For nearly four decades, Keith Woodward has been grooming trails at Craftsbury Outdoor Center—and competing as a world-class duathlete.
Name: Keith Woodward Age: 67 OCCUPATION: Groomer at Craftsbury Outdoor Center CLAIM TO FAME: World Champion Duathlete LIVES IN: Moscow FAMILY: Significant other, Patricia Driscoll; rescue dog, Simon
If there’s one person who’s going to be busy this December it’s Keith Woodward. January 3-8, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center hosts the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships and Woodward is responsible for creating the best racing surface possible.
That’s no easy task, but Woodward has been grooming and maintaining trails for longer than most of the skiers on the U.S. Ski Team have been alive.
Woodward grew up on a farm in East Corinth and went to Vermont Technical College. When he started grooming at Craftsbury in 1979, the cross-country ski area just had one “beat up” snow machine. He was hired to work three hours a day for room and board at a time when most of the people using the trails
“We didn’t even have a tractor,” he recalls. “We just weed-whacked the trails and had one beat up alpine groomer. Today we have three Pisten Bully grooming machines, four snow machines, four tractors and riding lawn mowers and we have access to three full-sized excavators and one mini excavator.”
Today, he sometimes works as much as 80 hours a week during the peak of ski season, which can make it hard to get out and train, but that’s OK, he says, because, “It’s rewarding to see people reap the benefits of my work.” He’s especially excited about the rise of mountain biking there in the summer.
Grooming—that’s only half of what makes Woodward a legend among local athletes. When he’s not working, Woodward is either training or competing as a world-class athlete in duathlon (running and biking). This past summer, at age 67, Woodward finished first in his age group at the ITU World Duathlon Championship in Germany for the second straight year. He has also been inducted into the Mount Washington Road Race Hall of Fame and in 2012 USA Triathlon named him its Grand Master Duathlete of the Year.
Through his job, Woodward has had the opportunity to meet some of the world’s top athletes. He gets to watch many of them train and compete on the same trails he grooms and he’s seen huge advancements in the way top athletes train.
“I wish I’d known 20 years ago what I know now. I never had a coach and I ran too much and didn’t rest enough when I was starting out,” he says. Technology has changed too: Woodward ran his first marathon in a pair of blue flats, shoes that were like Keds. He finished in 3 hours and 32 minutes. The next year he wore basketball shoes.
Woodward is looking forward to the coming season at Craftsbury. “This is going to be a great year,” he says. “We’ve got our season opener in early December and the Eastern Cup later in the month and then we’ve got the Championships in January, the biggest event we’ve ever had here.”
To get ready for the big events, Woodward and the rest of the crew make a lot of snow. Then they haul it to the 5K loop course. “In general, it takes about 150 truckloads of snow to cover one kilometer of skiable course,” he says. On a typical snow-hauling day, his crew of four starts work at 6 a.m. and calls it a day at 10 or 11 p.m. that night.
On the eve of a big race, Woodward likes to groom the course the night before so that cold overnight temperatures allow it to set and be extra firm on race day. If it snows overnight, sometimes he’ll groom the course early that morning too.
For his part, Woodward’s favorite times to ski are in the early winter and the spring, when the snow is fastest. “You want to get a nice wet base early in the season and hope that it stays cold in the weeks after. When that happens before Christmas, it sets you up for spring skiing conditions during the inevitable January thaw.” — Phyl Newbeck
Featured Photo Caption: Vermonter duathlete and groomer Keith Woodward. Photo courtesy Craftsbury Outdoor Center