Graves on Nordic
by Peter Graves
It's no secret that thus far we've had a warmer-than-normal December across the East. There has been precious little snowfall and the warm temperatures have made it difficult to make much snow for many.
In mid-december, I drove to see a NENSA Eastern Cup two-day race that was held on just slightly longer than one kilometre of manmade snow. Craftsbury is located in the heart of Vermont's famed Northeast Kingdom – a picturesque rural setting that seems to jump out of a Robert Frost poem or a Norman Rockwell canvas. Most everything about Craftsbury Common, Vt. seems a picture postcard. That day, as the races got underway, there were heavy snow showers, adding precious white stuff to the course, but also creating a more fitting winter landscape.
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center began in 1976 when Russell Spring and his family purchased the Cutler Academy campus and began to revamp the facilities into lodging for both guests and athletes. A Nordic trail system was laid out. In addition to skiing, sculling and running, the place started to boom in service to the outdoor-fitness crowd. They served delicious homemade food and had a variety of lodging options.
More recently, things have changed greatly under current owners Judy Geer and her husband, Dick Dreissigacker. Both were Olympic rowers: Dreissigacker competed in the Munich Games, while Geer rowed at the Montreal and Los Angeles Olympic Games and was also named to the 1980 squad for the Moscow Games, in which the U.S did not take part.
Following more than 30 years of continuous growth, a new chapter began here when, in November 2008, Dreissigacker and Geer purchased the Center, reformed the company as a non-profit and set goals to transform it by protecting the nearby surrounding lakes, trails and land and promoting lifelong, healthy sports using sustainable practices.
I asked Geer about the origin of her and her husband's cross-country-ski motivations. “Although rowing was our original sport, once we moved to Northern Vermont, our winter passion became Nordic skiing. Our kids became very involved, thanks to the Outdoor Center and Coach Pepa Miloucheva. Skiing and, soon, biathlon became a huge part of our family life – and still is. For the kids, it brought them lifelong friends, college skiing and international competitions, including the Sochi Olympics for Hannah; and we wanted more kids and families to have this wonderful opportunity.”
Along the way, world-class trails – 85 kilometres in all – have been developed, along with a sizable arsenal of snowmaking equipment, a small lit loop and a gorgeous new sustainable ski-touring centre that includes gym facilities and wax rooms. Also part and parcel of the new building are delicious snacks from its main dining hall.
It also hosts a variety of events, from a large Bill Koch youth-ski league program, to Supertours and its popular distance marathon, along with a solid youth- and junior-racing program.
Nordic racers and ski tourers alike sing the praises of what's been accomplished.
One person said, “It's such a great opportunity to enjoy the out- doors here, you don't have to be a racer to love it. One of the strengths of this place is that one can enjoy the solitude of the outdoors or challenge yourself by watching some of the best racers in the country.” A top collegiate coach said, “Dick and Judy have been a very big part of the resurgence of cross-country skiing in New England; their “cando” attitude and willingness to take on a big challenge have provided unique opportunities for skiers to ski early in the season or late in the season on some really challenging terrain. The opportunities given to young athletes to help reach their goals is phenomenal.”
Craftsbury also supports an Elite racing team known as the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, or, more informally, the Green Team. The Green Team has been comprised of some of the nation's top skiing talent, such as Olympic athletes Ida Sargent, Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker, along with other athletes aspiring to reach the podium. The entire team supports sustainable systems and tries to influence others to make more environmentally-conscious decisions.
Nordic skiing is grateful for the efforts of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center – and places like them – that help grow the sport in a racing sense, but also further introduce all who are interested in discovering the joy of skiing.