This year's race was the best one I've seen yet. I did the event WAY back in 1992, when I had first started xc skiing. I had some really old equipment and didn't know what I was doing, but had fun. I don't remember how many people did the event, but it was quite a few...probably almost 100. I do remember crashing a couple of times on the big scary downhill.
This year, as in the past two years, Chama contacted me to groom it, as the event is put on by non-xc skiers that know nothing about course prep or grooming. And, as in the past two editions, it was considerably more work than I had bargained for. Tom Berg has always warned me that this is really "Pisten-Bully" country and requires a substantial machine to get the job done. He should know...he and Elliot Norquist used to groom the area in the old NORSKI days, including a few past editions of the Chili Classic.
Dina and I went up on Friday night (thereby missing this year's Mt. Taylor Quad =( to groom on Saturday. The Chama folks told me that they had some guys run the course with snowmobiles that they laid out by snowshoeing the week before. I told them that the course needed to employ some "moderate" terrain and needed to be run a lot, and very wide. Well, they laid out a great course, but it was a little extreme in spots, and there was over 8 feet of snow to hack through. The path the snowmobilers ran wasn't very wide either, so we had a lot of work to do. It was really too much...frustrating, aggravating and physically very tiring, but it was awesome country and a labor of love for a good cause. It took probably 12 hours on my part, and an equal amount on Dina's part, plus, I got them to get me a guy (turns out, a young hot-dog snowmobile racer from Antonito) to help me get around the course early on Sunday. He drove too fast, lost one of our 60lb lead track weights, and got buried himself twice! Oh well, we managed, but that meant yet more digging for me on race morning =P
Registrations had poured in over Active.com, and they expected about 40 skiers. Over 75 showed up when it was all said and done! That's a success by any measure. I was happy that we spent so much time getting the course groomed. Many racers from Colorado, New Mexico and even Arizona showed up. UNM brought a few skiers, including their still-very-fast coach Fredrik Landstedt, and two of New Mexico's top athletes, regardless of sport: Kristina Strandberg of the Subaru elite team and Martina Stursova of the Rossignol elite team, both came too. This was shaping up to be a great event.
Dina and I had a lot to do race morning. We had to get up early and find something to eat. Luckily, there was a place open just down the road. It was great and we enjoyed the quiet moment.
Soon, we made our way up the pass to get the grooming and course prep finished. I had to get a guy-- a young hot-dog kid from Antonito -- on a snowmobile to help me pull in the parallel track for classical technique, as our machine just didn't have the guts to pull all of that weight and resistance. He didn't do a very good job, as all he knew was snowmobile racing, not slow-paced grooming. He somehow managed to get stuck twice and leave a couple of big holes that I had to go fill in before the race started. Oh well...we managed.
Racers finally showed up and we lined up for the event. The race director and I gave some instructions for the event, and soon we were off. Cross-country ski racing is not very forgiving. It is tough and this course was by far one of the toughest there is. I soon felt all of the effects of the grooming efforts and felt like I was dragging a cinder block around. I was very tired and sluggish. I soon had to let the group of 5 or 6 racers ahead go on without me. I felt 3 or 4 more just behind, but they were waiting until later.
We made it over the first few huge hills and got out onto the Cumbres and Toltec rail grade. It was there that two more guys went around me, but I caught a couple, to my amazement. I felt awful, with a very tired and sore back. I just settled into a pace that I could sustain for the rest of the event, which included another one of these heinous laps.
I didn't lose too much ground to the guys just in front, but I did lose a good amount to Vsevolod. He smoked the course. Not too far behind him were the two women pros, Kristina and Martina.
I finished a belabored 8th. It was just fun to ski. We all finished things up, Dina helped me load all of the equipment, and we made our way down to Chama for post-race celebrations. It was a very fun event and a very fun day.
Look for the event again next year. It should be even bigger and better.