Kickin' and Glidin': Carnival Culture

By Gordon Vermeer | 2/16/11 1:57pm

Schools on the Eastern skiing circuit have varying amounts of pride in their respective Carnivals: Middlebury gets a few students out to watch its races, for example, but not many people made the drive from Saint Lawrence University to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the Saint Lawrence Carnival. Certainly nobody has a campus celebration that stands up to Dartmouth Carnival, what with the ice sculpture, Polar Bear Plunge and weekend festivities.

So when the Dartmouth Carnival ski races roll around, Dartmouth skiers want to win. It’s that simple. We have a deep-seated pride in our school, our skiing and our Carnival, and that pride translated directly into stellar results this past weekend.

Racing began with five- and ten-kilometer individual skate races for the women and men, respectively. Friday was sunny and frigidly cold, and the Oak Hill trails glistened with fresh corduroy grooming. Those of us not skiing in the Carnival itself mobilized early to mark the course, perform course control (i.e. make sure nobody cheated or got lost) and most importantly, to cheer. By the time the races got underway, temperatures were climbing and the sun filled a cloudless blue sky. Ah, paradise! The men raced first, turning in the sort of solid race we’ve now come to expect. Sam Tarling ’13, racing in his first-ever Carnival at home (last year’s Carnival course was relocated to Stowe, Vt., because of the lack of snow in Hanover) cruised to an 11-second victory over teammate Eric Packer ’12, who I’ve christened the “champ of the chumps” because of his five podiums this year without a victory. Top rival UVM took spots three through five, but Nils Koons ’11 got sixth, giving Dartmouth the victory.

The women followed with a similarly admirable performance, taking second (Erika Flowers ’12), third (Rosie Brennan ’11) and two other spots in the top ten. They too beat UVM – always the goal.

We retired back to the comfort of campus and our own homes, giving us a welcome advantage over the others who had to hit the hotels.

But Saturday was the Big Day. Before I talk about the races, let me explain something about the 10K course at Oak Hill: it is hard. No two ways about it. Whereas most Nordic trails rely on constant up and down to provide the aggregate climbing required for a race, the Oak Hill 10K begins with 3.5 kilometers of sustained climbing that deposits you at a dizzying height above the stadium below. Of course, the rest of the loop is tough too, finishing with sharp serpentine turns that erase that towering vertical in under a kilometer of skiing distance.

I know for a fact that it intimidates a lot of non-Dartmouth skiers. The tough guys look forward to it — or at least they say they do — but skiing it every day makes it seem more manageable for us.

The races on Saturday were 20K for the men (two loops of the 10K) and 15K for the women. The anticipation for the races was palpable, as students, locals and other skiing enthusiasts came out in droves to watch the action.

The women went first, again placing four in the top ten. Annie Hart ’14 earned her first-ever Carnival podium, landing in third behind Brennan. Even after 52 minutes of hard skiing, Annie could be heard screaming with joy as she and teammates celebrated their dominant performance near the finish line. They beat UVM again, this time by 13 points.

The men lined up next, and by this time a few hundred spectators surrounded the stadium. A lead pack formed pretty quickly, including all six Dartmouth men (I almost peed my pants when I saw that), three from UVM, and one guy each from Middlebury and Williams. Those guys stayed together for about 15 kilometers, climbing from the stadium to the top twice.

Out in the woods and invisible to the stadium, the action started happening. David Sinclair ’14, sporting the Dartmouth freshman skiers’ green mohawk, made a bold move and briefly took the lead. But the pack reeled him back in and Tarling, Packer and UVM’s Franz Bernstein ended up breaking off the front. That trio descended together into the stadium and the crowd picked up its roar as they circled around a big horseshoe, about 300 meters of double-poling.

Leaping into the air to get more and more leverage on their poles, Packer and Tarling pulled ahead of Bernstein, each lunging at the finish. After a judges’ consultation, Tarling was declared the winner (again) and Packer second by a hair (again). All six Dartmouth guys ended up in the top 10, resulting in an otherworldly C-Stat of 32 (see last week’s post for an explanation) that included a season-best eighth for Steve Mangan ’14.

Much festivity followed, with Dartmouth sweaters and wool knickers appearing out of backpacks. We all went home feeling like kings and queens.

Gordon Vermeer