Under bright skies, Eric Seyse ran away with Saturday’s Lumberjack Scramble at the Tupper Lake (NY) Cross Country Ski Center. Leading from start to finish, he won in 18:09. Around 20 skiers showed up for the revival of a race that had been a popular local fixture for decades before going defunct.
With less than optimal kick, second place finisher Chris Rose of Peru Nordic focused on skiing smoothly and avoiding the blowup. Klister conditions on a relatively flat loop made for fast times. Gabriella Fritelli was the women’s winner in 27:10.
Due to the minimal snow cover, skiers had to walk about 300 yards from the lodge to the start. The loop went out across the golf course, past Cranberry Pond into the woods. While skiers could sign up to race five or ten kilometers, two-thirds of the field opted for the longer event.
While cover was thin with some bare spots, organizers managed to put in two sets of classic tracks around most of the loop. Some sections of the track were covered only due to intensive snow farming. The track ran the gamut: from ice to glazed powder, to granular. Alongside Cranberry Pond, an exposed stretch turned from rocket-fast cement to near slush 25 minutes after the start. With 200 meters of vertical gain over 10 km, much of the loop could be double poled. Most skiers needed to herringbone to shortish, steep climbs.
“We don’t want to tell you” how long it took to shovel snow over the bare spots, one volunteer said. Estimates ranged between 20 and 30 man hours.
Tupper Lake resident Jim Frenette took the initiative to revive the race, which had been a local fixture for many years.
“It started in the 70s,” said Frenette. Now a retired teacher, Frenette began coaching skiing in the 1960s. When he stopped coaching, he started a local Bill Koch chapter. The race was a natural outgrowth of the club.
The trails are on land that had been owned by the Oval Wood Dish Corporation, a local business. [Editor’s note: skiers of a certain age may remember those flat wooden spoons that used to eat ice cream bought from the Good Humor truck.] The company’s president enjoyed skiing, and Frenette took him around the logging roads on the property. The owner was enthusiastic, and Oval Wood Dish re-wrote hunting leases to allow the ski club cut, maintain and groom new trails.
While today’s race was on the west side of Country Club Road, the cross-country trails originally ranged on both sides of the road. The original ski area was a hill on the east side of the road, used between about 1940 to 1960. Cross-country trails ran alongside the golf course then. Trails gradually expanded to connect with Big Tupper alpine ski area.
“The trails led to the race,” said Frenette. The race became very popular in the 1970s.
Big Tupper alpine ski area helped the club by donating older snow cats for grooming. The alpine area’s lodge served as race headquarters.
[The race] “didn’t die out for lack of interest,” said Frenette. “Everybody that came loved it.” Due to financial troubles, Big Tupper closed in 1999, and race organizers could no longer use the lodge. No one expected Big Tupper to be closed for 10 years, and cross-country died with it.
When Frenette wanted to revive the race, the community pitched in to help. “He’s been doing this for 50 years up here. He’s the reason why we’re all doing this. We were embarrased not to help him,” said volunteer John Gillis.
For race photos, check out Tupper Lake XC’s Facebook page.