There is always magic in the air in Lake Placid — last weekends doubleheader rollerski weekend highlighted two impressive venues and the enthusiasm for cross country skiing in the East. Saturday boasted several of the top skiers in the world competing along side developing junior and senior athletes, in the third Keys to the Castle, a sprint race that includes agility features in the starting corridors. Sunday, the 16th running of the Climb to the Castle drew a stellar crew of 87 competitors, who gracefully ascended the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway on the clearest weather day many can remember.
The Keys to the Castle
Competitors raced an individual qualification, which determined placement in open gender Court Sprint Heats, where they contested three rounds of head-to-head competition. Each starting lane included a bicycle ramp which complemented the challenging terrain of Mt Van Hoevenberg’s homologated 1.4km sprint course. Many of the athletes are becoming quite familiar with this terrain, that will be used for a combined Eastern Cup / SuperTour this winter and the 2024 Junior National Championship.
Ben Ogden (SMST2/USST), the top ranked U23 in the world, put on a show and remained clear of the field the entire day — a place he has become accustomed to here in Lake Placid. Julia Kern (SMST2/USST), the seventh ranked sprinter in the world, returned to the Keys for the second time, qualifying 12th overall and spent the day racing in the third and fourth rounds. At the end of the day, she took the top step of the women’s podium, one step higher than she was in 2021 when she was second to Jessie Diggins.
While the top of the field might seem otherworldly, this event highlights the continuity of programing and the opportunity rollerski racing allows skiers in the East to have throughout the year. Open heats were run on three minute intervals, creating interesting dynamics — in many cases one heat had not finished before the next began — and making for nonstop action for the competitors and spectators alike. Junior skiers from NYSEF, Gould and Mansfield Nordic were out in force along with Paul Smith’s College and independent racers from the Eastern US and Canada. And those stars who now grace the headlines? They where competing in these events only a few years ago — that is not lost on the coaches and athletes and provides immense motivation!
Further Press from Nordic Insights
The Climb to the Castle
The Climb to the Castle was created in 2006 by Margaret Maher who was at the time the New York Ski Education Foundation’s (NYSEF) Head Coach — and it has run continuously with the exception of 2020 when it wasn’t hosted because of Covid. Over many of those years much of the press has been about the memorable battles between national team members from cross country, biathlon and Nordic Combined as well as an always present masters field. Over the past few years NYSEF and NENSA have worked to make the challenging course a more level playing field — enter a matched fleet of Swenor rollerskis for top ranked skiers, and more inclusive — with options for both a short course and a classic division.
There is no doubt the top of the field was present again this year, with Jack Lange, who now attends Dartmouth College and Julia Kern taking the overall victories. Their stories tell a similar tale to the Keys. Lange had last skied the event in 2019 when he caught a ride near the finish from that year’s winner, Kyle Bratrud, “after he caught me from seven minutes back!” Kern remarked it had been ten years since she last attended the Climb as a junior with CSU. In their post race interviews they both proudly reflected on the incremental gains they have made over those years as they gazed down the mountain.
While two-thirds of this years field were 20 years old or younger, there were two amazing participants, James Meier (Manhattan Nordic/Ford Sayre) and King Milne (CVU) who topped the 2300 foot climb at the spry age of 79! Local, Will Preece of NYSEF was the youngest competitor, who attacked the short course with a smile and excellent technique.
The NYSEF staff put on an outstanding event with aid stations along the way and food for competitors at the summit. Progress on the ongoing Castle construction at the summit allowed for an intimate awards ceremony where likeminded skiers and families gathered to share their journey and dream of the winter to come!
The NENSA Rollerski Series continues at Black Mountain of Maine on October 22nd with the Maine Event – the world’s first Rollerski XCX competition and concludes with the Mt. Greylock Hill Climb November 5th, a classic race in Lanesborough, Massachusetts.