February 2017 - XC SKIING
Lake Placid Loppet
Lake Placid Nordic Festival and XC Junior National Championships
By Mim Frantz
If you haven’t dusted off and waxed up your Nordic ski gear for the year, now is the time to get out there and enjoy. After a disappointing snowfall last year, Mt. Van Hoevenberg – the Olympic Cross Country venue in Lake Placid is making a triumphant comeback, and has been running since November and now with optimal conditions, all 50 kilometers of their trail system is groomed and ready to enjoy. It is a world-class venue with beginner to advanced terrain. This season, the venue will be showcased in two upcoming large-scale events.
The first of these events is the Lake Placid Nordic Festival on Friday-Saturday, March 17-18. The festival features cross country ski racing for the young and old with both shorter and longer courses for the recreational skier to the elite racer. The Loppet is a 33-year-old tradition that in the last three seasons has evolved into a comprehensive Lake Placid Nordic Festival.
Mt. Van Hoevenberg Nordic Program Manager, Kris Cheney Seymour remarked, “The festival is focusing on the future growth of the Lake Placid Loppet. With the introduction of our Citizens Ski Challenges, there is an event for all participants. We are focusing on creating a family-friendly event that provides an opportunity for nearly every age and ability.” He added, “Not only do we want to grow the event, but the sport of cross country skiing as a whole, it really can be for everyone.”
The marquee event of the weekend and the historical headliner is the Lake Placid Loppet on Saturday, February 25 with 50K and 25K classic and freestyle races. The word ‘Loppet’ is of Norwegian origin and refers to a long distance ski race. The Lake Placid Loppet originated in 1982, soon after the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, as a way to showcase the Olympic cross country trail system and to share with the world the treasures and beauty of Nordic skiing in the Adirondack woodlands.
However, the Loppet is no walk in the park. The course is 50K (31 miles) long – longer than a marathon – covering challenging terrain where skiers are usually either climbing or descending. In fact, the course has a vertical ascent of 3,300 feet. That is just over 100 feet shy of the vertical of Whiteface Mountain. The Loppet race offers a categories in both classic skiing and freestyle (skate) skiing and the field is always large and widely varied.
There will be elite ski racers watching the clock, their competitors and their heart-rate monitors. There will also be large contingency of racers who aren’t there to race at all, but instead are out for the love of the sport, the outdoors, and want to test their fitness level in this touted winter challenge. Race times to complete the course typically range from two-and-a-half hours to over six hours, and temperatures have ranged from the high 30s to -20 degrees for this February adventure. There is no doubt that Nordic athletes are some of the heartiest and healthiest athletes in the world. As a testament, there are always some well-documented, Loppet-esque, finisher photos of men with crystallized ice beards and eyebrows, and exuberantly glowing faces.
Dr. Francis Trudeau, a Saranac Lake native and founding president of the Trudeau Institute, was one of the original race organizers. He was an accomplished athlete himself and is famous for saying, “exercise is the best medicine.” Today in his memory, the Founder’s Trophy is awarded to the oldest finisher.
Brian Delaney, owner of High Peaks Cyclery, has raced the 50K Loppet almost every year since 1984. “I always look forward to the Loppet because it gives me a goal for the season,” Brian commented. “I prefer the 50K race because it is more time out skiing, which is what I like, just skiing in the zone – it makes time stand still,” he described.
Brian’s wife, Karen, also a Loppet racer and accomplished skier jokes about her husband sharing his passion for the sport, “He is saving the world one Nordic skier at a time.”
Nancie Battaglia of Lake Placid commented, “I’ve done the Kort Loppet classic quite a few times, frequently as a last minute entry. If the snow and ski conditions are prime I’m game to “just do it.” It’s a fun event with a variety of ski talent: serious racers and poke-alongs like me. Friendly faces keep us going with cheers in the stadium and at well-manned feeding stations on the trails. It’s a challenging and healthy way to spend a winter’s morning. Fifteen miles, done! ORDA is to be commended for keeping this tradition alive.”
To add to the festive atmosphere and camaraderie of athletes, the entry fee also includes a Friday night cocktail party and Saturday meal, both at the Lake Placid Conference Center, a finisher’s gift pint glass with beer or soda, and post-race food. There are also aid stations every 5K along the course to keep the body nourished and morale high.
If the 50K (31 miles) race sounds too challenging for an initial goal, there is also the shorter – and more popular – Kort Loppet 25K (15.5 miles), which is one of the two laps of the 50K. This course offers all of the same festival benefits with half the time on the trails!
The newest Nordic Festival offering is the Citizens Challenge Races, also on Saturday, February 25. These 3K, 6.25K and 12.5K races are designed for those skiers who are new to racing or experienced skiers who want to focus on a time challenge or just having fun, more than a long-distance endurance. These are mass start races on a relatively flat course, and classic or freestyle technique is welcome. This is perfect for friends, couples families of all ages who are looking for a healthy experience. For details and registration, visit whiteface.com.
Soon after the conclusion of the Nordic Festival, Mt. Van Hoevenberg will be abuzz again with another large-scale, world-class event: the 2017 USSA Cross Country Junior National Championships from Friday-Saturday, March 3-11. Racers ranging from U20 (under 20), U18 and U16 have faced a season of races to qualify for this elite event, where only the best in the country will gather to compete. It is a rare treat for the region to host this event, as it is awarded to Nordic venues throughout the country – with most recent annual events in Truckee, Calif., Jackson, Wyo., and next year in Park City, Utah.
Spectators will be treated to a glimpse of the future of Team USA as the best athletes under 20 race for glory. The ski racers will face 3.3K, 5K, 10K and 15K courses. Schedule highlights include: Sunday Opening Ceremonies (Olympic Jumping Complex); Monday interval start freestyle (10K/5K); Wednesday sprints (1.5K/1.3K); Friday classic mass start (15K/10K/5K); and Saturday skate relay.
The NYSEF (NY Ski Education Foundation) cross country training program that trains daily at Mt. Van Ho, is thrilled to have 15 athletes qualified for the Mid-Atlantic Division – and there are another 15 athletes from around the state. In order to qualify, these skiers have been racing all season to keep their statistics high and race points low – the lower the points the better the placements.
NYSEF Nordic head coach, Margaret Maher remarked, “It is really exciting to host at our home venue. This event only makes a stop in Lake Placid every 10-15 years. The local team has a mix of athletes who have been to Junior Nationals three times – to rookies who will be participating at their first national championships.” She continued, “They’ve been working hard, training year-round with this goal in sight, and motivated to achieve strong results – and have fun.”
Henry McGrew of Lake Placid is a U18 racer looking to make his mark this year. He has competed in two previous junior national championships. He remarked, “In the past we had to travel far for this competition that’s the pinnacle of our season, so I’m excited to compete at home with the support of friends and family on a course we know so well.” For more info, go to xcjuniornationals2017.com.
Whether you come to Lake Placid to race on the Olympic trails, cheer for a friend or just enjoy an Adirondack ski retreat to the waffle cabin, hopefully the Nordic events and venue will inspire you to take up a sport that Dr. Trudeau described as “true medicine.”
Mim Frantz (email@example.com) of Lake Placid is a freelance journalist, event coordinator and yoga instructor. When she’s not writing, planning or in a warrior pose, she can be found enjoying outdoor adventures with her husband and three sons.