Graves on Nordic

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Peter Graves

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.

(left) NENSA Eastern Cup race (above right) Crafts­bury Tour­ing Cen­ter is a boon to the out­door fit­ness crowd.

(top) Crafts­bury's Judy Geer (l) and Peter Graves chat about the Cen­ter's pas­sion for Nordic ski­ing.

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