When planning for a race in March, there is always the question of whether or not there will be enough snow. There was plenty of snow for the 2017 NEBKL Festival in Bethel, Maine. However, with the forecasted cold and high winds, it became clear that the plan to hold the races on the field at the Gould Academy Campus would have to change.
Race Organizers quickly made changes on Friday to move the races up to the Pine Hill trails, which were about a mile away, because the trails are sheltered from the wind. The schedule also changed to have the older skiers race during the coldest temps in the mornings, extra shuttles were added, and volunteer jobs were shifted. Friday night at the District Chair meeting, details were explained, relay bibs were handed out for Saturday’s relay race, as well as the L.L. Bean goodie bags. These goodie bags included a kids Clif bar, ski ties from Concept 2, a buff and chapstick from Gould Academy, and a beautiful wooden memento for every participant.
On Saturday morning, the cold temperatures and wind were exactly what was forecasted. The sheltered trails up at Pine Hill offered some relief from the wind but the temperatures were still very low. Despite this, the participants arrived at the races with smiles, glitter and excitement for the fun day of relay races! The day started with the 7th&8th and 5th&6th grade two person skate relay races on a 1.35 km course. In the afternoon the 3rd&4th, then 1st&2nd graders had a fast .75 km skate relay race. An air rifle biathlon range was also set up at the venue both days to introduce skiers to the sport of Biathlon.
Meanwhile at the Field House on the Gould Campus, participants gathered during the day to stay warm, purchase chili bread bowls from the Fiddlestick Farm Food Truck, see the Green and Clean Energy Expo, and shop at the Swix Sale, and T-shirt printer. The L.L. Bean boot was outside, and L.L. Bean had a table inside to play games and win fun prizes. A craft area was set up where skiers colored a cut-out skier and placed in on a beautiful mural. There was face painting, a silent auction, and games on the basketball court. Even on this cold day, there were lots of people outside enjoying the fat biking, the terrain park, tubing, and Maine Adaptive sit ski demos!
After the relay races, everyone gathered in the Field House for the parade. Many people showed up in creative costumes for the superhero theme. There were decorated masks, a family of kickwax crusaders, capes, glitter and signs, all lead by the host club, the Bethel Outing Club. The parade snaked through the Field House and ended at the awards ceremony. The beautiful wooden relay awards, made by students from Gould Academy using Gould’s IDEA center, were handed out to the top 10 relay teams from each age group.
That evening, Gould Academy served a BBQ dinner with all the fixings, followed by a chance to meet Bill Koch and get his autograph. The Bill Koch XC Experience movie was shown, followed by a presentation from Protect Our Winters, a non-profit environmental organization. Amalia Siegel and Charlotte Gross, both former Dartmouth skiers, led the presentation interspersed with video from other POW athletes talking about climate change, their experiences and ways to get involved.
On Sunday, the individual classic races were held again up at Pine Hill. The morning temperatures where still low and the wind did not die down until the afternoon. The schedule also stayed the same starting with the 7th&8th graders, who skied a two lap race on a 1.7 km course, then 5th&6th graders who skied two laps of a 1.35 km course. The 3rd&4th graders skied 1 lap on a 1.7 km course, and the 1st&2nd graders skied a .75 km course. Skiers went out in waves of 6 to condense the timing of the day, so that they did not have to start too early in the morning when temperatures where the lowest.
Midday, the graduating 8th graders skied down into the stadium to receive a wooden memento from local coach, legend and Olympian, Dick Taylor that said “glide and float, under your own power” something Bill Koch has written about. Bill handed out certificates to each graduate and then they lined the lollipop course for the lollipop race. Lollipop-ers excitedly waited for their turn to ski the course, and on “GO” it was a scurry to the line, skiing down the tunnel of 8th graders who handed them lollipops as they went! At the end of the day, awards for the top 20 individual skiers for girls and boys in each grade where announced and awarded on the deck of the yurt.
While many people dressed up as heros this weekend, there were many real heros out there like the organizing committee who did all they could to hold races despite the weather. The District Chairs, coaches and parents were adaptable during the changes, and the skiers were resilient in the cold. This weekend was a true testament to the strength of our New England ski community.
This festival could not have happened without the Bethel Outing Club as the host club with their many volunteers and organizers, and Gould Academy as the host site and generous sponsor of the event. Thank you to the Bethel Village Trails and Mahoosuc Pathways for providing free skiing on the Bethel Village Trail system for each participant and The Bethel Inn Resort for giving discounted rates for festival goers and donating rooms for race committee staff.
Thank you to L.L. Bean, Swix, Sport Thoma, Maine Ski Lodging Co, Doug Zinchuk Roofing, Sunday River Ski Club, Clif bar, Concept 2, Norway Savings Bank, Bancroft Contracting, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Holidea House, Akers Ski, and True North Adventureware.