It all began with a text massage from Glenn Goodman: “Doug, I have a wild idea. Lake Placid Loppet is this Saturday. Think about it.”
Wow. I had been to Lake Placid twice before during the late spring and had one day hoped to ski the Mt. Van Hovenburg trail system – the same trails used in the 1980 Winter Olympics. How could I say no to this opportunity?
Having just finished the final Michigan Cup event – the relays at XC Ski Headquarters – I had already begun to think about the upcoming bicycling and backpacking season. I did a little research and found out that the race had been originally scheduled for February 25, but due to a lack of snow, was rescheduled for March 18. Winter storm Stella was predicted to hit the area on March 14 and 15, so the event would have absolutely phenomenal conditions.
So I took my skis out of the storage bag and started waxing.
Glenn picked me up on Friday, March 17, and as we headed east through Canada towards New York the snow depth increased dramatically. The Lake Placid area received the most snow of the entire storm – over 40 inches! We arrived at Mt. Van Hovenburg in time to register for the race and test ourselves on the trails. We realized right away that this would be the hilliest course we had ever skied. The trail was groomed to perfection and we had a blast carving the corners at nearly 30 miles-per-hour.
Doug trying out the trail the night before the race
But the climbs were something else altogether. “Make sure to climb in your comfort zone,” Glenn suggested. “If you push too hard, you’ll die.” I hoped he meant figuratively, not literally!
Against my better judgement, I decided to follow Glenn’s example and ski the 50k freestyle event. Why not? We drove 10 hours, I might as well get my money’s worth!
Doug and Glenn at Mt. Van Hovenburg
Under brilliant sunshine Glenn and I lined up at the starting line with 30 other racers. The temperature was a comfortable 15 degrees, but would warm to nearly 30 degrees before 1 PM. Bang! The race was off but I could only watch in awe as former Olympic Biathlete Duncan Douglas pulled away from the pack and disappeared over the first hill. This race course has over 3,500 feet of climbing per lap, and I swear we climbed all of those feet in the first 10 kilometers. The downhills were screaming fast yet very controllable due to the beautiful, Pistenbully-groomed snow.
The course forms a sort of “figure 8,” and the 50k skiers were to complete two entire laps. Each half-lap passed through the main stadium, and it was thrilling to ski on the same ground as Olympians. The second half-lap began by entering a brief tunnel, where the course flowed much more like a typical northern Michigan trail. After 25k of skiing, we emerged back at the stadium to begin our second lap.
Skiers emerge from the Tunnel
As I skied alone on a long climb for the second time, I allowed myself to enjoy the beauty and silence that surrounded me. I was going to finish this event no matter how long it would take!
“You can do it!” a spectator yelled as I single-sticked my way up a vertical pitch. I crested the summit and with wobbly legs, dropped into a tuck and blasted the descent. I re-entered the stadium area, had a PowerGel and a drink of water, and headed back out for my final loop. By now my skis were slowing significantly in the bright sunlight, so I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. I had missed my first goal of finishing in under 3 hours, but now I was skiing so I could claim my “Lake Placid Loppet Finisher” award. Finally, I reached the tunnel and knew that I was just minutes away from completing what many say is “The most difficult loppet in the world.”
Over 3,500 feet of climbing
To a host of cheers I crossed the line in 3:32, which put me in 23rd place overall and 5th in the 50-59 age group. Glenn, who skied most of the first lap with the lead pack, fared much better. He completed the race in 3:09, which was 11th overall and good for a 3rd place age group finish.
Later that day Glenn said to me, “You know, nothing we ever ski again will be that difficult.”
I agreed. But I also wondered if I’d be able to remember this just nine months from now, when the next Michigan Cup season begins.