RUMFORD – Herb Adams breathed a sigh of relief late Saturday afternoon as the last of 186 Nordic skiers participating in the Men’s Classical 9.5-kilometer race glided to the starting gate at Black Mountain of Maine.
“This is the one we’ve been waiting for,” the Hanover resident said, drawing immediate laughter from fellow Chisholm Ski Club race officials who, at 11:30 a.m., started clocking what would become, many hours and four races later, a record field of more than 400 athletes.
They are competing in the New England Nordic Ski Association’s TD Banknorth Eastern Cup Tour de Rumford and Chummy Broomhall Cup Maine Ski Championship.
Sunday’s four races will be freestyle or skate-ski format and will start at 10 a.m. instead of 11:30 due to the expected afternoon arrival of a snowstorm.
Among the top three finishers in Western Maine, were, Colby College’s Fred Bailey of Andover, who took third in the Senior Men division, and Sylvan Ellefson of Bates College in Lewiston, who won the Older Junior Boys Division.
The Tour de Rumford is also a Junior Olympics qualifier. Additionally, it’s the first Eastern Cup of the season, because there was no snow in mid-December for the originally-scheduled season opener at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt., said NENSA technical delegate Chuck Broomhall of Conway, N.H..
“This is the place to be for the East today and tomorrow. No one else has had snow,” said Chuck Broomhall, Chummy’s nephew.
The parking lot was jam packed all day, bustling with hundreds of colorfully garbed athletes, coaches and people of all ages. Overflow cars and at least one school bus parked along the access road all the way out to Isthmus Road.
About 50 volunteers from Hanover, Rumford, Mexico, Farmington, and Wilton, and the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico, were quite busy throughout a day that began at 6 a.m. for most of them.
Saturday’s classic-format proved challenging for racers trying to find the right wax to achieve maximum glide in rapidly changing temperatures. It was abnormally warm early in the morning and quite chilly by late afternoon.
“The snow right now is excellent for racing. Things are so much better now than they were at 6 o’clock. It was 55 degrees then, and I didn’t know if we’d pull this off. But once again, the Chisholm Ski Club stood up to the challenge,” he said at 3:45 p.m.
Temperatures began plummeting by 9 a.m., 2 hours before the start of the first race. By noon, it was 33 degrees Fahrenheit and a brisk wind swept down the mountain, but no one seemed to mind.
One woman, her face still flushed brilliant red after finishing the Women’s 4.6-kilometer Classic, crowed to everyone she met about how wonderful it was to finally get out on snow.
“The snow-making crew did an amazing job,” Chisholm Ski Club member Paul Jones of Dixfield said. “They had a one- or two-day window to make a lot of snow that was needed to create the course. Over the course of 12 hours, they made it, cured it – drained the water out of it – and spread it.”
But the heroes of the day were club members Peter Volkernick and Mike Burke, who worked the course’s trickiest corner all day long, constantly filling in snow and smoothing the surface in between skiers, Jones said.
“It’s been hectic, but it’s good, although we went through an awful lot of skiers today,” a very tired and chilled Adams said.