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Last Friday, excitement gripped the Harvard skiing team.
The Crimson had waited nearly 10 months for the start of the 2018 season. The team had pushed through fall conditioning, trained on roller skis, and practiced over winter break. On Saturday, Harvard skiers would finally set off at the Colby Carnival in Waterville, Maine.
But Mother Nature had other plans. Unseasonable rain hardened into ice. Officials decided that the course was too dangerous and cancelled Saturday competition.
“There was a lot of ice,” junior Lily Koffman said. “For a lot of the weekend, we didn’t know what was going to happen—whether there would be races today or yesterday. That was tough.”
Consolation came on Sunday, when race officials cleared out a 1.8-kilometer loop. On the women’s side, nordic contestants would make around three loops, while the men would make nearly six.
That was how the Crimson launched into 2018—skiing on thin ice.
Junior Nina Armstrong took advantage. Finishing in 16:31.5, Armstrong grabbed ninth place. She had landed in the top 10 only once before—last spring at the St. Lawrence Carnival Classic, when she placed seventh.
“My goal for the season, and I think a lot of our team’s goals this season, is to ski more aggressively,” Armstrong said. “I felt pretty good.”
Three other teammates made the top 50. Junior Hannah Hardenbergh broke out with a 16:43.7 race, good for 16th. Sophomore Tegan Thorley earned 33rd with a time of 17:06.1, while Senior Charlotte Cole earned 45th with a time of 17:34.7.
Sophomore Mackinley Fitzpatrick led the men’s team by sliding into 47th place. He crossed the finish line in 30:34.4. Sophomore William Rhatigan and senior Connor Green shoved past soon after for times of 30:50.2 and 30:51.5, respectively.
“It was tricky conditions,” Armstrong said. “Especially with this course, it was a lot of downhill and turning. Just taking those turns with speed and trying to carry speed really helped for the racing.”
As a team, Harvard tallied 216 points on Sunday. That total placed the Crimson eighth out of 13 competitors.
Team results are preliminary, however. Given the ice-shortened schedule, athletes competed in nordic events only. The Colby Carnival will pick up next weekend for alpine competition.
“I think the team did really well today for a first race,” Koffman said. “Our coaches and captains did a really good job of keeping us mentally focused and ready for anything.”
Perennial heavyweights Vermont and Dartmouth wrestled for first place. The Catamounts emerged with the slight edge, accumulating 490 points versus 486 for the Big Green.
The dominance started up top. In the men’s race, all three of the fastest skiers came from Vermont or Dartmouth. In the women’s race, two of the three fastest skiers did. The lone exception was Zane Fields from Colby. The hometown favorite won the men’s competition by more than 15 seconds.
From top to bottom, all competitors had to reckon with the multi-lap course. Especially in New England, college programs are used to that layout. When snow is scarce, race officials can hold long-distance events by having competitors circle the same trail over and over again.
This setup brings opportunities and drawbacks. A shorter course means that competitors can familiarize themselves with the bumps and grooves, identifying any rough spots. A shorter course also risks psychological fatigue.
Koffman mentioned another tradeoff.
“It can be difficult to pass if there’s a big group,” the junior said. “It can also be fun because you end up skiing with a lot of other people.”
Those “other people” are quite familiar to Harvard skiers. The Crimson competes against roughly the same competition every weekend. Consequently, this first weekend serves as a useful bellwether for the rest of the season.
Moreover, the icy difficulties may prepare Harvard for tough conditions later in the spring. Warmer temperatures only increase the likelihood of repeat circumstances—more rain, more ice, and more multi-lap courses. Getting race experience now in that environment may pay dividends in more high-stakes events.
“Every race, our goal is to go out, go as hard as we can, and leave it on the course,” Koffman said. “As a team, we’re definitely capable of sending a couple people to the NCAA championships. That’s always a team goal. That would be super-exciting.”
—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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