LAKE PLACID - A celebration of skiing. A celebration of the outdoors.
That's how the atmosphere felt during the 31st Lake Placid Loppet cross-country ski races on the trails at the Olympic Sports Complex on Saturday, Jan. 26.
More than 360 skiers participated in the races, which included freestyle and classic technique styles at both 50- and 25-kilometer distances.
Bundled and bandaged up to ward off the cold, Lake Placid’s David Hunter of Lake Placid finishes the 25-kilometer classic race of the 31st Lake Placid Loppet Jan. 26 at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
After a lack of snow forced the cancellation of the Loppet a year ago, and following a bone-chilling cold snap earlier in the week, competitors skied under bright blue skies in brisk, but not biting temperatures. For many, including the hoards of locals who took to the trails, the cold. crisp, sunny day made for ideal conditions.
"It's so beautiful out there," said Mike Richter, the former star goaltender of the New York Rangers. "It's such a great spot in the woods here, and to be outdoors on a day like this, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I had a great time today."
Richter, who owns a home in Lake Placid, skied in the 25k freestyle race, and said he was impressed with the quantity and the quality of skiers who competed.
"I'm a competitive guy, but there are some great skiers out here," he said. "A race like this really shows you at what point you stand in the crowd. My goal was to finish this race and enjoy myself. I accomplished both."
Robert Duncan Douglas, a longtime competitor at endurance events in Lake Placid, won the overall 50k freestyle title. He finished the two-loop, 25k course in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 38.39 seconds. The 47-year old from Honeoye Falls finished 16 seconds ahead of his friend and runner-up Jason Hetenbaugh, who hails from the same hometown.
"This is probably the best course in North America," said Douglas, who represented the United States as a biathlete at the 1992 and '94 Olympic Winter Games. "The trails are challenging and well laid out, and you get a nice mix of skiers with different abilities. It's a race for everybody."
Two Quebec visitors who were first-time competitors in the race also took home titles. Veronique Fortin, a 33-year-old from Gatineau, had an incredible performance in winning the women's overall 25k freestyle crown. It marked the first time Fortin has ever raced on cross-country skis, and she won in 1:25:12.9, which was also good enough for ninth place overall in the race.
"I'm a cyclist, and a bunch of friends who I ride with got me to come here," Fortin said. "I really wanted to just try to have fun and see if I was up for the challenge. I did really well on the uphills, but the downhills were tricky. I really had to concentrate on keeping my balance."
Matthew Piper, an All-American skier from Paul Smith's College, took the men's 25k freestyle overall win in 1:15:38.06.
Another one of the numerous Quebec skiers who visited, James Coulton, won the men's 25k classic race in 1:20:31.6 while Ottawa's Anna Crawford won the women's championship in 1:30:15.34, which was also good enough for fifth overall.
Bruce MacNeil of Rosemere, Quebec won the overall 50k classic title, finishing more than 10 minutes ahead of the next closest racer. In his first appearance in the Loppet, the 41-year-old won in 2:58.55.55, with Erick Sime of Avon, Conn. placing second in 3:09.35.09.
"I heard about this race from my friends," MacNeil said. "I think this is the hardest competition I've ever done in terms of the terrain. There's nothing like it. I was hoping to place well and winning was just a bonus. It was fun and demanding."
Matt Cook, a Saranac Lake native who is attending Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, returned to the Adirondacks for the race and placed fourth overall in the 50k Classic. He crossed the line in 3:16:00.32.
"It was good to be back home again. It was nice to be back on skis again," said Cook, a former member of the U.S. Nordic Combined national team. "It was a little nerve racking being in a race again, and I would like to think I held it together. It was tough, but I had a blast."
While some skiers were racing for titles, Saranac Lake's John Dimon was just happy to be out on the trails doing what he likes to do best. Dimon was in the 25k classic race and finished 62nd overall, crossing the line in 2:15:02.79.
"It's been about 20 years since I've last been in this race," Dimon said. "I was hoping to do this last year but the race didn't happen, and I wasn't going to miss it this year. I saw so many friends out here. This race draws a ton of good local skiers.
"I moved here in 1987, and the people I met in this race back then are still coming back," Dimon added. "There is a big group of endurance-type athletes in our area, and I'd like to think I'm one of them. I love biking, roller-blading and cross country skiing is my favorite. Being in a race like this really makes me feel like I'm part of the community."
Greg Stratford, who has been the Lake Placid Loppet race director for more than 20 years, said the event couldn't take place without the dedication of the crew of about 50 Olympic Regional Development Authority employees and volunteers who dedicate themselves to making the event first-rate.
"It was an awesome day," Stratford said. "What I take the greatest pride in is knowing we have a group of workers and volunteers who really make this race work. Everybody is doing their job and knows what they are doing. We were fortunate to have pretty good snow cover after the thaw, but there were spots on the course where we had to do a lot of shoveling."
"For the most part, the colder temperatures kept the snow right where we wanted it," Stratford added. "We were a little concerned earlier in the week that we might have to push the race back a little bit on Saturday due to the cold, but that didn't happen. The temperatures warmed up slightly during the day. When the sun popped up over the ridge, it was a balmy 1 degree. It was 6 degrees at 10 a.m., and at noon, it was 10.
"This race has a very loyal clientele that comes back each year all revved up and ready to go. It's a fun race and I'd love to see that it gets the notoriety that it deserves."