Durham combines strength, fitness on the trails

Keelan Durham, left.

Keelan Durham, left. Williams College — Steve Fuller

Keelan Durham

Keelan Durham —Keelan Durham

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-13-2024 5:01 PM

The Strafford Nordic Ski Center went out of business in December 2022. One of its products, however, is still going strong on the trails.

Keelan Durham, a junior at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., recently earned All-East first team honors from the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association for his performance during the 2023-24 season. The 22-year-old ranked fourth in the region and finished second at the Harvard and Dartmouth carnivals.

A Corinth farm boy, Durham finished 30th out of 40 competitors in 21 minutes, 31 seconds, during the skate-style 7.5-kilometer race at last month’s NCAA championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He was 37th in 1:02 during the 20K classic event later at the same competition.

“His combination of strength and fitness is what makes Keelan a special athlete,” said interim Williams coach Steve Monsulick. “He has really good fast-twitch muscles and can keep them going.”

Durham’s best event, the skate-style sprint, isn’t contested at the NCAA meet. Participants race 1.5 kilometers four times with smaller rest periods between each round as the field is reduced. It amounts to covering 6K at all-out intensity.

“It’s a fun spectator race, and (Durham) is tactically savvy in it,” said Monsulick, noting that his skier finished 15th in the country in that event at the U.S. national championships, which are unaffiliated with the NCAA and draw fields including World Cup and Olympic participants.

Durham first tried Nordic skiing during sixth grade while enrolled in an after-school program at the Strafford Center. Two years later, he began practicing and competing with the Upper Valley’s Ford Sayre youth club, often powering across fields and over trails at the Hanover Country Club and Oak Hill sites and the Green Woodlands in Dorchester.

Oxbow High, Durham’s alma mater, doesn’t offer ski teams, although he ran cross country and track for the Olympians and slowly made it second nature to push his physical and mental limits. By his junior year, he was posting times that allowed him to be taken seriously when communicating with college coaches.

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Durham is focusing his studies on geology and computer science and chose Williams primarily for its academic rigor. There’s no doubt, however, that skiing is a major part of his life.

“I really like training, and we spend a lot of time on it,” Durham said. “On race day, I get a lot of satisfaction from reaching deep and going hard. It’s the iterative part, and you realize how you can change for next time.”

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Durham covets firm conditions, allowing him to dig into the snow without it giving way too much. Warm and/or rainy conditions cause him problems, although he’s able to adapt.

The Ephs ski at Prospect Mountain in nearby Woodford, Vt. Its 2,200-foot elevation is the highest for a Vermont Nordic area and regularly gives them good conditions.

Durham and his teammates get a break through May, but summer brings the start of offseason training, often on roller skis. Weight room work and plenty of running are also on the menu.

“Six days a week, and there are multiple days when we’re doing double sessions,” Durham said with relish. “Training at the collegiate level is a full-time endeavor.”

Monsulick thinks improvement could push Durham into the international arena next winter.

“He’s got to make a little bit of a jump, but he could be knocking on the door of some World Cup starts,” the coach said. “He has many interests, but when he digs into something, he gets very into it.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.