Everyone marvels at the size of the Mount Greylock Nordic ski teams. It’s no wonder the girls have won five consecutive state championships and the boys have five of the last six.
But in years when snow is scarce, fewer racers may actually benefit the longevity of a program, especially if the last winter and this one are a glimpse into the future.
Take this weekend for example. The Mounties were scheduled to host the season’s fourth race, a classical. It would be their only home race this season. That won’t be happening. Instead, they and the rest of the league will head back to Prospect Mountain Nordic Ski Center for the second consecutive week.
Much like any other sport, a home event allows the booster club to bring in money, and the school dishes out no money for travel. The Mounties lose out on both ends this weekend.
"Not just the monetary part of it, but we lose sort of the pride of having it at our school and showcasing our trails and being able to have a lot more fans come," Greylock girls’ coach Hillary Greene said. "A lot more students and parents and faculty come to cheer on the kids. So that’s a big loss too."
The athletic department pays $2 per mile to Dufour Escorted Tours Inc. and $30 per hour of wait time (the time from when the bus arrives at the event until it leaves).
The trip to Prospect is 53 miles round trip and the wait time varies between four and five hours, according to Mount Greylock Athletic Director Lindsey von Holtz. That cost is for one bus, and the Mounties use two because of the program’s size. That comes out to no less than $452 per trip. But that’s simply to get to and from Prospect. There is a race fee places like Prospect and Notchview Nordic Ski Center charge. And it adds up quickly.
League Director Joe Miller said the fee at Notchview is $7 per racer. Prospect charged $10 last year, Lenox AD Joan Schultz said. A Prospect Mountain official said that is not the fee this season, but did not say what the new fee is.
For a team like Greylock that boasts 67 racers on the varsity and junior varsity, that’s $670 the school and the team are responsible for in race fees alone. Toss in the $452 for the busses and that’s a $1,122 bill for one race -- a race the program was supposed to be making money on.
"That’s a huge financial burden for our team, for all the teams," Greene said. "But because ours is so big, I think especially for ours."
Greene said she isn’t positive how the cost will be divided between the athletic department and the program yet, but described how it operated last year. The school paid for the 16 varsity racers (eight boys and eight girls), while the booster club picked up the tab for all the junior varsity racers.
In the Jan. 21, 2012 race held at Notchview, Mount Greylock had 19 boys JV and 23 girls JV racers. That would have been a $294 bill for the booster club at just one race. The booster club didn’t have a home meet last year to raise money either. So where’s that money coming from?
"I’m not really sure," Greene said. "I do know that coach [Hiram] Greene, my dad, puts a lot of his personal money into the team."
Had the Mounties been able to host their race this weekend, they would have made about $600 to $700 from their concession stand, according to Greene. There is no race fee when held at a high school or Cherry Hill Golf Course in Amherst.
Miller said having races at high schools or Cherry Hill is the most inexpensive way to race. The only money schools and programs need to worry about is transportation, but that obviously can become expensive, too.
"Transportation’s a big cost," Miller said. "I don’t think a lot of parents understand that to begin with."
The league lost out on a high school event last week, too. Mohawk was supposed to be hosting a race, but the warm weather decimated their snow and forced the league to Prospect for the second time in three races. Of the three races supposed to be held at high schools in the first four weeks, only Wahconah’s went off on-site. It was 10 days after the biggest snowfall of the year. If Cherry Hill doesn’t see any significant snow before their Feb. 2 race, it’s possible the teams will head back to Prospect.
With an average of 228 racers through the first three meets, Prospect would stand to bring in $2,280 on average (using last year’s figure), while Notchview -- a Trustees of Reservation property -- would generate $1,596. In the two races held already held at Prospect, 434 racers competed. That’s $4,340 in racing fees alone.
"It’s probably a losing proposition. Overall we do the races for a couple reasons. One because we’ve always done the races and we support the community," said Notchview Superintendent Jim Caffrey, who grew up cross country skiing in the county. "But I think the other of part is we believe it’s a good sport. It’s a great lifetime sport and it’s also a good opportunity to expose young people to what the Trustees of Reservation is all about, which is open space and outdoor recreation."
Miller said he schedules the season’s first race at Prospect because it offers the best chance for early snow. He also tries to schedule four of the league’s seven races on courses with no fees, with those locations being Greylock, Wahconah, Mohawk and Cherry Hill. There is a give-and-take with these courses. In order to keep the cost down, the skill level suffers. With the exception of Greylock, many school campuses are mostly flat, which isn’t ideal for Nordic skiing competition.
"Greylock’s got some decent [hills] but they don’t measure up to what Prospect has and what Notchview has for real Nordic skiing terrain," he said. "So from a technical side, for skating and classical, it’s a little easier for the kids at schools. Going to Notchview and Prospect gives them a little more of a challenge, which is a good combination."
Challenging terrain aside, finding high schools that have the correct resources is the bigger problem. Miller said just because a school hosts a cross country race doesn’t mean it can have a Nordic race. Often times the trails are too narrow for racing, especially if the race is a skate, where poles and skis are flying out to the side.
The school then needs to have the equipment to groom for classical or skating. To do that you need a snowmobile, track setter and something to groom for skating. By Miller’s estimates, that would cost between $7,500 and $9,500 in equipment.
Mount Greylock has utilized grants, fundraising and a generous donation to accumulate the necessary tools. But for schools like Hoosac Valley High and Middle School, which has just 11 skiers this season, that’s a goal too lofty.
Dave Staffin, president of the Hoosac Valley Nordic ski teams’ booster club, said the club typically puts about $1,000 into the program on a yearly basis. While it doesn’t have a home meet on school grounds, the Hurricanes and Lenox will team up next weekend at Notchview to "host" the event.
The positive for the Hurricanes is they will still be able to have a concession stand at Notchview -- as would any other team hosting at Notchview -- whereas if the meet was at Prospect, they would not. Prospect has its own concession stand.
"Do we raise a lot of money [with concessions]? Not really, couple hundred bucks at best," Staffin said. "Maybe pay for a little bit of wax. We’re hoping with the concession stand to cover that first practice of $144." The club paid for the teams to go to Prospect a few days prior to the season-opening race to get on some snow. He said that cost $144.
The cost of wax alone can cripple a budget. Hillary Greene said she was at Berkshire Outfitters picking up some wax while on the phone. She said she was staring at a $498 bill.
"It can be expensive to run this team. And this is not for the whole season. This is just sort of what we think we need in the near future," she said. "If we get to the end of the year and we’re really in debt, we probably would have to ask parents if they would kick in a little extra, to help defray the cost."
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh