It has been a while since the New Mexico Cup XC ski race has been held. It used to be held pretty much annually back when there was a lot more New Mexico interest in xc skiing in the 1980's and through about the mid 1990's. It was revived for a couple of years in the early 2000's but it was obvious that a lot of the people who were regulars on the NM xc ski scene had literally up-and-moved on. Those turnouts were pretty slim, so it just didn't seem worth putting on anymore. Other races have variably come and gone with only one old event holding on by a thread – the Chama Chile Classic, which seemed to have breathed a renewed breath just a week earlier this year.
Well, there's no reason that New Mexico doesn't have its own title race. Testing out the old adage, "if you build it, they will come," it was planned and executed, despite the expectation of a low turnout. It's not that New Mexico doesn't have enough xc skiers to field an event, it's just that it hasn't been established and many of the people who do xc ski might not really believe it would be worth giving a go for, and just didn't show up.
It turns out that despite some dry and somewhat warm January weather, the courses at Enchanted Forest were exceptional and it was a great weekend for xc ski racing in the brilliant New Mexico sun. All that can be said is that it was worth it and it is hoped that in time, those that do xc ski in New Mexico will help to make it something permanently established and something special – only time will tell.
With that said, here's how the Revival of the New Mexico Cup 2009 went:
Saturday, January 24
The night before was a little weird with a quick-hitting wet and warm weather system producing drizzle at all but the highest elevations. It was nary below freezing at about 7PM at Enchanted Forest, with a sloppy parking lot and what looked like a soft track.
Sometime during the night, a front passed through with some wind and the temperature dropped to a low of 21-degrees F by about 6AM. With the seriously old and transformed snow, that meant definite klister conditions. But, how much would it warm up? Not too much by the 8:30AM start.
It turns out that not very many people were committed to this 10km classical event. By 8AM, hardly a soul had appeared, but the UNM ski team did arrive and it was announced that a grand total of one of them was going to race. That made registration easy.
All told, only 6 people raced, with about 6 more kids showing up for the kids event. Dirk Grimm, the talented German who now coaches (and was formerly a 4-time NCAA All-American performer in his undergrad years) the UNM Nordic team was an easy winner over Clay Moseley. The icy track left everyone slipping around and looking for some purchase on the ground up snow out of the track. With a soft sugary base lying only about 3 inches beneath, it made double poling just as difficult. Not the best day for a "fun" classical race, but one that taught those 6 competitors a lot more about the need for carefully heating in several layers of klister if it's that icy.
Linda Mieras ("Linda Miller," the youngest daughter of the Millers) won the women's 5km event over Dina Pesenson, who was seen changing a diaper and handing her baby off to Linda's sister Ellen exactly 20 seconds before she took off on her race…way to go, Dina!
Sunday, January 25
Warmish weather had prevailed the previous day, with off-and-on warm snow showers and intermittent sunshine. The tracks softened up, but by nightfall, the temperature again took a plunge and several windy snow squalls amounted to about a half-an inch of new snow by morning. Again, the temperature in the morning was right at 20-degrees F, but it seemed cooler with higher humidity.
The crew at Enchanted Forest got out very early and groomed the course out nicely, breaking up the frozen crust and mixing in the new grappular snow, and generally making for a great day of racing. It would have been a little bit on the sketchy side if they had not gotten out there like that.
As opposed to the previous day, people began showing up early. Registration was a little busier and several more folks poured in. It looked like this would be a decent turnout.
After everyone was pretty much registered, it was warm-up time. Racers were buzzing around getting ready while the EF crew made a few last-minute changes to accommodate the start and finish situation for a mass start race (the first ever at Enchanted Forest).
Finally, it was time to race. Everyone lined up and was quickly off at the start of the clock, manned by Geoff Goins.
Almost instantly, the group sorted itself. The 5 members of the UNM men's team were off like rockets and a couple of the UNM women got up there early as well. Los Alamos skiers, Clay Moseley and John Bernardin fought to follow them. Polina Ermoshina, the star of the UNM women's team set a fast, smooth early pace. She skied steady on the early steep hills, but not too hard. Her technique did most of the work for her and soon she was finding herself pulling away on the long fast Sherwood Forest decent, with Clay in tow. Melanie Zemp, a Swiss skier for the UNM women's team pulled ahead slightly in front of John Bernardin.
Somewhere out there in the aerobic monster zone, UNM Norwegian skier Martin Waaler-Kaas got away from his teammates and skied to an absolutely sick time of 27:48. He was the only one to break 28 minutes. Behind him, UNM's Canadian skier, Casey Dyck outskied the crazy German, Simon Reissman, for second.
In the battle of altitude adaptation vs. smooth skiing, it was probably the altitude that was the deciding factor in favor of Clay, as he was able to get a gap on Polina on the steepest hills, but she held steady during the rest of the course and stayed quite close all the way to the finish. Smooth technique also helped Melanie Zemp keep her advantage over John Bernardin, who skied an excellent race overall as well.
A little further back, another group was duking it out behind the third UNM lady, Sienja Neimeier, who was formerly a junior biathlete from Germany – still only 19 yrs old, she pretty much had to ski the entire event alone. Hans Noordik (what a great name for a xc skier!) was working at the front of a group that contained another LA skier, Tarik Saleh, and former Anchorage high school skier and now Sandia Laboratory mathematician, Shawn Martin. Those three battled it out over the entire course, with Hans' smooth skiing helping him to pull away from Shawn and Tarik. Eventually, the dual was paired down to just Shawn and Tarik. In the end, Shawn got the best of Tarik and claimed it was the descents that gave him the advantage, but it wasn't much, as they finished very close together and looked like they had the most fun. Shawn wins the "racer on rental skis" category, by the way.
Other groups formed too. Dina says that she tried to lead a group for a while, but got ahead of herself and had to pull over and let the 'guys' go through. One of those guys was Chuck Calef of Los Alamos, who is just really learning how to skate this season after attending the SWNSC clinics taught by Ken and Jessica Kisiel. He's really taking to it and even bought an actual set of skate skis in order to quit humiliating everyone he beats on his old wooden ones…=) Actually, Chuck is a very good skier and it's no disgrace to have him finish ahead of you in a race. He did race on his old "non-wooden" fiberglass-core skis from the '80s, called "EPokes". Santa Fe skier, Tom Brimacombe, saw them and recalled that those were endearingly called "SlowPokes." When Chuck got out on his "new" used skate skis, he said that he put his poles in the snow and the skis were so much faster than his old "SlowPokes," that they nearly shot out from under him. That's pretty funny, I don't care who you are...
Awards were provided by FastWax USA, GearWest.com and Enchanted Forest themselves, who did a great job hosting the event, as usual.
What a day. It was an amazing course and the snow made it seem like it was so very easy to ski. It's not normally that fast. The winning time was less than 28 minutes…INCREDIBLE! It was no doubt a little short, but still…this is at nearly 10,000 feet!!!
Hopefully, we'll have the will to put this event on again next year. And hopefully, more of our NM Nordic brood will find the willpower to get out and give it a go. Geoff Goins thought of having a two loop race that would equal 30kms. Wow, it's hard to imagine that, but what an event that would be.
See you out on the trails.