Last weekend, the Nordic Ski team made history. The warmth of the shining sun and cheering crowd of peer supporters led to Bowdoin’s first ever Chummy Broomhall Cup—essentially the Maine state Nordic championship. After placing two men and two women in the top three, including the two first-place spots, the Polar Bears asserted their dominance within the state.
Held at Quarry Road, a trail venue just minutes from Colby—the reigning state champions—both men and women competed in 10-kilometer classic races, one of two disciplines within the sport. The other discipline is skate skiing, which was the chosen competition last year when the Polar Bears narrowly missed the team victory. With new team members, an aggressive early season training schedule and a different discipline for this year’s race, Head Coach Nathan Alsobrook and the team were looking to finally grab the win.
“We knew we could very well do this—but we had to be on,” said Alsobrook. “We couldn’t take anything for granted. We were racing for each other.”
In a sport known for individual rigor, team mentality arguably plays an equally important part in a skier’s performance. As part of Alsobrook’s recruitment process, he seeks out individuals who can work well as a group and add a certain silliness to the team.
Nordic skiing is known across the world as one of the hardest competitive sports. To be competitive in a sport that tests the body’s limits as much as Nordic, athletes have to develop a strong love for the race.
The star of last weekend’s men’s race, Elliot Ketchel ’21, perfectly embodies what it means to be a cheerful team player.
Ketchel trained with the U.S. Ski Team coaches in October and narrowly missed out on a spot in the Junior Nordic World Championship races. And his first few races this season went well, even resulting in beating the previous year’s Chummy Cup men’s champion two weeks before this year’s competition. In last Saturday’s race, he was able to get into his stride on the trails, using his unique ability to turn a grueling sport into a great time.
“I’m always trying to have fun. At the Chummy it was really weird because I was just having fun focusing on the race, usually I have to start singing a song in my head or something,” Ketchel said. “In the second half, though, I was pretty much just surviving. It was brutal. I think what helped get me through was all the Bowdoin supporters we had there.”
The Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) took a full van of beginner and advanced Nordic skiers to Quarry Road to cheer on the team and ski afterward. It is a special occasion for Nordic athletes when peers travel to cheer them on. Without any home races, the majority of competitions are filled with teams and a sprinkling of parents. But on Saturday, with over a dozen added supporters, the Polar Bears had plenty of support to energize them on the trail.
Along with the great conditions for the race, Ketchel added that remarkable performances by teammates Gabby Vandendries ’21 and Renae Anderson ’21 helped give him the confidence to garner such a large lead in his race—over a minute faster than any of the other men. Vandendries’s and Anderson’s ability to pull away from the other athletes in the women’s race and lead by large margins surprised even their coach.
“Absolutely didn’t expect the magnitude of their leads,” said Alsobrook. “I knew all three of them could challenge for the win, but the magnitude was shocking. [Ketchel] noticed the pace felt relaxed so he broke it up and found no one else keeping up with him. Something similar had happened to the girls, but they had each other to push themselves faster and faster.”
In the women’s race, Anderson pulled away from the pack early and Vandendries followed. To the astonishment of the spectators, their coach and the other racers, the two spent the rest of the race gradually increasing their lead. In a comparatively short race for experienced Nordic skiers, their dominance was hard to miss.
As the race sped up and the two women locked down increasingly larger gaps, Vandendries—a strong classic technique skier—was able to pull ahead of Anderson slowly, finishing the race about 15 seconds ahead of her teammate, who was already a minute ahead of any other competitor.
“I’m very comfortable in classic races,” Vandendries said. “In the race [Anderson] took out the lead really fast. We had created a pretty big lead and after the second lap I just had this urge to make it bigger, so I pushed us a little harder and eventually pulled away from [Anderson].”
While the sophomores in this race definitely garnered the spotlight with stellar performances, the team as a whole did well too. Along with Ketchel’s first place finish, Sean Cork ’19 placed third, snagging a spot on the podium. In the end, both the women’s and men’s teams each had four athletes in the top ten.
Looking ahead, the team hopes to keep up the energy it had at last Saturday’s race. As some are preparing for potential slots in the NCAA Nordic Ski Championships and others hope to set personal records in the coming weeks, Alsobrook hopes this win will set the team up for an eventful and exciting rest of the season.
“We are really just preparing to have a wonderful, fast and fun last couple weeks,” Alsobrook said.