Any time most of the SMS team shows up for a rollerski race, you’re going to have a legit competition. That was the theme in Lake Placid over the weekend, as Stratton Mountain School skiers headlined deep New England fields in the third annual Keys to the Castle sprint race and the 16th annual Climb to the Castle hillclimb, held on the Mt Van Hoevenberg rollerski trails and up Whiteface Mountain, respectively.
The women’s field saw Julia Kern race, and win, on both days. For the men, Ben Ogden won everything in sight in Saturday’s sprint, then Jack Lange led the way in Sunday’s hill climb.
All three athletes are members of both SMST2 and the U.S. Ski Team. The weekend featured, by my calculations, the country’s deepest fields for any formal rollerski race so far this summer. (I’m not trying to litigate Keys to the Castle vs. sprint day at Alaska REG; just, I don’t have public results for the latter that I can share, so I’m calling it not a formal rollerski race. Keys to the Castle it is.)
Saturday’s sprint was held in a Queen’s Court format, ensuring all athletes the chance to race three full rounds as well as the qual. The course was the rare homologable rollerski course in this country, with, per Strava, 49 meters of total climb, including a max climb I calculate as 20 meters, over 1.4 kilometers.
At some level, it may not have mattered what the course profile looked like; Ben Ogden was going to be the fastest. Indeed, Ogden perhaps predictably, but nonetheless impressively, won the qual… by over 12 seconds. His mark for the day’s opening round was 2:41.72; Aidan Ripp (Paul Smith’s College) was second in 2:53.90. Anders Linseisen (Mansfield Nordic) was another 5+ seconds back in third (2:59.37).
There were similar themes on the women’s side: Julia Kern, first, in 3:10.33, then an almost identical 12-second gap back to second (Lauren Jortberg, also SMS, 3:22.54). Third-fastest woman in the qual was Anna Jaklova (Lifeski Academy), just behind Jortberg in 3:23.01.
The results of the qual pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. Ogden won everything, including first the top quarterfinal, then the top semifinal, and then the final, to take the day’s overall win. Ripp was second in all three rounds to finish second overall. Jack Lange started the day by qualifying in sixth, but then won his quarterfinal to move up to the top heat, where he was third in both the semi and the final to finish third overall.
For her part, Kern qualified in 12th overall in the combined male–female field. She was fourth out of four in her first heat to move down one heat; won her heat in the next round to move back up a heat; and then placed third in the final. She finished the day in 11th overall.
Jaklova and Jortberg, in that order, made up the rest of the day’s women’s podium. They were 22nd and 23rd overall.
The junior men’s podium featured Ellis Slover (Gould Academy), Anders Linseisen (Mansfield Nordic), and Niko Cuneo (Mansfield Nordic), in that order. For the junior women, it was Ava Thurston (SMS), Elsa Sanborn (Mansfield Nordic), and Virgina Cobb (Mansfield Nordic).
The following morning, it was time to go uphill. Fast. Well, at least sort of fast. You know, because the race course climbed roughly 690 meters over 8km.
The Climb to the Castle race “was created by Margaret Maher who was at the time the Head Nordic Coach at NYSEF” or New York Ski Educational Foundation, NENSA advises on its website. Sunday’s race was the 16th running of this contest. The race’s inaugural year was 2007, when Duncan Douglas, universally known in nordic circles as “Jacked Up Old Man,” famously took the win atop what has been described as a pair of “custom V2s.” A 2010 article would later refer to Kris Freeman battling unnamed “inferior competition with superior rollerskis” in the race’s early runnings, which likely denotes this incident.
Humorously, Douglas, who is now 57 years old, still holds the CR on the relevant Strava segment.
All of which is to say that the top 15 seeded male and female competitors on Sunday morning raced on matched Swenors. They had no. 2 speed wheels, which may interest you if you are as much of a nerd as this reporter.
The wheel speed was number two, but 39 minutes later, Jack Lange had claimed spot number one atop the podium. The winning time for the SMS/Dartmouth skier was 39:00.2. Second place overall was Logan Moore (Middlebury, 26 seconds back), with Aidan Ripp (Paul Smith’s, +1:29.6) third.
For the women, Julia Kern took her second victory of the weekend, crossing the line in 44:24.0. Second place went to Shea Brams of Middlebury, who was 1:28 back. Lauren Jortberg (SMS) was third, roughly 1:40 further back of Brams.
49 men and 28 women finished the long course hillclimb on skate skis. The classic field was two men deep.
In closing, I have to give a Masters athlete shoutout to James Meier, who was second of two in the classic division in a healthy 1:12:52. Meier is listed in the results as an M10 athlete, meaning that he is currently somewhere from 75 to 79 years old (indeed, he was 78 as of the 2023 Birkie Classic, which he also raced). I respect this.
— Gavin Kentch