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2004 Kangaroo Hoppet Report

September 2, 2004
By Ari Ofsevit

Saturday, August 28, 2004:

We left for the race at 7:30, and after traversing the long, and winding road (that led to the door) we arrived at the base of the ski trails. The sun was shining and it was just a spectacular day. The temperature was below freezing, and the course was solid and very well groomed. I made my way up to the Nordic Bowl, where all the XC trails intersect, about half a kilometre from the car park. Since my number, 33, was within the top 100, I was in the front start group, and after a quick warm-up, I made my way in to the paddock, where we all waited through Advance Australia Fair and then watched some weird soldier looking guys ceremonially fire the start gun. It seems that people from America and Europe get good start positions no matter, the skier next to me, #37, was a Norwegian on rental equipment.

The race (check out this map, it will help the course make more sense) starts up a short hill, which makes for some fun double poling, before descending on to the Sun Valley Loop. Except for a few shor sections, the entire course is in bright sunshine, and sunscreen was a must (I still got burnt to a crisp). The first 7 ks were very fast, as the snow was hard and icy, and the course rolling. The hills were screaming fast and scenery spectacular. I talked to a bloke from Minnesota, Larry Larson, after I recognized his race suit as one of the ones being sold at Finn Sisu last year.

The race course crossed below the dam wall along the Rocky Valley Resorvior (mostly drained for the winter) and then proceeded along the edge of the lake. At 10k, it turned up a hill called "The Paralyzer." It was aptly named. It was not steep, but it was long and had no resting at all. Two kilometres of gradual uphill, which I could not quite maintain a V2 on. At the top of the hill the course opens on to the Bogong High Plains, which are just spectacular. It curves around to a drink station, and then goes around a bit of a loop before gaining one more hill to the high point on the race course at nearly 1800 metres. The race then descends those same 200 metres very quickly via hills named "The Bladerunner" and "The S's" (still very fast snow) to recross the top of the dam wall and go through the lap control, while the 21k Australian Birkebiener race ends.

The course heads back out the Sun Valley loop and circles around to the far side of the Rocky Valley Storage Resorvior. In past years it continued flat before climbing "The Wall" up to the top of the high plains, but this year it had a pretty long, steep climb, followed by a fast downhill, and then another steep climb, called "Riley's Revenge." It was at the top of this climb that there was a drink station, the first since the top of the Paralyzer. This was followed by another climb up on to the plateau. Overall, this was the toughest portion of the race, as there were long hills after 25k of skiing.

After a rather flat section with spectacular views of far-off mountain ranges (I was quite happy to be skiing on a bright, sunny day) the couse hits a downhill back down towards the resorvior. As I descended, a bloke ahead of me skidded out on an icy patch and fell, causing me to try to pass him and fall as well (although I got up first). There was a drink station after a breif winding section through a patch of snowgums, and then it was all downhill (okay, mostly downhill) to the finish. The trail went around the resorvior, passed a drink station at Watchbed Creek, and then went along the road along the resorvior, across the dam, and in to the finishing chute. I was leading a pack of three or four for this last section, and was able to V2 across the dam and up the hill to the finish to break away.

My final time was 2:25:02, while the winner skied it in 1:35, a course record. I placed 92d, 3d in my age class (18-19, age taken on January 1), and 4th amongst the Americans in the race. I think this is decent, considering that I had only been at altitude for 45 minutes prior to the race, I had not been able to train much the week prior to the race, I had barely eaten anything the two days before the race, I had only been on snow four times since March, and by the time I hit the hills on the far side, they were very sloppy. I finished, top 100 in a Worldloppet race (probably the only time I will ever do that) and got my passport stamped! Onwards to the Birkie!

One suggestion for the race, which I am going to send the race officials, is to have cold drinks at the food stations. I asked at one and they said that they were not allowed to give us cold drinks, because it would give people cramps. Now, I appreciate a hot drink when a race is held in 10°F temperatures. But when it is 40°F out, and you are skiing a course in hot sunshine with no shade, hot drinks can make you sick. By the third food station I was stopping to pick up snow to cool down the drink so I could get down two or three cups, as necessitated by the hot conditions. Maybe they were trying to give the locals the advantage, but not having the option of cold drinks is uncalled for. Of course, it is a different mentality, one of the Minnesotans I was talking to said that as he waited at the start, when it was about 30°F, an Aussie next to him was mumbling "C'mon, let's get this started. My toes are getting cold." They were probably wearing wool socks, too.

The finish atmosphere was festive, and I arrived in time for the podium ceremony, although I did not have my camera. After the good skiers got their due, I had a sausage in white bread with onions and tomato sauce from the barbie (an Aussie special). After retrieving my camera, I took a very leisurely ski along the edge of the resorvior, eschewing any climbing. All in all, I skied about 50k.

Sunday, August 29, 2004:

The weather that was supposed to come in had not materialized, and there was only a thin cloud cover. We headed up to Falls Creek and were skiing by 10. I headed up The Paralyzer and found that the snow on the Bogong High Plains was very firm and a bit crusty. It supported me wonderfully. I left the groomed trails and went crust skiing up and down the hills, in solitude, passed only by the groomer. By noon the rest of the group had made it up and we skied over to a hut to eat lunch. This was crust skiing at its best. No matter where I went, there was a thick, firm, fast base for me to ski upon. After lunch it had warmed enough that the crust had turned to mush and the skiing had deteriorated. I headed along the rest of the Hoppet trail, on snow which was very, very slow. The climb to the high point was excruciating, and the descent, which had been exhilirating the day before, was extremely slow. We headed down to the parking lot and left around 3:00.


   Photoset from Ari Ofsevit (46 photos)


About the author...

Ari Ofsevit is a Macalester College skier and has been spending part of the summer enjoying excellent skiing conditions in Victoria, Australia. Be sure to check out some of his Aug 2004 Trail reports (w/ photos).


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