by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 12-30-2012
WESTMORE — Thursday evening’s deep blanket of snow created much improved conditions as North Country Union High School held its first home Nordic ski meet of the season atop Mount Hor on Friday, December 28. Conditions this year were a far cry from last year’s opening meet. Last season volunteers repeatedly threw shovels full of snow over bare patches and some of the larger rocks in an effort to maintain passable trail conditions.
“We had a lot of trouble finding snow last season,” North Country Coach Alex Gratton recalled. “It’s tough to keep up morale, to get excited about the season when you barely have a chance to get on the snow.”
So far, the 2013-2013 season has promised much greater things. The team has taken advantage of man-made snow on the trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center hitting their trails at least once a week. In addition the team traveled for a three-day skiing getaway at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec.
“We weren’t able to take that trip last year because they didn’t have any snow either,” Coach Gratton said. “This season is shaping up much better, snow-wise.”
Skiers from nine different schools in Vermont and from Lebanon High in New Hampshire traveled to Westmore for the Falcons’ home meet. Though North Country did not fare so well in the standings on Friday afternoon, it did little to dampen their enthusiasm for their team or their chosen sport.
“We’re a pretty tight group,” varsity skier Bradley Dopp said after the race. “Most of us run cross country or track too. So we’ve known each other for quite a while.”
That camaraderie is what distinguishes this Falcons’ team from most other squads, varsity skier Brianna Grimm said. The fellowship among the athletes is what enables them to push themselves onward.
“We’re basically one big family,” Ms. Grimm said. “We encourage one another a lot.”
Encouragement is something that all athletes needed to tackle the challenging Mount Hor course. The initial stages involve a sprint over relatively level ground followed by some twists and turns and then The Wall. The Wall is an imposing vertical ascent in the middle of the course.
“That big hill was a real challenge,” junior varsity skier Zachary Charbonneau said. “That was probably the toughest part.”
The Wall is an imposing obstacle that requires that skiers conserve enough energy to tackle it. The tendency might be to take off at speed through the early part of the course but that could leave you stranded once you hit the hill, Mr. Dopp said.
“It’s easier to go faster than you ought to,” Mr. Dopp said. “But if you’ve skied this course before and you know that hill is coming, you save a little something. You can make back a lot of time coming down.”
Timing and pacing are crucial skills to master for both Nordic skiing and cross-country running, Ms. Grimm said. As a result athletes spend a lot of time running and working out their cardiovascular system to develop endurance.
“There’s really no way to prepare yourself for a hill like that,” Ms. Grimm said. “You just do it.”
“It just goes straight up for like a quarter of the course,” Mr. Dopp said. “It’s a bit rough and you gotta work hard but it’s so worth it when you get to the top.”
That work ethic and a willingness to support and encourage one another makes this team a pleasure to work with, Coach Gratton said. The 17 members of this year’s squad are as close to a family as any group could be, he said.
“They are just so positive,” the coach said. “I’d take these kids anywhere. We might not be a big team but we’re very close.”
Coach Gratton took a moment to congratulate Alex Cotnoir and Sam Brunette on strong runs.
“You were lookin’ good out there,” he told Mr. Brunette. “You had a lot more energy.”
“I thought I went a little slower than I ought to,” Mr. Brunette replied. “But I felt good going up The Wall.”
Mount Mansfield won the team varsity girls title while Mount Anthony edged U-32 for the varsity boys title. North Country finished in sixth and seventh place in the girls’ and boys’ divisions respectively.
Annavitte Rand was the top girls’ finisher completing the course in 18:25, 12 seconds ahead of Burlington High’s Halie Lange. Haley Jo Tetreault posted the top time among the Lady Falcons cruising in to a finish time of 22:30 and only eight seconds out of a three-way tie for twelfth place. Jade Dandurand was NCU’s next top finisher with a time of 26:11.
U-32’s Ben Merrylees was the top boys’ skier finishing with a time of 17:12, a full 16 seconds ahead of second place skier Luke Johnas of Mount Anthony. Alexander Cotnoir held North Country’s fastest time landing in a three-way tie for eighteenth place with a time of 19:54. Falcon Sam Brunette finished in a two-way tie for twenty-seventh overall with a time of 20:29.
Falcon Adele Woodmansee finished second in girls junior varsity action only four seconds behind event winner U-32’s Audrey Oliver’s time of 9:17. Alexander Cope had the fastest time among the Falcons’ junior varsity racers finishing in seventh place overall with a time of 9:57. Teammate Fred Petzoldt finished 20 seconds behind to take ninth place overall.
Contact Richard Creaser at email@example.com