Putting on an Eastern Cup Opener is a challenge for any venue due to unpredictable temperatures at the brink of the official start to winter. This season, NENSA visited Maine for the beginning of our premier race series, hosting an event to honor the life of Roy Varney, a standout skier from Leavitt High School, who tragically lost his life last summer in a farming accident. The races were originally scheduled for Sugarloaf, but needed to be moved to the Quarry Road Trails in Waterville a week before the event. The Central Maine Ski Club rose to the challenge of recruiting an army of volunteers on short notice to highlight their trail system and the fantastic manmade snow they’ve been blowing and grooming to near perfection since early November. Together with the Sugarloaf staff the entire organizing committee created a welcoming and first class race experience.
300 competitors travelled from throughout New England and Eastern Canada for the freestyle sprint and classic interval start races. The majority of the field consisted of junior skiers, with the notable exceptions of some top EISA skiing talent from UVM, Middlebury and Dartmouth and older club skiers from the US and Canada. Despite being open races the majority of the competitors travelled to Maine to earn their first New England Junior Nationals ranking points (full rankings here). Over 30 Maine High School skiers participated in the weekend and on Sunday the top U16 & U18/20 boys and girls were awarded the first Roy Varney Award (the award will continue into the future – rewarding the top Maine High School skier at a selected Eastern Cup hosted in Maine).
Quarry Road groomers prepared a beautiful race track for Saturday’s sprint with wide lanes, fast banked turns and a signature set of three speed whoops prominently located where competitors passed the timing shack and spectator-lined fences. The addition of terrain added a technical element for the skiers, excitement for spectators and smiles for everyone. Setting the pace for the whole weekend, Ben Ogden of UVM, was the first to rocket out of the gate with a qualifier time of 2:40.06. The top female qualifier was Avery Ellis of Middlebury College who clocked a 3:14.90 lap of the 1.3km course. Top U16’s in qualification were: Ava Thurston (Mansfield Nordic) 3:21.26 and Fin Bailey (SMS) 3:00.07.
The afternoon consisted of competitive and clean racing with Open, U18/U20 and U16 heats. Heat skiing provides awesome opportunities for skiers to mix it up and learn how to ski fast with juniors lined up alongside top collegiate and open skiers. For many juniors they might be getting their first chance to race head to head with some of their idols. At the end of the day, Ogden and his teammate Greg Burt were the class of the sprint field, taking first and second while Will Koch of SMS skied his way into third position. In the women’s race Middlebury College put on a clinic for the rest to watch — in perhaps the closest competition of the day — Avery Ellis surged by Alex Lawson (who looked unbeatable through her quarter and semi) in the final meters to claim the victory. On their heels, Charlotte Ogden completed the Panther podium sweep with a strong third place finish. After a fall in the qualifier, Trey Jones of GMVS won his semi and the final in commanding fashion. Joining him on the podium was Fin Bailey and Jack Lange of the Putney Ski Club – no U16 boys made the top-30. Three U16 women snuck into the top-30 overall: Thurston – 1st, Evelyn Walton CSU/DXC – 2nd and Sophia Scirica (CSU) – 3rd.
Sunday’s classic track was firm and fast – with new and humid, mostly manmade snow – lending coaches to experiment with kick wax, klister and mixtures of the two. Typically folks were in blue and violet ranges of wax and the atmosphere in the trailers, tents and benches was confident and focused. In the first race of the day Sophia Laukli, bib #1, left the gate on a mission and set the fastest time for the day at 14:06.5. Laukli led another Panther sweep, this time with Alex Lawson in second and Charlotte Ogden again nabbing third. In the men’s race, Ben Ogden, who is focused on Junior World and NCAA Championships this season, showed incredible form – pushing himself around the 4 lap 10km in a time of 24:51.3. He won all lap splits minus the fourth, where Adam Glueck of Dartmouth was able to take back .08 seconds and claim second place. Will Koch, the top U18 skier both days, again claimed third.
Ava Thurston continued to show her dominance on day two, placing sixth overall, and winning the U16 race by nearly 50 seconds. The CSU duo of Scirica and Walton swapped spots on the podium for second and third with some really solid skiing. Trey Jones kept upright on day two, showing aggressive skiing for the entire 5km, and clocking a time of 13:18.7 while trying to chase down Fin Bailey of SMS who started a bib ahead of him. Bailey held off Jones, crossing the line with seventeen of his thirty second starting advantage to spare, to claim second. Jack Lange of Putney was hot on Bailey’s heels for his second third on the weekend.
The Eastern Cup Opener is an exciting part of the season and the strength of the field, the coaching support, and the professionalism of the venue on display at Quarry Road sets the stage for a prosperous winter! Eastern Cup racing will resume in Craftsbury, January 25&26th during the second and third day of the Lost Nation Cup Super Tour (Saturday will also be combined with the UVM Carnival).