A Brief History of the Upper Valley Nordic Club
By Rob Walsh
The 1987-88 ski season was kind to us langlaufers on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Olympic Games that year were being played in Calgary, Canada and in the United States the nordic community at all levels were still feeling the effects of early 80s successes of Bill Koch, Dan Simoneau, Tim Caldwell, Jim Galanes, and others.
If you were a cross-country ski racer, but not on the National Team, then the marathon circuit was the place to be. The Great American Ski Chase linked together almost a whole season's worth of racing, starting in New Hampshire in January, working its way though the Midwest and the Birkie in February, and finishing up with the Gold Rush in California in mid-March. There were several "Factory Teams" which competed for prestige and prizes. These teams were made of some of the best skiers in the country and sponsored by Fischer, Rossignol, Atomic, Snow Mountain Ranch of Colorado, and Jeremy Ranch in Utah. These teams provided some support for the post-collegiate skiers who were trying to extend their career, but there was then, as there is now, a void of support and opportunity for those 20-somethings who still have dreams and potential for making the big time.
In the Upper Connecticut River Valley, on the corner of Main St and West Wheelock in the town of Hanover, NH stands the residence of a Senior Society of Dartmouth College known as Casque & Gauntlet. During the 1988 ski season one of C&G's second floor rooms was inhabited by a certain Max Saenger, who at the time was the captain of the Dartmouth Ski Team. When Max wasn't out eating ice cream to gain weight for the competitive season, he often thought about his future. It was in this thinking that Max recognized this void of support for the post-college ranks he was about to join.
Max had aspirations of racing in the Olympics, so he had to come up with a way of getting support for his facing in the coming years. And support meant more than just money. A part-time job was easy to find, but good equipment, coaching, and a committed training group were harder to come by. He investigated the possibilities for skiing on a factory team, but he wasn't sure he had the connections or the results to make it happen. The Ski Chase races were often part of a 2-3 day festival in their respective locations, and at one point Max considered supporting himself by selling pancakes and pancake mix from a stand at these events as he traveled around competing. This, of course, was greeted with much enthusiasm and sarcasm from his Dartmouth teammates.
In March of 1988, while Max, Max Cobb, the Walsh Brothers, and others were at USSA Nationals in Royal Gorge, CA the Upper Valley Nordic Club was conceived. One night while driving back from Reno to Soda Springs, CA Max and Max decided that they could create a club that would really make a difference. "I'm serious about this", said Max. "I am too!" replied Max. (Getting the two of them confused was often a problem back then.) The club was to have 2 components. A broad based community club would support all ski enthusiasts of the Upper Valley, and an elite racing team of about 10-15 athletes would be able to train and race together in a positive environment. Several of the elite team members were Ford Sayre coaches, so the overlap was a natural fit. The elite team was how Max and Max planned to distinguish the UVNC from other clubs, and how Saenger planned to support his skiing endeavors. Shortly after Nationals, Max ventured to Vegas to visit the SIA (Ski Industries of America) show to work the crowd and get sponsors for the team. His room at G&C became the UVNC headquarters. In order to promote a good, professional image, Max requested that his roommate to answer their phone, "Upper Valley Nordic, How may I help you?" Max also occasionally did schoolwork, but it was Senior Spring and he was a French Lit major so he was pretty much coasting through that.
The 1989 season was the first for the UVNC. The elite team had uniforms made by VOMAX, jackets from Granite Wear, Yoko gloves, and Swix wax. The team vehicle was the Cochon Bleu (French, meaning "the blue pig"), Saenger's van which came complete with sleeping bag and blankets to keep you warm in the winter. The team included Max Saenger, Max Cobb, Joe Walsh, Rob Walsh, Kathy Maddock, John Morton, Joe Holland, Alex Kahan, Kathy Woolf, Brendan Sullivan, Steve Poulin and Dorcas DenHartog. We joined up with other UVNC members to share floorspace for sleeping and rides to races throughout the east. Max and Max held it all together and the club was off to a flying start.
But running a club at that level took a lot of effort, and didn't pay a dime. Saenger realized that the effort spent in being a club administrator really reduced his training and racing effectiveness. So it was only a couple of years later that Max Cobb was working for the U.S. Biathlon Association, and Max Saenger was splitting his time between the U.S. and Switzerland. The UVNC elite team had disintegrated. Joe and Rob Walsh tried to hold the club on life support for the next couple of years, sending out periodic newsletters, running Monday night soccer games in the summer, and resurrecting the Silver Fox Trot as an annual Hanover event. The name of the Upper Valley Nordic Club lived through the early '90s, but the UVNC as a functioning organization had slipped into a coma.
The dormant UVNC was awakened when Jim Anderson and Anne Donaghy decided that it would be a great thing to have a masters group to bring together all local ski enthusiasts. They invoked the Upper Valley Nordic name and we were in business again. The fresh faces brought a new perspective and new energy that soon welcomed not just masters, but their families as well. Weekly rollerskis became a regular way of socializing and training. Email made it easier to pass on timely information at no cost.
The UVNC has been in operation of some sort for 12 years, exclusively through the effort of volunteer administrators and club members. Where does the club go from here? That's entirely up to you. Club survival depends on member participation, and a successful club can only be developed through the cooperative efforts of many people. Watch for a club interest survey later in the year to determine where we go from here, or send your input now to Anne Donaghy or Rob Walsh.