People like to use baseball analogies to describe waxing. It makes sense for the most part: a lot of variables, plenty of glory when it goes right, and a serious sting when it doesn’t. Fellow coach Jeremy Nellis described some ways of thinking about it a few weeks ago while we were conversing in the wax room.
“You can’t start out chasing a home run,” he said.
“[Coach X] would always start out going in all sorts of directions looking for a home run, without focusing on the basics and the process. When you hit a home run everybody knows it, but you can’t start by chasing that elusive one. You get a solid foundation, and build from there.”
I relate that story because on Sunday morning, at the EHS/U16 qualifier race, we did not hit a home run. In fact, if we’re sticking with the baseball analogy, we struck out swinging. In some ways we struck out swinging so poorly, we almost let go of the bat and flung it into the crowd.
But we didn’t get there by chasing home runs, or swinging blindly. We focused on the process, tested as well as we could, and made decisions based on reason, experience, and process. And we still got it horribly wrong for the men’s race, the first event of the day. Despite getting things on a better track for the rest of the day with both the women’s race and both afternoon skate races, all I could really focus on was how poor the skis were. A timely article has recently been going around from the New York Times with an apt title and subject matter:
The testing we did was focused, and we emerged from that testing with a few options. It was weird snow, but it was weird snow for everyone. This was kick waxing, and we have some of the best products available. We may have been hindered by having fewer staff than usual, meaning we had to make a call earlier in order to begin application. We were also hindered by a lack of being able to ski the course that much, but so was everyone else.
We were using a unique and nontraditional combination for kick, but it was a combination that had already worked well in similar snow this year. It was tested against every other possible combination of wax types and application methods, and we chose it as the best option…it just ended up being the wrong choice.
It sucks to look at a results sheet and know our skiers were handicapped for that first race. But it also happens. What stings most is that it happened on a one-day qualifier event that is make-or-break for many. It might seem like I’m dwelling on this subject, but mainly I am hoping to convey some key thoughts:
- Our skis in that men’s classic race were not good. Staggeringly so, in fact
- I take ownership for that fact, although I am confident that poor skis were not for lack of effort and quality testing
- MNC skiers kept at it, raced hard, and continued to push themselves and not let poor skis keep them from sending it
With that little personal essay complete, it’s time to talk about the RACING itself. The men’s slip-fest was highlighted by Baxter who has continued to carefully ease back into hard skiing after a winter battling a few large illnesses. Baxter has been operating at less than 100% since all the way back in the fall when pneumonia had him in it’s grasp. He gradually got back into racing recently by opting into one event at each of the final 2 Eastern Cup weekends. He looked like he was coming around in EC3, looked even better in EC4, and started to really turn it on during Sunday’s races. With 2 solid races he made the top-18 cutoff and got himself a spot on the EHS team! This is really great, and having more time to get back to full strength gives some great motivation for the end of the season.
For the women’s classic race, we altered the skis and had some more positive reviews, and also results that were a bit more representative. Ali continued her recent streak of strong classic races, Magda is consistently able to classic ski near the top of VT and even New England even when the race doesn’t go perfectly. Rose and Sammie were solidly in the top-30, and things were looking up!
In the skate race, there were some banner performances for sure. It’s somewhat ironic that skating went so strongly, as it seems that as a whole on group has raced slightly stronger in classic this season. I think a few things contributed to stronger skate racing, but one theory I have is that the stronger training background of our group (summer, fall, and winter all in the picture here) means that skiers in programs like MNC have a lot more fitness to fall back on when it comes time to race for the second time in a day.
In the men’s race Tim Cobb had what might be the race of his career so far. He absolutely smashed the course and came in 5th, just behind Isaac and ahead of 6 skiers who are bound for JNs in a few weeks. Baxter, Aidan and Kai also notched up there strongly. Unfortunately Kai’s back gave him a bit of trouble in the skate race after having to “force it” a bit during the kick-less classic race so he had to back off the pressure and speed. Dakota skied very strongly to assert himself in the top third of the whole field (100+ racers) and it was great to see some new MNC skiers like Brook and Peter really give it their all and get after it in this tough event!
For the women, Rose had a big race skiing with amazing tempo up every hill to finish 14th! Ali looked super strong to take 8th, and Magda had what might be her strongest skate race since the sprint at Fort Kent for 16th. Sammie had a strong skate race after working to find those freestyle gears a bit this season, and Lily narrowly missed the top-30, finishing 35th out over 114 racers and showing just how strong she is within this combined VT field!
In the end the skate races were a little bittersweet after the morning races although Baxter, Ali, and Magda will all be repping VT within the top 18 of the combined results. Sammie qualified for the U16 championships and has a great shot to bump that up to an EHS qualification within the State Meet quota. The same goes for Kai, Aidan, and Rose.
I would be remiss in discussing this event without mentioning how it is somewhat of an informal measuring stick for VT clubs, teams, and academies. Taking a glance down the top 30 finishers in each race (and in the combined results) it is exciting to see MNC well-represented. It’s also telling to see the number of strong club and academy programs that are competing at a high level. The level of skiing in our state is incredibly high, and competitive events are a huge part of what makes our sport develop at a stronger and more professional level. I’m proud to see that MNC skiers are part of the main group of top competitors at this event, but our goals are even higher. I think this year we are leaving this qualifier feeling like we could’ve had even more top finishes, and as a comparison I glanced back at last year’s results. My own analysis? We’ve set our own bar higher, and raised expectation. Even if we don’t all meet these expectations, this year has definitely been a rising tide and I think there’s still a whole lot of impressive skiing still to come from the Pugs before the end of the 17/18 season!