SANDWICH - The second largest high school Nordic ski race east of the Mississippi was held on the Sandwich Fairgrounds on Saturday, when 780 middle and high school ski team members hit the 4.8-kilometer race trail for the first of two New Hampshire Nordic Coaches Association series races.
The event attracted a total crowd of about 2,000 skiers, parents, coaches volunteers and spectators, nearly doubling the historic town's population of 1,326. Saturday's race was co-directed by Steve Olafsen, Nordic coach at the Inter-Lakes School District and Leo Greene, director of the Sandwich Parks and Recreation Department.
Olafsen, a member of the New Hampshire Nordic Coaches Association site committee, said conditions were ideal, thanks to many volunteers who shoveled snow over the ice on the race trail this week. "We spent a lot of time getting it ready," he said, adding the venue was changed from Lebanon, due to lack of snow.
"About a week ago, I was grooming mush and water, then it froze up. We had a great group of volunteers throwing snow on the ice this week and everything worked very well. I lost sleep over it though, but conditions held up," said Olafsen
In the 15 years he and his wife, Tracey, have hosted middle school Nordic races, he has seen the sport grow with the number of students on a team tripling to about 200. He said the appeal is that kids want to get outdoors and enjoy the winter. Olafsen spends a lot of time teaching his skiers how to dress for the weather, a key to enjoying winter sports.
Olafsen thanked the town of Sandwich and all of the Inter-Lakes volunteers who supported the race.
"For myself, just to look out today and see high school and junior high school skiers out there enjoying themselves is very heartwarming," he said.
On the sidelines during races on Saturday, many students said they enjoy the sport because it's more relaxed than competitive downhill skiing. Drew Hodson, a Holderness School sophomore from Connecticut, said he shifted from Alpine racing to Nordic racing partly due to the significant time commitment required as a member of the school's Alpine team and hour and a half round-trip commute to and from the ski mountain. Drew said Nordic skiing is a friendlier, more relaxed sport.
His parents, Marybeth and Tom Hodson, volunteered at the race finish line.
"The size of this event is unbelievable," said Tom Hodson. "It's just amazing. I can't believe all these kids are here."
Parent volunteer Jen Hall, whose daughter Audrey is part of the Plymouth High School co-ed team, said Nordic skiing is great conditioning for other sports. She said the different teams also support one another, and cheer each other on. "There's just this real good sportsmanship," she added.
Fall Mountain High School student racers Sonja Hansson and Jordan Hewes of Langdon were all smiles after the High School Girl's A category races. Both girls said they have raced for several years now.
What attracts them to the sport? "It's fun. It's a good environment. .. and we have cow suits," said Hansson, as the girls posed for a photo in the school's cow-themed (black and white spots) ski suits. They, too, were grateful for the relatively mild weather conditions and for the terrain.
"The snow is wicked nice," said Hewes.
The second race in the series will be held on Sat., Feb. 8 at White Mountain Regional High School.
Results of Saturday's race are expected to be posted on the New Hampshire Nordic Coaches Association web site, www.nhnordiccoaches.org.