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Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor Adventures: Skiers and snowshoers race to the clouds

Olympian turned New Hampton School teacher Justin Freeman skis to victory for the fifth time in the Ski to the Clouds presented by Maxiglide up Mount Washington.

While Justin Freeman crossed the finish line as the first skier for an incredible five-peat performance, Dave Dunham ran up the Mount Washington Auto Road to become the first snowshoer to win last Sunday’s Ski to the Clouds presented by Maxiglide.

On a day with forgiving winter temperatures for March, passing snow showers and virtually no wind at the finish line midway up the road, Freeman, the 36-year-old Olympian now teaching at the New Hampton School, bested his closest competitor by some 90 seconds by completing the steep course in 45:01.

Freeman has ruled the race since its 2008 inception. Last year’s event was canceled due to lack of snow.

“I’ve been lucky to have some good days here,” Freeman said. “During the past couple of years, I’ve felt there have been some people who have been pushing me at the bottom. I’ve slowed down. I’m not out there racing the clock. I look back more than I care to admit.”

Though his work at the boarding school keeps him busy, there is some flexibility for Freeman to train and ski in winter. He says he’s able to get out a couple of afternoons a week to train. During school breaks, he increases his hours on snow.

“I haven’t felt fast racing most days this year, but today was maybe an exception,” he said.

The course included more than 2,200 vertical feet of climbing over the six kilometers on the 7.6-mile road, first using four kilometers of the Great Glen Trails Nordic network.

Freeman has competed on the mountain in days with bitter cold and high winds that forced organizers to move the finish line. One year it was nearly 50 degrees.

“This is just great, right around 32 degrees. The snow was fairly fast, a little soft. I think because there have been so many storms, it’s been hard to get the trail packed down. Groomers did a great job, though. Definitely harder to climb in the soft snow.”

For the skiing Freeman, the competition is a good spot on his calendar.

“The race comes at a time when I am getting in pretty good ski shape and is up against other events that bring other people to other places,” he said. “That’s fine. I’m having fun with this.”

The fastest snowshoer was a man who knows Mount Washington. Dave Dunham, 48, of Bradford, Mass., is a trail runner and ultra runner with international experience. He’s also won the Mount Washington Road Race three times, placed second six times and third three times.

His time was 1:00:07.

“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s so slow, but it hurts so much.”

Second in 1:02:07 was another serious mountain runner, North Conway’s Kevin Tilton, 31. Also a serious snowshoe athlete, Tilton’s accomplishments include top finishes in the Mount Washington Road Race, an eighth in the 2009 Pikes Peak Ascent and being a U.S. mountain running team member.

“It was a little soft, but it was good,” he said. “I’d rather run on this than run on ice. It slows you down a bit, but benefits people that are used to grinding and working hard.”

As for the transition to snow, it’s easy for Tilton.

“It is just like trail running, but you just have bigger shoes on your feet,” he said. “That’s the great thing about snowshoeing. You don’t need technical expertise. You don’t need to learn technique. You just put snowshoes on and start running on the trails you might run on during the summer.”

Jackson’s Meredith Piotrow, 45, (her husband Steve finished 10th in 57:08) was the top female finisher in 1:04:48, doing the freestyle race in the tracks on classical skis.

“Sometimes you have a lot of college kids doing it,” she said. “They skate it and the women are really fast. I’ve done well in the over-40. It varies from year to year how many women do it.”

An avid Mount Washington athlete, she’s done the race five times.

“I think the conditions today were the best they’ve ever been for skiing up the Auto Road,” she said. “I ski classic and of all the times they’ve run it, I’ve only skated it once. The kick was great and the snow was well set.”

The fastest female snowshoer was Bridget Ferrin-Smith, 31, of St. Johnsbury, Vt., with a time of 1:13:39 in a group of three.

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)

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