As the Ski-Orienteering "Chair" for the New York State Ski Racing
Association (NYSSRA), I have to coordinate the Ski-O schedule across
New York, and line up the officials for our Championship event, the
Empire State Games Ski-O competition. This year we had to make some
changes in our approach. Our Course Setter of the last several years,
Eric Hamilton, had decided he would finally succumb to his wife's
desire for a winter cruise vacation over the February school holiday
week, and so he would not be around to prepare the maps and set the
courses for our race on the Saturday ending that week. While I hated
to lose his expertise, and the knowledge of the venue that he has
gained after several years of setting courses at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, I
was perhaps more disappointed that this would mean I probably wouldn't
be able to race this year, because I was the next logical choice to
become Course Setter.
You can't very well assign the course setting to someone from a part of the state so distant from Lake Placid that it won't allow them to get up there to go over the course and potential control locations at least once, if not twice. That leaves a pretty small cadre of people, particularly if you factor in the need to have the courses (as well as any map corrections) plotted in OCAD, for ease of competition map production. These tasks could perhaps be spread over more than one person, but in our small world, every person who works on the course is one less person who can actually race, so we always try to limit the number of people who KNOW TOO MUCH. Of course, this did have the advantage of allowing me to "retire" from competition as a reigning Gold Medalist, and thus "go out on top." So with that as a mental justification, I assigned myself the Course Setter job, corralled Rick and Dayle Lavine to take over my former Meet Director tasks, and made sure I had Eric's OCAD files from last year's map before he left.
Since the needs of the Empire State Games keep strongly pushing us back to Mt. Van Hoevenberg, it has been difficult over the years to come up with enough new route choices to make the event interesting for ESG veterans. I won't say that I was totally successful in dealing with this problem, but the fact that some of the winners chose routes that were different from many other competitors says that it was at least not obvious how you reach every control point. Plus, I had another factor to account for. By the time course setting got serious, I knew that this year none of New York's finest Ski-Orienteers were going to be able to go to Bulgaria and compete as members of the US Ski-O Team (except former New Yorker but current ex-patriot Carl Fey, who now lives in Europe). This meant they would be competing in this year's ESG's.
As a result, my initial course design goal became: come up with a Blue course which would take US Champion Scott Pleban at least one hour to complete. All the other course lengths backed off from there. In the end, I think I hit it about right on the Blue, Green, and Orange courses, but the Red was probably a bit too long, or had too much climb. There is bound to be a fairly wide range of times on each course, but I think winning times of 60-75 minutes for the adult classes and 45-60 for the Scholastic classes seem appropriate (and the pairing of the Female Masters with the Male Scholastics on the Green seems to achieve both these targets at once). Following are descriptions of what some of the medalists and top competitors did, along with relevant sections of the map with which they had to deal.
Scott Pleban made one unique choice; no other Blue racer did
this. Going to Blue #1, he skied along the unplowed road (from which
the old "no skiing" label had been explicitly removed this year) past
where everyone else had cut in to the ski trail system, which was
visible at that point, and on to the next point where they became
close. The ski trail was a bit further off from there, and not
visible, but he read the terrain and picked the correct point at which
to bushwhack up to it (keeping his skis on). From there he had a more
direct route up and over to the control, and the extra bushwhack
time/distance was minimal.
Control #3 on Blue and #2 on Red were the same, and involved the same choices. Scott selected a route I did not anticipate, avoiding the ups and downs of the more direct medium width trail, and going around on the faster wide trail where he could really fly, before heading directly up to the flag. In this case, the choice really depended upon what each individual's skiing strengths were, because many others, including Silver Medalist Rick Lavine did what I had expected and went "up the short ungroomed trail and over the three peaks." This way you lost no elevation immediately after climbing (and gasping) up "The Russian," but you did have the downs after each peak leading to Hi Notch, whereas Scott did all his downhill at once, followed by a very direct climb.
For #4(Blue) & #3(Red), I had the control at a bend point where I initially thought I might lure some unwary souls into attempting a bushwhack which would cost them lots of time as they floundered around in deep snow for a substantial distance. Boy was I wrong! On race day, the snow condition was such that if you took your skis off, you would definitely step through the crust and into snow well up over your knees. But if you kept your skis on, the off-trail crust was stout enough to allow you to ski quite nicely across the top of the snow pack. Blue course racers should have found this out going to #1, and Reds might have noticed it going to their #2, but only Scott and two others (judging by the number of tracks I saw when picking up the flags) decided to try the bushwhack shortcut on skis to #4-#3. By my own measure, this easily saved several minutes, no matter how awkward your passage amongst the trees, even using kick-less skating skis and with your poles poking all the way through to the ground.
But more real route choice challenges lay ahead, on the "biathlon" (north) side of the access road. There were 7 controls there, and each of the four courses had a slightly different mix of them. One of the more interesting legs was Red #6, which was also Green #3. Gold medalist Ann Leonard went the way most did, following the slightly shorter route by turning left and climbing, then turning right and going down to the control. But, she later said "I should have stayed low, I think, as I ended up climbing a lot extra, and I don't think it saved me much on the overall distance." From the reports I've received, the only people to take the almost certainly faster route, staying low beyond the control and then climbing back up to it, were Rick Lavine and Female Master 4th place finisher Nancy Allen. Besides the extra climbing effort most people chose to put out, the up & down route required one to make a very hard and sudden stop on a steep and scraped off pitch, which caused a face plant or two. This in turn made it even harder for the next person to successfully stop there, all of which made for interesting viewing by the ski tourists going through that area from the Cascade Ski Center.
The route to Green #1-Red #4 proved difficult for a number of people. Silver medalist Sue Hawkes-Teeter actually found herself at Green #4 first, then bushwhacked (on foot) east to get back on the right group of trails. Interestingly, it appears no one tried to bushwhack to the control on skis from the south, perhaps because the forest looked quite thick at the junction areas where decisions had to be made.
Another common problem was getting back from the north side of the access road to either of the penultimate controls back on the south side. On the map this looks quite easy, with either the bridge or the tunnel east of the biathlon range being acceptable choices. But in real life, as the by now weary racers headed south, they found that despite the wide-open nature of that area, and contrary to their expectation, they could not actually see either crossing point until they were right upon it, which led several people to miss them and hit the road. Both Rick and Gold medalist Dayle Lavine ended up running down the highway back to the ski area before getting onto the snow and their skis.
Perhaps in emulation of what had been seen in recent coverage of Olympic races, we had some spectacular collapses at and around the Finish Line. First prize for the coveted "Finish Line Style" trophy was a very close decision, but in the end the judges presented the award to Mariana Bartonicek, who crash landed perfectly, just across the line. Second prize goes to Rick Lavine, who perhaps was so startled by finding anyone else around to watch him finish that he came completely unglued and went head over heels a good 15 meters before reaching the line, and then was unable to get himself back up again for what I am sure felt like an eternity. Third prize goes to Marty Hawkes-Teeter, whose collapse beyond the Finish was judged to be a nice try, but perhaps a bit too staged.
Thanks to all the Meet helpers and participants, and to the correspondents who helped provide me with ideas and material. Now if we could just have a little more snow next winter....
And they're off...
|Gary Brackett||Willem Oswald|
|Marty Hawkes-Teeter and Scott Pleban|
At the finish...
last updated: --Thu May 27 2004 07:58:28 PM EDT--