CRAFTSBURY — Extreme weather drives certain people away from Vermont’s coldest areas this time of year.
But during the next few days, Craftsbury is guaranteed to be a hot spot.
The Northeast Kingdom town has a population of 1,177, and there could be just as many visitors this weekend during the 37th annual Craftsbury Ski Marathon.
This year’s schedule kicks off with traditional classic racing, with participants completing distances of 16, 33 or 50 kilometers. Organizers are adding a new twist this year by including 16k and 30k freestyle competitions Sunday. Race-day registration is allowed, but 342 racers are already signed up to compete in the classic race. The skating race has 190 entrants and both days will be part of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard SuperTour Festival.
The action will kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday with a wave of high school racers leaving the start line at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Women will begin at 9:30 a.m. and men will start at 9:45. Youth skiers and their chaperones will head out at 9:50 a.m. Competitors will reach the 5k mark at Elinor’s Hill and will continue up Sam’s Run before reaching the 10k mark midway through Dante’s Loop. The tracks will continue along Vivian’s Fields before heading down Ruthie’s Run and back toward the start/finish area next to the Fitness Center.
On Sunday, the men’s field will have a mass start at 9 a.m. The women’s race will begin at 9:15 a.m. prior to the final wave of children and chaperones at 9:30 a.m. Awards ceremonies will take place at 2:15 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
This year’s start list features a handful of past winners and other elite skiers, so the battle for top honors is likely up for grabs. Kris Freeman double-poled the entire course while prevailing two years ago, and the four-time Olympian will be one of the pre-race favorites again for the 50k classic race. Another top contender is Green Mountain Valley School coach Colin Rodgers, who also raced on the World Cup circuit and won the Stowe Derby three weeks ago.
Eli Enman is the undisputed king of consistency at the Craftsbury Marathon and will be another skier to watch. The 41-year-old is a coach at CVU, where he graduated in 1995, and he helps his family run the Sleepy Hollow Inn Bike and Ski Center in Huntington.
He recorded top-10 finishes at the Craftsbury Marathon during 16 of the past 17 years, and the lone blemish on that streak is because he didn’t race in 2015. Enman was runner-up in 2003 and 2004 before placing third in 2005. He won the 2006 and 2007 events before placing third in 2009, second in 2012 and third in 2014. He hasn’t slowed down, finishing seventh in 2017 and eighth last year.
Craftsbury’s Ethan Dreissigacker is another familiar face near the lead pack and he should be strong again Saturday. He placed ninth in 2012, 2013 and 2018, and he was fifth in 2017. He’ll be joined by fellow Craftsbury racers Damian Bolduc, Wesley Vear, Bruce Lindwall, Robert Linck and Jeremy Fellinger.
Stowe will be represented by Chris Burnham, Neal Graves and Stuart Stevens in the 50k. They’ll battle for cross-town bragging rights against Waterbury’s Andy Bishop, Tom Thurston and Stephen Wright. Duxbury’s Eric Eley, Randolph’s Brendan Barden and Elmore’s Arthur Matisen round out the Central Vermont men.
Nils Koons won last year’s 50k classic race in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 51 seconds, while Craftsbury’s Hannah Dreissigacker was the women’s winner in 3:01:48. Dreissigacker is a Peoples Academy graduate who raced Nordic for Dartmouth College and competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in biathlon. She is likely to be one of the top females again Saturday, but she’ll have to hold off 2014 Craftsbury Marathon winner Elissa Bradley. West Burke’s Lindley van der Linde, who won in 2006 and 2007, is also expected to start.
Two more skiers in the mix could be East Thetford’s Emily Stitt and Huntington’s Kasie Enman. Stitt has fared well recently in the 50k and has solid course knowledge. Enman, who is married to Eli, won the world mountain running championships in 2011.
Stowe’s Sara Graves and Barre’s Ella Bouffard will also tackle the 50k distance along with Orleans competitor Lindy Sargent, mother of U.S. Ski Team sprinter Ida Sargent. They’ll have company from Craftsbury’s Linda Ramsdell, Audrey Magnan and Lucy Donaghy.
One of the heavy-hitters for Sunday’s 33k freestyle race will be Craftsbury’s Adam Martin. The 24-year-old graduated from Northern Michigan University and recently recorded a trio of podium finishes at the U.S. National Championships. At the start of the winter his travel schedule was extra busy because of World Cup races in Norway and Switzerland. Three weeks ago, he placed second during nationals — held in Craftsbury — during a 15k classic race.
Burnham, Graves, Shelburne’s Jake Hollenbach and Craftsbury’s Ollie Burruss are four other strong skaters gearing up for the 33k race. Waterbury’s Dan Greenleaf and Luke Sullenberger are also registered for the freestyle event, along with Plainfield’s Nicolas Petterssen, Morrisville’s Matt Lane and East Hardwick’s Roger Prevot and Danville’s Griffin Wright.
Craftsbury’s Elizabeth Guiney is one of the biggest names signed up for the women’s freestyle race. The 27-year-old is a University of New Hampshire graduate who placed 13th at a World Cup race in 2017. She’ll have to contend with Hannah Dreissigacker in addition to Elmore’s Kaitlynn Miller, who represented the U.S. in the 2018 Olympics. Kasie Enman and two-time mountain biking Olympian Lea Davison don’t have as much ski racing experience as the front-runners, but big engines could help them compensate.
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center has been open 80 days this season and boasts 105 kilometers of open trails following 104 inches of snowfall. Temperatures are expected to hover between 5 and 28 degrees this weekend.