By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND –– This winter has produced more snow for the Guilderland cross-country skiers than in recent years, but there was no skiing to be had on Tuesday. With temperatures dipping into the single digits, the Dutch went for a run in the bitter elements.
Being told to run in extreme cold may seem cruel, but Guilderland would be skiing if there were enough snow coverage anyways. After practice was over, a dusting of snow moved through town.
“We have to prepare our bodies for those cold race days,” said senior Laurie Knapp, Guilderland’s top skier.
Head Coach Barb Newton watched the kids run while following them in her car. Knapp said that Newton would run with them if she were able.
“It’s the weather we ski in, so we have to get our breathing right,” said Sarah Barton. “I got pretty warm today. It’s not that bad.”
Junior Jack Hanlon and senior Emily Benson chose not to run outside. Instead, the two teammates took wax off skis in Guilderland’s “ski shack,” which is a room full of skis, boots, poles, and other equipment.
The Dutch had skied in a race at Garnet Hill in the Adirondacks on Monday. The team has 59 skiers, its largest total, ever.
“Coach Newton got really pumped when we got snow,” Benson said. “We’re a good group of people, very cheerful.”
Hanlon said he skis for the competitiveness. “There’s an adrenaline rush during the race when you’re trying to get ahead,” he said. “It’s a really good feeling. Plus, skiing is something you can do for the rest of your life.”
Guilderland was supposed to host a cross-country ski race on Friday at Crandall Park in Glens Falls, but the venue may be changed because of lack of snow coverage. The Dutch skied on its share of golf courses last season, but the team has yet to race on a golf course this year.
“This year has been much better because we’ve raced at real race facilities,” Newton said. “You get real hills at a race facility. Golf courses are flat and kind of easy.”
Snowfall has been scarce over the last five winter seasons. Newton has been coaching cross-country skiing at Guilderland since 1992.
“It’s been so long now that I can’t remember the last time we had a ton of snow,” said Newton. “Sometimes, no snow at all. We haven’t had a high-quality season in five to seven years.”
Usually, Guilderland team members will run more than ski.
“They have to work very hard to learn technique in a short period of time,” Newton said of her skiers. “Our time on snow is less, but they can do it, and they’re willing to do it. They’re tougher than they think.”
Knapp has an exceptional chance to make the state team. She’s finished sixth twice, and seventh once. Newton said it’s “been a while” since Guilderland had a female ski at States.
“The races can get pretty competitive,” said Knapp. “I’m used to playing team sports, but this is different. It’s individual during the race, but you still need the team. You’re working hard for yourself as well as the team.”
The Guilderland skiers can be outside for up to three hours during race days, so how do they stay warm?
Matt Reluzco said that the cold could be bothersome during a race, especially if there is wind involved. Friday’s race is sure to be very, very cold.
“Before the race, you want to make sure to have layers that don’t get too wet if you’re breaking a sweat,” Reluzco said. “When racing, for me at least, if it’s a little warmer, I’ll have my race suit on and then one layer of spandex on top and on bottom. Right after the race, you want to put more layers on to keep warm.”
This season, up to 12 Guilderland skiers have been making weekend trips to Lapland Lake in Northville to get experience on what Newton calls “phenomenal” hills. The Dutch don’t have any significant hills to practice on at home, so the skiers that go to Lapland are distinguishing themselves.
“It takes commitment to train,” Newton said. “There are some kids coming up that will do that, but it takes that development to see beneficial results.”
Hanlon goes to Lapland Lake on the weekends, and so does Rob Grant. Hanlon said that he spends up to 20 hours per week with cross-country skiing related activities.
“I love skiing,” Grant said. “It’s a great thing to do, and you can really get lost in it.”