Why do Nordic skiers like to race? In Steve Hindman’s book, “Cross-Country Skiing for Fun and Fitness,” in the chapter, “Racing and Training,” he states, “If you enjoy skiing on groomed trails, if you like people, and if you welcome a personal challenge… there’s a good chance you will enjoy ski racing.”
He emphasizes that racing is about people. “Socializing and camaraderie attracts skiers to racing at all levels.” Setting goals and attaining them through training and perseverance is part of it, too. Add the excitement of visiting different areas, discovering their trails and meeting new people and new challenges, you can see why racing appeals to many.
I asked several local racers why they liked to race. One skier, who races both cross-country and downhill, says she’s not really a racer, just a participant. She likes series like the Meisters because they “get me out on my skis, having fun and socializing.”
Doug Armstrong, a veteran ski racer, related, “Putting a race bib on, for me, is committing to perform your best. To do that takes preparation, lots of it. I love all the year-round activities common to the typical cross-country skier’s training log, indoors or outdoors, on or off snow. Ski racing is a rush and the camaraderie from doing it for over a half century has been a wonderful experience. But most importantly for me, racing is just a good excuse to train!”
Another local racer, who likes to travel far and wide to ski race, is Jackson’s Laurel Smith. She and husband, Kevin Donahue, just left town to go ski the 70K classic Marcialonga in Cavelese, Italy, later this month.
She says, “We have fun traveling to Europe to compete in ski races.” Her favorite is the 42K skate Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland, but she also enjoyed traveling to Iceland for the 50K classic Fossavatn ski marathon.
Laurel says, “I love to ski race! I enjoy the excitement and anticipation of lining up at the starting line, knowing that I trained for the event. Setting personal goals for each race challenges me to stay focused on skiing as efficiently as possible.” At the end of a race, “It is a wonderful feeling after finishing, being totally exhausted, yet satisfied that I tried my hardest. Then comes the best part, as the endorphins kick in and I just feel happy.” She finds it even more enjoyable to race and celebrate with friends at race’s end.
Though I’m not racing now, I remember the excitement, the challenge, and, yes, the fun of racing. Every Monday night before Nordic Meisters, I’d guess what conditions I’d meet the next day, lay out my clothes, prep my skis and gather all my equipment. Part of my strategy (and everyone else’s) was deciding what time to go the next day. With a window of 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., picking the best time for optimal conditions was important.
At Great Glen, more choices came into play: what grip wax; which race to do first — skate or classic, what to wear. Other skiers, willing to share their experiences, told which wax worked and which didn’t and what course conditions were like. After a brief warm-up to try out wax, legs and clothing, I’d line up to race, hoping to successfully complete the course and beat last week’s time. When I finished, I had both satisfaction and relief.
Back in the lodge, I enjoyed catching up with old friends and sharing stories. I agree with Hindmann, racing is mostly about the people you share the experience with — they make it fun.
Racing gave me a way to evaluate and improve my skiing. By doing a series, I could compare performances on the same course week after week. I tried out new strategies in waxing, poling and attacking the course. Afterward, I’d evaluate what worked best. Racing is also about challenging yourself to ski your hardest.
When I participated in Nordic Meisters, for at least one day a week, I was skiing 10K at my maximum effort. It was a good workout and strength builder. I learned a lot about technique and efficiency. It gave me ideas of what to work on during the week and gave my skiing new focus.
At the end of the race or the series, there are always rewards. It may be a trophy or a medal, but more likely it will be something less tangible. Satisfaction, camaraderie, stories to tell, experiences to remember — it’s all part of ski racing. If you get lucky, you take home the best raffle prize. Who says racing doesn’t have rewards?
Check out the upcoming races described below and give one a try, just for the fun of it!
Great Glen Nordic, Fatbike, and Snowshoe Meisters that run from January through March, on Tuesdays, from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Jackson’s Black Mountain hosts “Friday Night Lights Uphill Series” from December to March. Skin up-hill, ski down under the lights, Fridays, 6 p.m.
For younger racers, Jackson Ski Touring has Nordic Ski Camp on Tuesdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. where kids can compete in friendly time trial races, while having fun.
Sunday Bill Koch League activities from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Great Glen incorporate some racing and ski games to get kids moving and ready for their BKL Festival, Feb. 29 and March 1, where there will be lots of races.
Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring’s 10th Annual Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble: Jan. 18, 10 a.m. start, Whitaker Woods, North Conway.
Great Glen Trails’ Women’s Winter Escape: Jan. 18-19, classic and skate skiing, snowshoe tours, yoga, lunch and sip and shop events.
Great Glen Trails’ Nordic Demo Day: Jan. 19, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Bretton Woods Nordic 47th Geschmossel Classic Ski Race 15K: Jan. 20, 11 a.m. start.
JSTF’s Freeman Frost White Mountain Classic 30K Race: Jan. 26.
Kennett High School Nordic Team Race at Whitaker Woods: Jan. 29, 2:30-5:30 p.m.
Fryeburg Academy Nordic Team High School Meet at Stark’s, Thursday, Jan. 30, 3:30 p.m.
Series: January Learn to Nordic Ski Month — Check with local touring centers to see what deals they’re offering for first-time skiers during January.
Great Glen Trails Bill Koch League Kids’ Ski Program, Sundays, 1:30- 3:30 p.m.
Great Glen Trails Nordic, Snowshoe and Fatbike Meisters Race Series —Tuesdays, Jan. 21- March 10, skiers 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., snowshoers 1 p.m., fat bikes after 3:30 p.m.
Jackson Ski Touring Advanced Beginner Skate Clinics — Fridays 10:30 a.m.-12 noon, Jan. 24.
Jackson Ski Touring Sliders and Gliders Social Ski-Fridays, Jan. 24- March 27, 1-3 p.m.
Jackson Ski Touring Advanced Beginner Skate Clinics — Sundays, 1-2:30 p.m., Jan. 19, 26.
Jackson Ski Touring Toddlers and Tots Program: Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Jackson XC Nordic Speed Camp: Tuesdays, Jan. 21, 28, Feb. 4 and 11.
March 3, 3:30-4:30 p.m., Grades 2-and-up, timed course.
Sally McMurdo is currently a cross-country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England’s groomed and ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.