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This is the first of two posts about the 2009 Mountain Team Qualifiers. The first is at the Cranmore Hill Climb on June 28, the second is at the Cheyene Cañon Mountain Race on July 26th.

22nd Annual Cranmore Hill Climb – USA and NACAC Mountain Running Championships
On January 28th, all eyes in the mountain running community will be directed towards Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire as runners from across the US, Canada, Mexico and other Central American countries compete at the 2009 USA and NACAC Mountain Running Championships. 3 American men and 1 American woman will automatically be awarded berths on the 2009 Teva US Mountain Running Team.

Inquiries have already been coming in from across the country about the race, which is open to runners of all abilities, not just the elite athletes.

“One of the things I love about the sport of trail running is, you get to compete in the same race as the best athletes in your sport.” Remarked Race Director Paul Kirsch of the White Mountain Milers running club.

So where is Mount Cramore and how did it become a mountain running mecca?

Mount Cranmore is a 1700 foot mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire about 2.5 hours North of Boston. An excerpt on the history from the Ski Area’s website:

North Conway businessman Harvey Dow Gibson had cleared the first trails on the slopes of Mount Cranmore during the summer of 1937. Two years later, Hannes Schneider “the father of American skiing” made his first turns on the South Slope and began a skiing revolution.

Part of Cranmore’s history began in Austria , Schneider’s home. An outspoken critic of the Nazis, Schneider was stripped of his influential title as head of all of Austria ‘s ski instructors after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. After being placed under house arrest, Schneider fled to America and his new home of North Conway .

Gibson worked hard to bring Schneider to the Mount Washington Valley and saw him as instrumental in establishing Cranmore as a world-class skiing destination. Schneider received a hero’s welcome upon arriving in North Conway. Schneider and his entire family left the train and walked under an archway of ski poles, held by 150 schoolchildren enrolled in the Eastern Slope Ski Club Junior Program. After lunch, Schneider made his first turns at his new home. “Well, Herbert,” Schneider said to his son, “It’s not St. Anton, but we’re going to love it here.” From that moment on, Schneider and Gibson worked to build Cranmore into a premier ski resort destination.

Cranmore Circa 1930Schneider put Cranmore and North Conway on the skiing map. Skiing had been established in the Mount Washington Valley at Whitneys’ Slope in Jackson and the old Wildcat Trail in Pinkham Notch. Schneider’s arrival, however, elevated North Conway ‘s reputation and made Cranmore the place to ski in the East. Using his natural skill and vast knowledge acquired in his years of teaching in Austria, Schneider developed a ski school at Cranmore and taught his Arlberg technique to students from across the globe. Together with Gibson, Schneider laid the plans for the growth of Cranmore, which began with the expansion to the summit of the mountain and the completion of the already-famous Skimobile.

Photo courtesy of North Conway Library. See more historical photos of Mt. Cranmore

The summer footrace up Cranmore started in the 1980s when it was a fundraiser for the Cranmore Ski Racing Team. In those original races, it was a “pick your own way to the summit” ascent-only race in the 80s, the race evolved to a 3 mile uphill-only race up the mountain service road. It was also part of a “Tri-Mountain Challenge” of three mountain races in the area- up Cranmore, Mount Kearsarge, and the Moats. Race Management of the event was taken over by the White Mountain Milers in the 1990s, who have directed the race ever since.

In 2005 the course was changed to an up-down format so that it could serve as a qualifying race for the Teva US Mountain Running Team. Since then, the race has continued to be an up-down race, becoming part of the Inov-8 USATF-New England Mountain Running Circuit in 2005 as well. Tradition since then has been that the course has changed each year since then, exploring new sections of the mountain and giving local mountain runners something new to talk about each year.

The 2007 race served as the USA Mountain Running Champs and had the most challenging course of the race history. With the goal of mimicing the steep downhill at that year’s World Mountain Running Trophy, the course descended at a 20% grade down the face of the mountain, receiving the label as “toughest race ever” by self-proclaimed New England Mountain Running Historian, Dave Dunham.

The 2008 race saw a less difficult course than 2007 but had the added challenge of a strong rain and thunderstorm at the beginning of the race.

The 2009 course will be the same as 2008, hopefully without the rain and mud. But, it’s early summer in New England, who knows what the weather will bring.

Course Map

2008 Race Report & Photos

For more information on The Cranmore Hill Climb, please see the event website