The warm February weather is a pleasant opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without the bulky winter coat.
For the Westford Academy Nordic ski team, the unusual winter warmth brings with it a unique challenge.
For most of its practices, the team has a 30-plus mile trip to the Weston Ski Track, which when bare operates as the Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course. It’s the closest cross-country facility to Westford that makes its own snow.
“It’s an hour, sometimes a 90-minute ride home for us,” said Westford coach Andy Norander. “It’s really hard for our school and our program to get to Weston more than a couple days during the week.”
Most weekdays, when the team isn’t out on the snow, the Grey Ghosts have dry land practices on the public school campus. Workouts include balance training, long-distance runs, and roller-skiing.
Still, the only way to effectively practice technique is to actually get outside, and in comparison to the other teams in the Mass. Bay West League — which holds its meets in Weston — the Grey Ghosts have significantly fewer hours on the trails.
“It’s difficult because many of the schools we race against are only 15-20 minutes away from Weston,” said senior Rebecca Stafstrom. “It’s hard going into these races knowing that a lot of these people get on skis multiple times a week and we’re lucky to get there maybe twice.”
“Before the first race, we probably had maybe three hours on the course,” said junior Sean Doherty, who finished 11th in the state meet last season. “Especially for the newer skiers, that’s always a challenge, especially when it comes to balance and technique.”
“We’re kind of trapped in no man’s land,” Norander said. “We’re an hour away from Weston, where a lot of the Eastern Mass. schools are, and we’re about 90 minutes away from the Berkshires, where a lot of the Western Mass. schools are.”
When the snow is plentiful, the Grey Ghosts travel just 7 miles southeast to the Great Brook Ski Center in Carlisle, which has over 15 miles of groomed trails. Norander would love to have his team practicing there more often, but said the snow hasn’t been consistent enough in the last decade or so.
When the skiers makes the trip to Weston, it’s not uncommon they’re on the bus longer than they’re out on the trail.
“It’s a real time hardship for our kids,” Norander said. “They’re in school until 2, we get on a bus. We get to Weston around 3, 3:30. They ski for an hour or two. We get back to school around 7, and they still have to eat and then do a few hours of homework.”
“It’s definitely hard to find time to do our schoolwork,” said senior Andrew Hartnett. “It’s difficult to effectively do homework on the bus, so I try to fit in it in the time we have.”
Typically every other Saturday, the team will make a trip to the White Mountains in search of snow in places such as Waterville Valley, Jackson, and Mount Monadnock.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know your teammates during the season,” Stafstrom said. “Going on the trips has been one of the best parts of Nordic skiing for me.”
“Weston’s great, but we’re skiing on a golf course,” Norander said. “It’s really great to get them out into the mountains and into the woods to show them what the sport is all about.”
But despite their geographical challenge, Westford Academy perennially finishes in the top half of the Mass. Bay West League and for the last five years, both the boys’ and girls’ programs have finished in the top 10 at the state team championships.
“We’re competing against kids who have been skiing a lot longer than us and are on skis twice as many days as we are,” Norander said. “I’m extremely proud of how our kids have competed over the years.
“To the parents’ credit and to the kids’ credit, we’ve always found a way to make it work. It’s a sacrifice we’re all willing to make.”P.J. Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.