500 expected at Ripton Nordic event

RIPTON — Some Nordic skiing aficionados are getting an early start this season in their efforts to make Addison County more of tourist draw for winter sports enthusiasts.
The Frost Mountain Nordic Ski Club and Rikert Nordic Center expect to draw more than 500 racers to Rikert in Ripton this weekend for the 2014 New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) Eastern Cup Opener. This highly competitive race weekend kicks off the 2014-2015 Nordic ski season and is expected to attract participants from around the region.
See a video about NENSA here
Keith Wilkerson, executive director of Frost Mountain Nordic, was excited to bring the top-level competitors to the county, as well as to have hundreds of skiers and others patronize local hotels, restaurants and stores.
“It’s a good weekend for Middlebury to have this,” he said. “Our understanding is the weekend before Christmas, the number of visitors traditionally is low.”
If everything falls into place as expected, there should be a good bump in visitors during this year’s pre-Christmas weekend. Among the competitors signed up for the NENSA’s season open are U.S. Ski team members Andy Newell of Shaftsbury (a member of Olympic teams in 2006, 2010 and 2014), Paddy Caldwell of Lyme, N.H., and Ben Saxton of Lakeville, Minn.
Wilkerson said some elite athletes are taking a break from training and racing in Europe, coming home for the Christmas holidays, and this weekend’s races give them a chance for some good competition while they are nearby. He also expects members of the elite T2 Nordic team, which trains in Stratton, to participate in the race.
Race organizers are keeping an eye on the weather forecast. While last week’s snow was welcome, warmer temperatures at mid-week made them a tad nervous. Regardless, Wilkerson said the snowmaking at Rikert ensures that the races will go off as planned. It was that snowmaking, which proved its usefulness when Middlebury College hosted the NCAA ski championships last spring, that helped Rikert and Frost Mountain Nordic secure the nod from NESNA to host the season opener.
“We’re really lucky to have that (snow-making),” he said. “This snow set us up to have the full 5K course ready to rock ’n’ roll.
“Craftsbury hosted (the NENSA Eastern Cup Opener) the last two years and they were only able to race on 1K and 1.5K courses.”
Wilkerson also credited Mike Hussey, who was named by Middlebury College as director of the Rikert Nordic Center at the end of 2010, as another important reason that skiers are coming to Addison County.
“Since taking over that role he’s really embraced this idea of making Rikert and our community a major player in the Nordic world, both to draw tourist dollars and to bring this caliber of event.”
In addition to the Olympic team members, the open will see junior racers — 15-18 years old — trying to qualify for junior nationals; collegiate racers from schools including Middlebury, Harvard and the University of Vermont; and post-collegiate/professional racers looking to qualify for regional and national team spots.
Some of the racers who may be familiar to locals include Middlebury College senior Heather Mooney, who has competed at the junior world championships; Panther junior Alia Johnson of Bristol, who competed when a Mount Abraham Union High School student; Bowdoin College sophomore and Middlebury Union High School graduate Mac Groves; Nick Wilkerson and Sam Hodges, MUHS sophomore and freshman, respectively; and North Branch School ninth-graders Tom Hussey and Cade Christner.
All are welcome to come and watch these talented athletes give it their all this weekend on the trails at Rikert Nordic Center, which is on Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus off Route 125. Festivities kick off Friday night in Middlebury with a Toko wax demonstration at 6 p.m. at the Middlebury Inn, the event’s host hotel. Racing then gets under way at 10 a.m. Saturday morning and continues through the early afternoon. Sunday morning begins with a kids’ Bill Koch League race (K-8th grade) at 9 a.m., followed by juniors and open races starting at 10 a.m., with the last race going off at noon.
In addition to the Middlebury Inn, race sponsors and partners include IPJ Real Estate, The A. Johnson Co., Forth ’N Goal Sports, Middlebury Mountaineer, SunCommon, Cooperative Insurance, Northlands Job Corps and Addison County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to Wilkerson and Hussey, the committee organizing the races includes Barney Hodges, Caroline Marston, Christiana Hodges, Eben Punderson and Cam MacKugler.
Wilkerson said he is working with Middlebury Business Development Director Jamie Gaucher and National Bank of Middlebury President Ken Perine to do an economic impact survey to see how much business the NENSA Eastern Cup Opener brings to the county. They also will survey restaurants and inns to get some anecdotal evidence comparing this year’s weekend-before-Christmas revenues to last year’s.
NENSA decides where its first big race of the year is held each season, and the organization shifts from place to place. Wilkerson would like to see Rikert become a regular host for such races.
“We’re hoping to get some ownership of this event,” he said.
See what Olympian Andy Newell has to say about the Rickert Nordic Center by clicking here.
Post by NENSA.
2014 NENSA Eastern Cup Opener
Friday, December 19
•    6 p.m. Toko wax demo, Middlebury Inn
Saturday, December 20 Interval Start
•    10 a.m. U16 Boys’ 5k Classic
•    10:45 a.m. Women’s/U16 Girls’ 5k Classic
•    11 a.m. U16 Boys’ Podium
•    12:15 p.m. Men’s 10k Classic
•    12:30 p.m. Women’s/U16 Girls’ Podium
•    1:45 p.m. Men’s Podium
Sunday, December 21 Mass Start
•    9 a.m. Bill Koch Freestyle Race
•    10 a.m. U16 Girls’ 5k Freestyle
•    10:30 a.m. Bill Koch Awards in the Barn
•    10:30 a.m. U16 Boys’ 5k Freestyle
•    11 a.m. Women’s 10k Freestyle
•    11:15 a.m. U16 Girls’ and Boys’ Podium
•    12 noon Men’s 15k Freestyle
•    12 noon Women’s Podium
•    1 p.m. Men’s Podium

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