Skiing! Snowshoeing! Drifts so deep you need a shovel to find the checkpoints! But then we saw this:
Burlington, VT hit 72F today. This smashes the daily and all-time monthly records.
— NWS Burlington (@NWSBurlington) February 25, 2017
Ok, so our classic winter event won’t be typical this year, maybe it’ll be a warm-weather trail run.
The weather report for the next 5 days looks like this: 45, 32, 2, 30, 46.
Guess which day I'm gonna be racing in the woods for 10 hours.
— Brian Staveley (@BrianStaveley) March 2, 2017
Or, we could have a brutal single-day cold snap. The Frigid Infliction: Truth In Advertising!
With a forecasted high of 2 degrees and winds gusting to 40mph, it wouldn’t be a warm-weather anything… in fact, it would be the coldest Frigid since it started 12 years ago!
After much of the snow melted, Bolton warned us that the nordic trails were mostly solid ice or wet rocks – not particularly ideal for skiing.
When the temps dropped, those wet rocks turned to icy rocks. Much better!
It was not much better. We notified teams that skiing was unlikely and they could choose a microspike trail run instead.
Teams weren’t deterred by the lousy weather.
Lots of new racers accepted the challenge and some regulars showed up for their 11th, 12th, 13th, or even 15th GMARA event.
On Saturday morning, the pre-race briefing started at 6:15 (two hours later than most years). Racers were told that they’d need to spend more time strategizing this year, because there was no order to the points on the course.
Our plan was to require a minimum of 5 checkpoints on each discipline with teams choosing how to start (skis or snowshoes), where to go, which points to get, and how soon to switch from one set of gear to the other.
Without skis, that switch was less noticeable, but we did still enforce a gear transition between snowshoeing and postholing.
GMARA always tries to be polite and friendly, so we gave the racers some extra indoor time for map study. Then, we kicked them out into the cold for race start.
Temperatures were hovering around -8, but at least it wasn’t too windy. Yet.
We heard after the race that the different nav choices were one of the best parts of the event. Too often, teams at the Frigid end up following each other, making a snowshoe-trail conga line. We do what we can to break that up, but to some extent it’s unavoidable when there are required checkpoints in a certain order. On this course, almost every point had trails coming and going in multiple directions.
Oh good, there’s the snow and wind that we were all missing.
Racers that were hoping for a cold but clear morning quickly realized that better visibility was not in the cards.
For those whose strategy had the more difficult points early in the day, the timing of the storm would prove to be a major wrench in the works.
Here’s a shot of Bonus Point D, taken in happier times. This is “Stowe View” a lovely lookout at about 3100 feet. The checkpoint flag is straight ahead, though it’s not visible – it’s a few meters downhill behind some of that brush.
Now imagine that same view, but add icy snow gusting uphill from Stowe at 40mph, and you’ll see why even with great navigation skills some teams just couldn’t find BPD. We’d post a photo but (as one team said) it looked a lot like this.
It was so cold…
…that water bottles needed wool socks!
…that beards collected decorations!
…that multiple compasses froze!
…that orienteering punches snapped in half!
…that eyelashes froze together!
Eventually, the wind let up a bit, the snow stopped blowing sideways, and racers started passing through the TA again to pick up or drop off snowshoes.
Never has the Bolton Nordic Center smelled more enticing.
While the Frigid racers fought to keep their toes and fingers from falling off, the first ever “Test Your Nettle” was starting back in the Nordic Center.
A new non-competitive event from GMARA, the Nettle was designed to let teams practice their navigation and adventure-racing skills without requiring an 8-12 hour commitment and a huge pile of expensive gear.
From new teams who had never used a compass in the wild to experienced racers introducing friends to the sport, they all received the same maps that Frigid Infliction racers were using, and similar instructions.
After a gear check and a short pre-race briefing, adventurers age 6 to 59 set out to tackle as much (or as little) of the course as they wanted.
Before too long, teams from both events began arriving at the finish — in surprisingly high spirits given the ridiculous weather, lack of skiing, numb extremities, and ridiculous weather.
Seems like adventure racers might just love a good adventure!
Once the course was cleared, everyone made their way to The Ponds for a great post-race dinner – including free Conehead IPA from Zero Gravity Brewing.
“Raise your hand if you can’t feel your toes!”
Actually, this was “Raise your hand if you still need a ticket for the prize raffle from our awesome sponsors!”
We had another amazing prize pool with high-end gear from Mammut USA, Ski Vermont, Burton, Skida, and OGE.
The best result of the day goes to the Mercators in the 2-person open division, clearing the entire course with two hours to spare, while the Raid International Gaspesie team won the 3-person open division. Full race results are posted for anyone who wants to compare details.
Along with new gear, racers always love the chance to race again. Thanks to our friends up north, we were able to give away a free race entry to the Raid International Gaspesie 3-day stage race in September (check out this teaser) and Strong Machine adventure racing also donated a 50% off entry to the Maine Summer AR in June.
We’re definitely expecting another GMARA team to race in Maine this summer and hopefully we’ll be able to send a U.S. team to the Raid as well – you should join us!
Another big thanks to the volunteers! We couldn’t do this without our support crew. If you’d like to volunteer, let us know, the position comes with a nice t-shirt twice a year.
Photos are up in the usual spot, please share!
If you’ve got photos, videos, blog posts, GPS tracks or stories from the trail, please send a note to email@example.com with details and we’ll get them up here. Here’s what we’ve got so far:
- Strava flyby with many different teams from both Frigid & Nettle.
- A race writeup from Chaos Raid and Directionally Challenged
- A writeup from Green Adrenaline
- A note from the Mercators on route choice.
A short story to close things out: While most teams were ready to sit in a hot tub or find a warm place to sleep after Saturday’s challenges, the Mercators hiked up to Bolton Lodge (not too far from the dinner location, unheated, with a door that wouldn’t close) and spent the night there in -10 degree weather. They woke up the next morning and gathered checkpoints from the course for us – 6,7,11,12,14,17, and BPA, all before lunchtime. Thanks, neighbors!
Watch your email for an invite – the Bitter Pill is coming on August 12th to Sugarbush.
Thanks for racing!
– The GMARA Crew