WATERVILLE — Call it a ski boost.
This weekend, area hotels and restaurants will get an economic jolt when 200 college athletes, their families and fans arrive for the Colby Carnival Nordic 2013 cross country skiing event.
In the past, the annual races were held in Augusta, Farmington and Sugarloaf. This year, Colby Carnival has found a new home at Quarry Road Recreation Area, a Nordic trail system with international credentials, state-of-the-art snowmaking capacity and growing potential.
Athletes from 14 colleges will compete on Saturday and Sunday at the city-owned property, marking its first major sporting event.
Waterville should see an influx of more than 300 people this weekend — from Bowdoin and Bates colleges, Harvard University, the University of Maine and elsewhere — and most of them will stay at area hotels and eat at area restaurants, Pat Cote, volunteer event coordinator for Colby Carnival, said.
“I have a feeling that people will notice,” he said of increased activity downtown. “It’s not very often that you see a UVM or Dartmouth athletics vehicle in Waterville,” he said.
At Best Western Plus on Upper Main Street, two teams are booked for the weekend, which equals about five rooms for two nights, said general manager Darlene Ratte.
“It’s a nice thing to have in the wintertime when we don’t have a lot of transient traffic,” she said. “It’s something we wouldn’t normally expect. I think as (the event) grows, we’ll pick up even more rooms every year.”
At the Fireside Inn and Suites on Upper Main Street, general manager Barry Asalone said the hotel will gross more than $2,000 this weekend from two teams and their parents.
At the Fireside Inn and Suites on Kennedy Memorial Drive, general manager Barry Asalone said the hotel will gross more than $2,000 this weekend from two teams and their parents.
“We’ve got a pretty good weekend coming up,” he said. “The impact for area restaurants will be substantial.”
Mayor Karen Heck said the event demonstrates continuing integration between Colby College and Waterville. The school worked hand-in-hand with the city to bring the recreation area to fruition, she said.
“This is a huge benefit for the city,” she said of Quarry Road. “It’s the best snowmaking equipment in New England for a Nordic track, and it’s an incredible asset for us.”
But the bulk of the credit goes to Quarry Road’s guiding hand, John Koons, she said.
“Clearly, he has done that.”
Six years ago, Koons conceived a plan to turn the site into premier Nordic skiing facility.
Earlier this week, the $1.4 million project reached a significant milestone, when 20 snowmaking guns began churning out manmade snow for its internationally certified trail system.
Koons, 62, a dentist who practices on Western Avenue, is also a donor, volunteer and driving force behind the project.
“I’m an instigator, facilitator and expediter,” he said on Tuesday.
In 2008, Koons convinced city officials to buy 97 acres of land at the end of Quarry Road for a recreation site. In the years that followed, the area expanded to 120 acres and now has a three-mile trail system, including a 5K racing trail that has been inspected and certified by the International Ski Federation.
On Sunday night, the city fired up its new, $385,000 snowmaking system and Koons was there to see it during the predawn hours on Monday.
“To watch the sun come up on fresh snow at Quarry Road had to be one of the greatest moments of my life,” he said.
The trail system has a pedigree. Just as famous golf courses are known for their designers, the trails at Quarry Road were configured by an expert team.
Morton Trails LLC of Thetford, Vt., has worked on 170 trail projects nationwide and elsewhere, including California, Montana and South Korea.
David Lindahl, a partner at Morton Trails, said the racing trail meets international standards, which gives Quarry Road world-class appeal.
“Up until about five years ago, there were only about five courses in the country that met that standard. Now there’s about a dozen, and Quarry Road is now one of them,” he said. “They can host events of the highest caliber.”
The trail at Quarry Road is so good, Lindahl said, it could conceivably host World Cup championships, if there weren’t practical limitations such as relatively limited parking or indoor facilities.
The trails are also pleasing to the eye and the body, he said.
“The terrain is very, very conducive to good racing, as well as fun skiing. It has a combination of elevation, vegetation types and fields,” he said. “It allowed us to put in a lot of elements that we hope people will enjoy.”
Lindahl said the trail’s uphill stretches are “humane,” but test skiers’ merits. The downhill stretches are technically challenging, but fun and safe.
The snowmaking system is the crown jewel, he said.
“The last thing that really distinguishes it — beyond an incredible amount of community support — is the snowmaking,” he said. “It’s a rare phenomenon anywhere in the United States.”
Cote agrees with Lindahl’s assessment.
“I think this is one of the best trails out there. Period,” he said.
Ben McCanna — 861-9239