I was really close from bailing on the Jay Peak race this year - 2hr 45min drive for an 8:30 start, sub-zero temps, FIRM conditions, and a $50 entry fee. My out was this and Wildcat was the next day (much closer and Fischer sponsored)... But Wildcat was cancelled, leaving me no choice but to head up to Jay!
I sucked it up and set the alarm for 4:30 and was out the door before 5. The drive was easy and before I knew it I was pushing Brian MacIlvain out of ditch just before arriving at the resort (that counted as my warm up). It was business as usual except a quick study on the course modifications.
Start was delayed until 9am'ish and our relatively small pack started up the first ascent. The course was 100% groomed terrain and Jay had received a dusting of snow making for excellent non-technical skinning. Usually it's bumped up with some icy sections but this year the slipping was minimal. Dan Gay and Brian took out the start at a good pace. I kept with them on the first climb, entering the transition area right with them. As I was stepping into my binding something didn't feel right and I looked down to see my heel piece had sheered off. I had a minor panic attack but quickly realized that it wasn't going to make much of a difference today. I put it in my chest pocket and locked in my other ski then started down the first descent. I was in the lead with Brian behind me. Dan, just 10 seconds behind us, managed to miss the first turn. I took it fairly conservative not wanting to crash or rip out my toe piece but was able to sit back and maintain control even without my left foot locked in. I did get some speed wobbles but as soon as it flattened out I was back in control.
At the pre-race meeting they drilled "just keep turning right" in our heads and I took a right just before the bottom, sending Brian and myself over to the Jet triple lift. We were both confused as to where we were, implementing that race tunnel vision, and not looking down the trail where the base lodge was very obvious. We skated around and up back to the starting area only to find a group of five racers already there, lead by Jerimy Arnold. We gave up around 1.5 minutes and now had to work our way back to the front. Brian had a quick transition and chased down Jerimy. I followed but never managed to close the gap. We repeated the first lap and put a small gap on the rest of the field. I managed to catch Jerimy on the transition and followed him down the second descent and was lead the right way back down to the start.
Brian flew in and out of the transition area and now Jerimy and I were chasing him up the last major climb. It's flat for the first half before starting a moderate climb. Brian put about 20 seconds on us here and Jerimy kept up for most of the climb but then started to fade slightly. The ascent traversed below the tram and into the wind via the Northway Trail to the Quad lift. Brian was still 10 second ahead and I had a decent transition matching his pace. I followed him on the last descent which was more groomers (Ullr's Dream) with a massive flat section at the bottom. We were both getting very cold at this point and it was clear that waxing a cold wax was giving me a boost on the flats.
I passed Brian heading into the final transition but stopped a little early looking for the flag and gave up my lead. Brian passed me heading up the final (short) climb and it was a sprint to the final transition area. I still had some gas in the tank and was making 10 second efforts to close the gap. Right as we crested to the transition area I was able to pass him and exited right before him BUT I forgot to lock out my boots and promptly fell over. Again, lead was gone and Brian caught me. We raced the beginner trail back to the finish. He was drafting me but couldn't make a pass as we hit the base lodge area and whipped around to the finish. 1hr 24mins for a FAST race with Brian 0.8 seconds behind.
It was great to catch up with the SkiMo East crew and our small SkiMo community in general. The race itself was enjoyable because the packs that formed kept it a true race where many times the racers spread out early and spend the rest of the time solo. The lead changes kept us pushing for the entirety of the course.