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Racing

Behind the Blue Fencing: The Inner Workings of the Wasatch Citizens Series

It’s zero degrees. F. The snow at White Pine makes that crunch under your boots. As you make your way from your cold car, through the colder air, to registration, Dave Hanscom is pounding stakes and unrolling fencing. He and his crew have been there since 8:00 am.

Chances are, if you’ve done a Wasatch Citizens Series race, you have interacted with a handful of race-day volunteers. Aside from the day-of work, the WCS is the result of many hours behind the scenes — spring, summer, and fall — as well as the winter.

The History of the Wasatch Citizens Series

Dave Hanscom is a Middlebury graduate and native of Rumford, Maine. He relocated to the Wasatch after grad school with his wife Mary, and as so many do, hiked and skied the peaks of these towering mountains. He authored “Wasatch Tours,” a book considered by today’s guides to be the start of modern backcountry ski touring here.

Meanwhile, in 1978, Steve Erickson and Jim Miller, owners of White Pine, and Jock Glidden of Ogden, started what would become the Wasatch Citizens Series. They awarded points for their races and gave out awards at season’s end.

“I think it was 1984 when things started to lag with the WCS, and a group of us stepped in to help keep it going,” Hanscom says.

Before the Snow Flies

Scheduling the Wasatch Citizens Series begins almost as soon as the last pair of skis is awarded in the raffle at the Farm.

Soon after the May meetings of the USSA, the Intermountain Division maps out their schedule for Junior National Qualifiers. What used to be three qualifiers has ballooned to five. Hanscom takes note, and then collects the dates for the popular regional marathons.

“My goal is to avoid conflicts with the big events that local skiers like to attend (Teton Ridge Classic, Boulder Mountain Tour, Yellowstone Rendezvous), as well as the junior events, especially the Junior National Qualifier races,” Hanscom divulges.

Once those dates are on the calendar, he threads in the WCS races the best he can, avoiding most conflicts.

“It’s impossible to miss them all, so we have to prioritize. For example, some of our race crew participate in the big events, and some crew members also volunteer to help with the Super Qualifier at Soldier Hollow, so we don’t schedule on those weekends,” he explains.

All this, and our winters seem to be getting shorter, leaving very little room for an extra race weekend.

This year was a particular puzzle, since the Teton Ridge Classic changed dates to accommodate a Junior Qualifier. Hanscom worked hard with the promotor of that race to try and alleviate conflict.

In addition to the schedule, Hanscom is instrumental in securing race sponsorship. He maintains relationships with local skiers, shops, and industry representatives in order to make sure every season passholder gets a nice gift.

The dedicated race crew on a cold morning

A Labor of Love

The Wasatch Citizens Series we know is one-hundred percent volunteer driven.

“Our 30-member crew shows up on race days and does their best to make everyone’s experience a positive one. All they get in return is a couple of Clif Bars and maybe something they win in the drawing,” says Hanscom. Some years they find a sponsor to provide a coat or item of clothing to thank the staff and keep them warm while they’re out setting up, tearing down, registering, and tabulating results.

The inside crew sets up registration, while the outdoor crew puts up fencing and flags, the start/finish area, and obstacle course for the tots. The crew puts a premium on safety, trying their best to make sure the course is clearly marked.

“I try to have everything in place beforehand, so that on race day I just have to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job,” he says.

If you’ve raced, you know that soon after the finish there is a raffle, and then medals for everyone in the top 3. Unlike many of the big ski marathons around, the WCS doesn’t use timing chips, which automatically record the finishes and sort out the age groups.

“Thanks to Ernie Page’s timing system (Summit Timing), we’re able to do all of this really efficiently. One computer is used for registration, which happens before and during the race. Another computer is connected to timing devices at the finish,” Hanscom explains. With the software and a watchful crew, most of the results are accurate by the time the last water bottle has been claimed in the raffle.

When the last tired racer has limped to their car, Hanscom is still on the job. With the help of his crew and a few pick-up trucks, all the supplies are loaded up and transported home.

“I set up the computers again and try to fix any remaining issues so I can put results on the TUNA webpage,” Hanscom continues. “After that it’s a matter of writing an article for The Park Record, choosing photos for TUNA News, and sorting through everything to get it ready for the next race.”

Race director Dave Hanscom, also a racer, heading for 100 races in 2018

Organized Chaos

Part of what makes the series popular is that there is an event for everyone from the tiny tot obstacles to the 80-85 age group. Throw in the visiting collegiate skiers, elites, and occasional Olympians, and the madness of the start line seems impossible.

Hanscom uses a combination of requests and common sense to make sure everyone gets a somewhat clear start and opportunity.

“Mostly I try to listen to the skiers and do my best to accommodate. For example, the expert women wanted to ski with the expert men, and age-group women asked to all ski together. As long as the start waves aren’t too large, these requests can be met,” he explains. But sometimes he has to break up larger waves, such as the men’s age-groups, so that everyone can fit on the narrow tracks.

Each year, the WCS travels around the Wasatch front and Back, with races at Mountain Dell, White Pine, and Soldier Hollow.

“The venues are great to work with. They’re generally really flexible, but Soldier Hollow hosts several big races every winter, and White Pine is super busy over the holiday periods,” he says. While the club pays a per-racer fee for Soho and White Pine, it starts to get tricky when the weather doesn’t cooperate and venues have to change. Some luck and flexibility comes into play, and we have seen 2km loops, sprints, and short-course races when the snow is thin.

Inclusiveness

When asked what he’s most proud of in his work with the WCS, Hanscom was unable to narrow it down, but the theme was inclusion.

“I love it that so many families come to our races. It’s great to see the kids having so much fun, then joining their parents for the drawing, awards, and sometimes lunch,” he says. “I’ve tried to create an inclusive atmosphere that encourages friendly competition at all levels, and I hope that’s part of the reason so many friendships have developed among the participants. It’s also been incredibly rewarding to see the sit skiers out there on the track in recent years.”

And that inclusion? It extends to Hanscom himself. While it may seem like there are two of him, there is but one Dave Hanscom. He dusted off his skis last year at the White Pine Skate race in order to set himself up for completing 100 races. Of course, he credits his crew for giving him the time to jump in and race, and if they do it enough times this year, he will add his name to the list of Wasatch Citizens Series Centurions by 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen Santoro
Jen Santoro is the editor of the print TUNA News. She used to race bikes of all kinds and was on the first team of women to race cyclocross in Europe in the World Cup. The mom of two changed sports in 2010, and was the 2018 World Master’s Champion in 15k and 30k Skate in the 40-44 division.