point, and new powder with wet slush right underneath it. It was a harried waxing day, with skiers yelling 10 minutes before their races were due to start, “This wax is horrible! I had to double-pole downhill!”
Nonetheless, the skiers took to the course armed with their fated wax, and the pursuit-style race began. Skiers’ start times were based on how well they had done in the previous day’s race: if skier A finished 10 seconds behind skier B on Friday, they would start 10 seconds behind them on Saturday.
In the women’s 10K Helena Johnson ’00 was the top Williams finisher, making up 10 places from Friday’s race to finish thirty-first. Elly Spensley ’01 was thirty-third, followed by Maren Eggert in thirty-fourth.
It came down to a test of wax in the men’s race, and it was hard wax which proved to be the winner over klister. Nick Trautz was Williams’ top skier in sixteenth, in a race which he described simply as being, “pretty good.” P.J. Spina ‘00 made up eight places to finish twentieth, and Topher Sabot ’99 took twenty-fourth.
A race is just a race, as coach Fisher often says, but it takes music to make it an event. MCs and skiers Steve Bennett ’99, Noel Johnson ’01, and Todd Merkens ’01 provided Bon Jovi, AC/DC and a smattering of light-hearted banter to keep the crowd and skiers ready for the races. Not all of this was appreciated by everyone. As Bennett commented, “Friday we’d talk about anyone who walked by our table over the microphone. Then on Saturday we started to notice that people were avoiding us.”
Next weekend the ski team travels up to Middlebury for the last carnival of the season, and the last chances for individuals to qualify for the NCAA championships. There should be spots for several Williams skiers on the team, and if enough make it, coach Fisher has promised to dye his hair purple, in order to blend in with the rest of the men’s team. In saying so, however, he cautions that, “it isn’t dyed yet.” Skiers must stay focused on next weekend’s races, bring energy to the moment, and not take it all too seriously. After all, a race is just a race.