It’s been a challenging start to winter for Nordic skiers across New England, thanks to mild temperatures, soaking rainstorms, and an almost complete lack of natural snowfall.
One of the very few exceptions can be found right here on the Holderness campus. Thanks to the school’s brand-new 5-kilometer FIS-certified trail network – which includes 3 kilometers of snowmaking - Holderness skiers have been training on snow for weeks.
“What a year to test the system,” says science teacher and Nordic Head Coach Pat Casey. “It’s been a great year to have snowmaking, not having natural snow. In my 13 years of data collection, this is the slowest start to winter that I’ve seen.”
The school’s new Nordic trail system, made possible by a generous donation, opened for the first time right before the holidays. The ambitious project added five world-class homologated race loops to the school’s existing trail network: a short course, long course, lighted 2.5-kilometer loop, and two spurs off the 2.5-kilometer loop. Only five percent of the homologation project required cutting new trails through the forest, while the vast majority follows existing trails.
The installation of snowmaking was a major component of the Nordic upgrades – and perhaps the one with the biggest impact. The snowmaking system follows the new 2.5-kilometer competition loop, and is fed by a 3-million-gallon snowmaking pond on Mt. Prospect Road. The school first activated the snowmaking system in mid-December, and opened the trails just a few days later. That snow withstood weeks of subsequent mild weather and rain storms.
“Every time we turned that system on, we were making a kilometer of snow at a time and laying down a big, thick layer of snow that stood up against a three-inch rainstorm,” Mr. Casey says. “It’s sort of unbelievable and surreal to me that we have it up and running because it’s affecting things in lots of ways.”
One of those effects is increased training time for Holderness skiers. This year, Holderness athletes have been able to train daily on campus, despite the lack of natural snow. In past low-snow winters, the team has had to travel to Waterville Valley or other high-elevation venues throughout the White Mountains to find snowy trails. “It’s not that it isn’t fun to get off campus and ski sometimes, but when you’re doing it every day it can really drain the battery,” Mr. Casey says.
The benefits of the school’s new trails have also extended into the local community, most notably for the Holderness Nordic Club. The club, which coordinates with Holderness School, uses the trails as a training ground for its Bill Koch Youth Ski League, a ski program for local school children. “The local club is thriving,” Casey says. “I believe there are 80-some families in the K-8 club that meets two to three times a week here, and they get to ski under lights, on snow where very few people in New England are skiing on snow right now.”
During the winter, members of the local community can access the trails for cross country skiing by joining the Holderness Nordic Club. Membership is available for a modest fee in exchange for a release of liability; you can get more information, including permitted hours and parking details, by emailing email@example.com.
With dependable snow and high-caliber competition trails, Holderness is poised to become one of New England’s top Nordic racing venues. And since the new trails adhere to international standards of course design (having recently received FIS homologation certification) Holderness can now host local, regional, and even national competitions. “The snowmaking and the caliber of the race loops that were designed and put in, they’re really world class race loops,” Mr. Casey says. “They’re designed to test the best against the best and separate them. So I could foresee being an option for a college school to host a collegiate race here, too.”
Holderness School will host its first Nordic race on Feb. 8. The school will host the NEPSAC Championships on Feb. 25.
“I can’t wait to race on them and put that test in and see how they race,” Mr. Casey says. “I suspect that they’re going to race great and they’re going to be fair and fast and fun.”