Coaches and athletes huddle around dozens of skis and it's barely 8:30 a.m. There are blow-torches, maybe an iron or two. Boxes of wax have lost their organization. Now the various colors and brands are sprawled out on tables and tailgates.
The flurry that ensues in the hour leading up to race time is just the tip of the iceberg.
Preparation for a classic Nordic ski race has been under way for about 24 hours, if not more. Long gone are the days of grabbing a candle off the mantle or some CRISCO on your way out the door for a day of skiing. It's evolved into a science.
Now, coaches constantly read weather forecasts and snow conditions in the days leading up to race day.
"The most popular web page on my computer right now is the weather web page," Hoosac Valley Nordic ski coach Alicia Gwozdz said. "I look at it for Woodford, Vermont and Windsor, Massachusetts pretty much three times a day."
They're glued to their computers, smart phones and televisions to gather as much information to make their best guess before preparing skis for the upcoming race. It can guide them to the perfect wax for the race, but there's no guarantee.
"You'd think that having done this for so many years that we would have it down and that we'd be able to wake up in the morning and say ‘Oh, it's 15 degrees and it's 30 percent humidity and this is exactly the wax for this occassion,' " Greylock girls' Nordic coach Hillary Greene said. "But it never works out that way."
The best way to find consistency is a combination of experience and awareness. Teams will spend time the day before a race prepping their skis, scraping off old wax and applying a new binder layer, which will hold the "wax of the day" on the ski throughout the race.
Most skis won't be ready to go before race day, but some will and will serve as test skis. They'll have different brands and different temperatures so teams can hone in on the perfect wax for that day's conditions.
Many times coaches can combine the information from race day with their years of experience to find the precise wax. But the fine tuning can happen only when there's good communication between them and the athletes.
"[Communication's] huge because when you're testing, you have to be thinking about exactly what you need so that when you go back to them, you can be really efficient," Greylock senior Kat Chenial said. "Just say like ‘I need more under my toe' or ‘I think I need a little bit more on this ski, but not this ski,' so that they can do it super fast and then get ready for the next person, because there are six or seven other kids that are having the same issue and need help, too."
"It very rarely happens that we put one thing on and send the kids off and they all say it's perfect and they love it," Greene said. "They usually come back twice, sometimes three times."
A couple years ago, Greene's girls kept coming back saying the wax wasn't working. The temperature was rising rapidly, about 10-15 degrees in an hour and drastically changing the conditions. They kept changing wax to accomodate the warmer temperatures.
"They went off, they got into the woods and they just had about 3 inches of snow on the bottom of their skis and the literally couldn't move," she said. "So we don't always get it right and sometimes I think we have to maybe trust our instincts over what our athletes are telling us. But I think we get them out there and try to do the best we can."
It's not always that challenging, but the degree of difficulty can typically grows as the morning progresses. There are four races and all can't start at once. The coaches may be spot-on for the boys' varsity race which may start at 9:30 a.m., but the girls' varsity teams need to continue testing as the boys race. The girls start about 25 minutes after the boys, which means the temperature and humidity can change just enough to completely throw off the wax.
When that happens in a classic race, a skier's kick wax can be rendered useless. The kick wax is vital to a classic skier being able to move, especially up hills. Put too much on and you won't be able to glide. Put too little on and "you just are in this miserable, slippery, non-forward motion," Greene said. "It's actually very much, I think, an art of figuring out what the best wax for the particular situation is. Every snow condition is different, so it's really hard to plan for."
For some, like Gwozdz who has been on skis since she was 2, waxing has been nearly a life-long lesson. A revolving door in the coach's office her first two years in high school forced her to learn what wax systems were and what works best in what temperature range, humidity level and snow condition.
"You learn it through trial and error a lot of times," she said. "I mean I'm still learning stuff now."
Her attention is more focused now because she knows how important it was to her when she was skiing, so that makes it even more important now that she's the one picking it for an entire team.
She knows sometimes it'll be an "extra blue day" and all will be good, but those don't come around on race days too often.
"Even now, sometimes I put the wax on the kids' skis and it's wax that I pick and it should work and the kids come back and say ‘Coach, it's not working,' " she said. "You play with it until you get it right."
The athletes pay attention, too. Waxing isn't limited to just race day, and while it's not nearly as complicated for practice -- often teams will use only a base layer or "shop wax" -- there's still a process.
When athletes join in seventh or eighth grade, they're probably a blank book. On a team like Mount Greylock that routinely has numbers higher than 50, there is ample time to learn from the older kids during wax sessions.
"I know more compared to the team, but I have only just scratched the surface," said senior Mountie Sean Houston, who joined in seventh grade. "What I know is mostly how to put the wax on."
But he knows his limits and defers to the vast knowledge Hillary, Hiram Greene and Matt Voisin have when it comes to kick wax.
"The coaches will know so much about the wax and the conditions that each wax requires that it's incredible," he said.
It all comes down to fitting the jig-saw pieces together.
"It's very strange because it's its own form of chemistry class, and I was really bad in chemistry class," Gwozdz said. "So it's strange that I do fairly well with the ski waxing. I guess when you grow up with it, you get used to playing around with it and eventually you get it right."
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh