A Season in Review
By Matt Mitsis
Every season is unique. You might even say that is one of the best parts about NEMS, besides the ski racing and the people of course. Each year brings with it new venues, new racers, new competition, new friendships, and yes, new challenges. Yet, while each season is unique, there are many things which remain constant. To understand what I’m talking about you simply need to stop and look around at any of our races. What do you see? You see people who have been coming to NEMS races for decades. You see friendships and rivalries that have stood the test of time. You see competitors pushing each other to be better. You see things that are otherwise nonexistent in most other sports. You see exactly what makes NEMS, and every season, so unique.
Starting the season in mid-January with a Super-G was never the intent when we put the schedule together. We said the schedule was going to be a bit different but not like this! However, a Nor’easter followed by an artic freeze and then a tropical depression really left us with no choice. With our wild weather in the rearview, or so we thought, we kicked off the season at Stratton with two amazing Super-G races. Yet it was not to be as the following day ushered in sustained 60 mph winds forcing the closure of all mountain lifts. Imagine nearly 100 eager racers, some of whom had traveled from as far as the west coast and Canada, all sitting at the mid-mountain lodge just staring at a perfectly set GS course. Even the bar was closed! It’s the ultimate ski racing tease and I knew right there it was going to be one of those seasons.
With Stratton behind us we headed into a fantastic weekend of races at Suicide 6 and Ragged Mountain, which would serve as our first and only SL and GS races before Nationals the following week. Plenty of time to work on that technique! I honestly can’t think of a venue I would rather get my first slalom turns of the season on than Suicide 6. Yeah, right! Thankfully we were greeted with a bluebird day and some amazing snow conditions to go along with it which laid the backdrop for a pretty exciting race. For the men we had some of the usual slalom specialists in attendance, but ultimately the race came down to two young guys, Matt Dodge and David Lozeau, who can still bend like Gumby and throw down an epic run. Matt Dodge took the win that day and 100 points that came along with it. On the women’s side, we had eight fearless racers trip the start wand, but it was Jackie Levy who put down two dominating runs to keep the competition at bay.
The following day we headed across state lines to Ragged Mountain for the 4th Annual Beer League Challenge. The stakes were high this day with the winning team receiving beer from our friends at Riverwalk Brewing and some pretty serious bragging rights. As with any “team” race there is no shortage of gaming and scheming among the NEMS regulars, but there is always that wildcard factor around who else might show up. Well, this year’s race certainly did not disappoint. For the women, NEMS newcomer Beata Wiktor absolutely dominated the field, winning by over eight seconds! On the men’s side we saw the return of the defending men’s Sise Cup Champion, Kevin O’Brien as well as Ben Drummond, who was back from an ankle injury which sidelined him for all of last season. Add in the list of other speedsters in attendance that day and everyone knew we were going to have one heck of a race!
Team Dilly Dilly for the WIN!
It was a hard fought battle on two really fast courses, but ultimately it was team Dilly Dilly who took home the win, bragging rights, a case of Riverwalk beer with a set of custom brewery coasters designed by Brightspot Art, and of course some High Brew Cold Brew.
After a stellar tune up weekend we set our sights on Okemo Mountain Resort where the Masters racing community descended for the USSS Phillips 66 Masters Alpine National Championships. Attending a National Championships event is always a fun-filled couple of days. Not only are you racing for some pretty serious awards, but you are competing against other racers with whom you likely have never raced against. As fun as attending a National Championships event may be, actually hosting the National Championships is an entirely different animal. For NEMS, hosting this event is a BIG DEAL because the event only comes to the Eastern division about every 5 years. It serves not only as the perfect opportunity to showcase New England ski racing, but it also allows NEMS to put our stamp on the pinnacle race event of the season. Oh and by the way, the Eastern division was the defending champion. #nopressure
Over the course of the week nearly 200 racers showed up from across the country and competed against not only each other but against Mother Nature, who dropped nearly two feet of snow. Overall it was an exciting week packed with lots of thrilling competition and plenty of sore legs from pre-race snow removal. There were also some memorable after-parties which showcased a few of Vermont’s local exports, such as craft beer and whiskey, cheese and who could forget The Vong! Big congrats to the Midwest Masters division for taking home the trophy this year. Just don’t get too comfortable with it!
There was no rest for the wicked as we headed out to New York the following weekend where our friends at the newly formed Mid-Atlantic Masters division hosted NEMS at West Mountain for an exciting three days of racing. Our NEMS racers had a great showing in both numbers and finishes with NEMS racers taking at least 4 out of the top 10 spots in each of the three races. Mark George had a very productive weekend, scoring a total of 236 points by taking two first place finishes (SG & SL) and a top 10 in the GS. That points grab also catapulted Mark to the top of the men’s overall standings and set up what would become an epic showdown in the weeks to follow.
After a relatively calm week, Mother Nature decided to rejoin the party with another Nor’easter, wiping out our highly anticipated Wachusett Mountain race. Something tells me that this one will be back on the schedule next season though. We did manage to hold the 81th Hochgebirge Cup Challenge the following day at Mittersill, which is the oldest ski club race in North America… In case you didn’t know by now! We had nearly 100 racers turn out for this historic race and even though we had to battle through some early morning fog and a challenging course, it ended up being quite an amazing day. Big shout out to our friends at the Hochgebirge House for hosting the after-party once again. NEMS has been coming to the “Hoch Hilton” for many years and the history behind the house is simply incredible.
In addition to being our second team race of the season, the Hochgebirge Cup Challenge also showcases some of the ski racing legends that have come and gone over the many decades the club has been in existence. Thankfully NEMS has a Club Hochgebirge historian, Derek Griggs, to narrate some of the fascinating history behind the names on all of the different trophies on display around the room. Below is the list of winners from this year’s race:
We wrapped up the season with a long awaited return to Sugarbush Resort. With the men’s overall title and many of the class awards still up for grabs, everyone knew we were in for an exciting two days of racing.
One of the impacts from a shortened season is that every race is a little bit more important. From the overall Sise Cup titles to the Class and Discipline awards, every race can make the difference. Nowhere else was this on bigger display than in the battle for the men’s Sise Cup trophy between Matt Dodge and Mark George. Coming into the weekend, Matt and Mark were tied atop the leader board with 420 points. With only two races remaining, the stakes were high. It had been an epic battle all season long between the two friendly competitors and it had all come down to the last two races of the season.
On the women’s side, thanks to some dominant early season racing, Jackie Levey was able to enter into finals weekend with the overall women’s title locked up. There was, however, a really great battle for the final two spots on the overall podium between Deb Adams, Margaret Vaughn and Patti Lane. All three of these NEMS veterans had a great season worthy of a top three finish in the overall and had Lane not missed the West Mt. races things could have looked much different entering finals weekend.
Following the West Mt. races we had about as close of a points race as you could have, with Adams and Vaughn separated by only 1 point at 321 and 320, respectively. Although Lane was sitting 100 points back at 220, her big advantage was that she only had four points races coming in, meaning she could earn straight points in at least two of the next three races instead of having to factor in the best of six. Lane was able to benefit from this at the Mittersill race where she picked up another 24 points while neither Adams nor Vaughn were able to add to their overall points.
Entering our final races of the season at Sugarbush, while the overall standings had not changed, Lane’s points from Mittersill had closed the gap and set the stage for some great head-to-head competition between a group of very consistent racers. But the women had a strong field of racers show up that would only ratchet up the pressure and make the path to the overall podium a bit more challenging.
We kicked off the weekend with the GS race on a course which turned out to be rather challenging thanks to a layer of fresh snow. For the women we had quite a battle between defending Sise Cup champion, Taylor Knortz, and former multi-Sise Cup champion, Katie Green. While on the men’s side we had a similar showdown between defending Sise Cup champion Kevin O’Brien and former multi-Sise Cup champion, Ben Green. Ultimately it was the defending champs who took home the top spots but it was certainly a fun race to watch.
The men’s Sise Cup title also got a little more interesting thanks to a rare misstep on the second run of the GS by Matt Dodge, which landed him outside of the top 30 on the day. Yet, even with Mark George finishing in 4th place, the title was not in the bag. Because the titles were based on the best six finishes this season, Mark and Matt were still technically tied at 420 points, which meant it would all come down to the final race of the season.
To win the men’s overall Sise Cup, Dodge simply needed to finish the SL in the top 4 and have George not win the race. Seems pretty straight forward right? Wrong! In a sport which judges you by a mere hundredth of a second, a blink of an eye, we all know that anything can happen. Matt and Mark are two of the most consistent racers on the NEMS circuit with both names routinely appearing at the top of the results page. Not to mention that the Sise Cup trophy has spent so much time sitting atop the mantel at the George residence that there is practically a shadow of it on the wall. Oh, and let’s not forget about the rest of the field which had some strong slalom racers in attendance. Yes, this was going to be exciting!
On the women’s side, following a really competitive GS race in which she skied to a 5th place finish, Deb Adams was able to secure 2nd place in the women’s overall. This left Vaughn and Lane in a battle for the third remaining podium spot, which Lane made even tighter by picking up an additional 40 points that day. However, with Vaughn at 321 points and Lane at 284 points, Lane would need at least a 2nd place finish in the slalom with Vaughn coming in no higher than 4th in order to capture the final spot on the overall podium.
The following day we concluded our season with one heck of a slalom race. With a number of excellent slalom skiers on hand you knew this race would be no snoozer. The women’s race had some exciting competition, but it was the battle between Vaughn and Lane for the third overall podium spot that was on the top of everyone’s mind. With Vaughn racing to a solid 4th place finish and Lane coming in 6th on the day, the battle for 3rd place in the women’s overall Sise Cup came to its conclusion with Vaughn winning by a narrow margin of just 35 points. To put this in perspective, the margin between the 2nd and 3rd place overall finishers for the men was 134 points!
While the headline of the day on the men’s side was the battle for the Sise Cup title, a close second came from a quiet Class 1 guy by the name of Caden Frost, who was racing in his first ever NEMS race and managed to completely torch the competition, leaving an unsuspecting crowd at the finish area looking around in total amazement.
As the final run of the day (and season) began to reach its conclusion and with Dodge and George sitting in 3rd and 4th, respectively, there was a growing level of anticipation at the finish line to see who would be taking home the highly coveted Sise Cup for the men. While anything is possible in ski racing, following George’s solid second run, Dodge simply needed to finish in the top 30 and for George to not win the race. The first shoe to drop came from Ben Green, who put down a second run time that was nearly identical to his first run and officially ensured that George would not win the race. The final piece came just a few minutes later as Dodge threw down a courageous second run, landing him in 3rd place for the day and securing the men’s overall Sise Cup for the season. What a race!
Both the GS and SL races showcased some electrifying runs with racers giving everything they had in order to capture as many of the season’s final points as possible. It really was an amazing way to cap off the season!
In addition to a couple of action packed races to close out the season, we also held our annual Finals Banquet at The Gatehouse Lodge at Sugarbush. I want to thank everyone who stuck around for the banquet and for the staff for doing such an amazing job. It was a great way to officially end our season and a fun night indeed! I also want to congratulate the Overall, Class, and Disciple winners. There was some fierce competition across the board and it takes a high level of commitment and sacrifice to accomplish what you achieved this past season. Well done by all!