by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 2-17-2013
CRAFTSBURY — The lighting was dim, the footing uneven, and the quest seemingly impossible — locating Supergirl and a pink winged fairy. North Country Union High School’s annual night relay on Thursday, February 14, at times seemed less a competitive cross-country skiing event and more like a vignette from a Hunter S. Thompson story, at least to the uninitiated.
The night relay is an annual event, normally held at the track at North Country proper. But due to limited snow cover, the event was moved to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Staggering down the hill through deeper snow, on account of having overlooked the perfectly groomed paths leading down to the relay area, I was greeted by a polar bear, a bumblebee, and two girls in grass skirts. I thought I had crashed the wrong event.
Coming across a journalist acquaintance, I discovered that costumes and revelry are actually part and parcel of the North Country night relay experience. A group of nearby Falcon varsity racers were quick to confirm this.
“I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been going on long before we were in high school,” senior Brian DeLaBruere said. “There are a lot of hills and features that you normally wouldn’t encounter in Nordic skiing. It’s fun and it’s a nice change.”
“It’s also kind of neat that it’s under the lights,” Laura Smith added.
Asked why costumes became a part of the event, Jade Dandurand looked quizzical before responding, “Why not?”
The night relays are quite unlike most other Nordic events the North Country squad encounters in the run of a racing season. Relays are a part of the experience and, weather permitting, night relays occur as well. But nothing is ever quite like the North Country-hosted event.
“It’s a little more carefree than most of the other races,” Dan Decelles said. “Everyone has a chance to relax before heading off to the state championships. It’s fun but everyone is still here to compete.”
Craftsbury Academy’s boys duo of Anders Hanson and Jacob Morse took third place, only one minute and eight seconds off the pace of Mt. Mansfield’s first-place team of Wylie Picotte and Ben Hegman. North Country took eighth and ninth place in the two-man relays with Alex Cotnoir and Sam Brunette, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Dan Decelles and Brian DeLaBruere with times of 21:35 and 21:57, respectively. Craftsbury’s Kestrel Owens and his partner Matthew Lawlor finished tenth with a time of 22:48.
In the girls’ varsity race, Falcons Haley Jo Tetreault and Adele Woodmansee finished sixth overall with a time of 24:30, two minutes and 53 seconds behind event winners Molly Larson and Amy Bruce of Mt. Mansfield. Fellow Falcons Laura Smith and Jade Dandurand finished with a time of 27 minutes. Craftsbury Academy’s Olivia Jones and Sabrina Thomas finished with a time of 31:14.
In the mixed relay, Mt. Mansfield again came out on top with the team of Wylie Picotte, Ben Hegman, Tiana Bibb, and Annavitte Rand finishing first with a time of 9:54. The Falcons would finish fifth and sixth, with the team of Haley Jo Tetreault, Adele Woodmansee, Alex Cotnoir, and Sam Brunette edging out the team of Laura Smith, Jade Dandurand, Dan Decelles, and Brian DeLaBruere with times of 11:16 and 11:30, respectively. A combined team of St. Johnsbury Academy and North Country racers Callum Hening, Sophie Martin, Patrick Lawlor, and Brianna Grimm finished ninth with a time of 12:29, while the Craftsbury team of Olivia Jones, Jacob Morse, Sabrina Thomas, and Anders Hanson finished eleventh overall with a time of 12:31.
In the junior varsity races, North Country’s Alex Cope and Fred Petzoldt finished second only two seconds behind event winners Mt. Mansfield’s Liam Ossler and Keegan Cummings with times of 11:41 and 11:39, respectively. Top Falcons girls JV racers were Rebeka Young and Brianna Grimm with a time of 15:44. Mt. Mansfield again claimed top honors behind the performance of Acadia Dinardo and Claire Julianelle who completed the race with a time of 12:29.
It was, at times, difficult to keep a straight face throughout the race. Where else would two ninjas, a pirate and a ladybug clamber up a hill dominated by a cougar and a man in a neon green vest? Where else could you show Supergirl a photo and discover that this is not the Supergirl you’ve been looking for?
And, for those who have ever wondered, a collision between a skier and a polar bear doesn’t always have to end badly. Sometimes the two participants simply get up, shake the snow off, utter quick apologies and continue on their way. It’s true, I saw it happen myself.
Spying a young man wearing a Cat in the Hat hat, I figured he would probably be the kind of person to put this whole experience into perspective. As Cat in the Hat hats go, it was among the finest examples of its kind, a fact attributable, no doubt, to its origins as a mother-made piece of millinery.
“I honestly don’t know how it stayed on my head,” Fred Petzoldt admitted. “There were a few hills, a lot of little bumps, and you could get some good speed coming into the homestretch. But it stayed on the whole time.”
Mr. Petzoldt became momentarily distracted when a five-foot-and-change tall bumblebee passed by. The distraction was not his alone, however. After a pause, we resumed our conversation.
“This is actually my first year in Nordic skiing so I’ve never seen this before,” Mr. Petzoldt said. “But I like it. It’s a lot of fun.”
North Country’s night relays aren’t the sort of thing that most people expect to see at a high school Nordic meet and that’s perfectly okay. Amidst the pressure to succeed and the mental and physical toll racing takes on a body, sometimes it’s nice to relax and let it all hang out, even if it is in a samurai costume.
contact Richard Creaser at [email protected].