“The Nicolet Nor-Ski was a blast!” That seemed to be the agreed upon response by all of the racers who participated in the revived Wisconsin race by the Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski Club. As I drove up to the venue for the first time I knew it was going to be an amazing race before I even put my skis on. I raced all over the midwest in my 5 years racing in college and before that in high school. As assistant coach for the Ashwaubenon team, I was able to preview the course while testing wax for the high school race. Right away I could tell this was not the typical course in the midwest. The climbs were long and winding and the trails were wide with lots of room for plenty of skiers.
The high school race went off with a bang and the 7k course challenged those high schoolers lucky enough to attend. The venue had the perfect combination of flats and nasty long climbs to challenge the fastest high schoolers while allowing those beginning the sport to have fun. About an hour later the citizens race took off. I decided to hop in the 36 k skate race, which was definately my longest ski of the season. I was not quite ready for how awesome the day was going to turn out. With a weekend full of ski races, the lucky one who attended were in for the treat of the season. The skate race strung out quite well in the first kilometer allowing myself to lead at a leisurely pace (per my request.) The first 5k was fairly rolling, but just enough to make sure people wouldn´t be too bunched together, allowing myself and Matt Zak to ski alone at the front together. On the first long climb of the day I looked back and told Matt it looked like it would be just the 2 of us, so we decided to take turns leading eachother.
At first exchanging the lead was fairly friendly, just ensuring we would not be caught from behind but not challenging eachother, but friendships in ski races can only last so long before the competitiveness comes out. The climbs were brutal, they were steep, long and like nothing I had known existed outside of the mountains. The pace began to quicken as we were climbing and we began switching leads more often and pushing harder over the top. After a few more than well manned feed stations and multiple long climbs we reached the turn-around loop. This loop had the longest climb on the course, which Matt took the lead up and pushed well over the top as we hit the 20k mark, that was the point where I stood up at the top and thought that 2nd place is pretty neat. From that point on I was skiing alone sometimes catching glimpses of Matt increasing his lead on me. It was not until 4k left to go that I realized how amazing this course truely is. The two final climbs of the Nicolet Nor-Ski had me contemplating taking my skis off in order to get up them. I have never seen such steep hills. From that point on it was a fast, and sweeping finish into the finish which allowed me to collect myself to look halfway decent coming across the finish.
All in all the course was amazing, and I had a blast but that´s not what makes a race. What makes this race great was the people not skiing. From registration, to the course volunteers handing out feeds, to the race organizers, to the those at the road crossing, and everyone involved, that is what made this revived event so amazing. I have skied many races, but this is one of those few that is definately worth every second. I want to thank everyone involved, because there is nothing like finishing the hardest race ever to walk inside the race lodge to great food and people.