For the intrepid, lots of thrill rides
Slopes offer competitions with an extreme edge
Dave Bouchard’s ski racing days are packed with chutes, cliffs, and rocks. Then there are the refrigerator-size moguls and marathon days when he clocks about 50,000 vertical feet.
“You need to maintain a balance of looking good and going big with speed and smoothness while not falling,’’ said Bouchard, 40, an elementary school teacher from Hinesburg, Vt. “Basically, you have to try to look good going down nasty terrain.’’
Bouchard is an avid recreational race competitor attracted to unorthodox competitions. He’s twice won Mad River Glen’s demanding Triple Crown, once was the victor in Magic Mountain’s Black Magic Extreme Challenge, and finished third in the radical Jay Peak Glade and Chute Bash.
“I’m a telemark skier and I like to be on the edge when it comes to my skiing,’’ he said. “I always figured that telemark skiers can do what Alpine skiers do.’’
New England’s slopes are loaded with competitions that go beyond traditional racing gates. There are myriad events in 2010 for the adventurous skier. Ski a day of runs trying to accumulate the most vertical. Get air navigating aggressive terrain with chutes and jumps. Bust some knee-jarring bumps.
On Tuesday, 84 people tackled Sugarloaf’s Moonlight Climb, a free-heel randonee dash featuring skinning up and skiing down. Skiers had a choice of a 1-mile course with a 1,780-foot vertical climb (73 opted for that) and a 5-mile route with a 2,500-foot vertical push (11 signed up).
Other upcoming ski mountaineering races include Jay Peak (Jan. 30), Blue Hills (Jan. 31), Mad River/Sugarbush (Feb. 7), Saddleback (Feb. 27), and Magic Mountain (March 6).
Mogul mashers like the bumps at Sunday River during the Maine Telemark Festival Feb. 6 and Killington’s Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge March 27 on Outer Limits.
Skiers can tap their inner Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn during the Jay Peak Syrovatka Downhill March 6, clocking speeds upward of 80 miles per hour. That, said Jay president Bill Stenger, is faster than what the Olympians will reach in Vancouver, since that downhill has more twists, turns, and dips.
The race at Jay is more of a straight shot, and though it attracts a large number of former college ski team members, master’s competitors, and other high-end racers gunning for a $500 prize, there are still dreamers who feel like they’re Olympic downhillers for a day.
“For a lot of people who show up, it is a Walter Mitty kind of experience,’’ said Stenger. “They have never been in that type of race before. They don’t go very fast, but they think they do and it is a thrill for them.’’
Speed is thrilling, but cumulative vertical is physically and mentally exhausting as skiers ride the lift during a nonstop day of events. Ski-a-thons start small, such as the two-hour challenge in the Vermont Adaptive Ski-a-Thon Jan. 30, and can run as long as Wachusett’s Overnight Shift, where a select group skis from 9 a.m. to 6 a.m. the following day.
For more bite there’s Wildcat’s Make-A-Wish 100K Vertical Challenge March 1 on the Lynx trail. The idea is to ski 100,000 vertical feet. At 2,112 feet per run, that’s 50 runs in one day. Wildcat Ski School technical director Mark Holmes was the catalyst for the event, making 52 runs in seven hours. He has since upped his personal best to 58 runs.
“Your legs get tired and old war wounds can creep up,’’ said Holmes. “The subtle part is the mental fatigue. You need to stay in the moment when you are coming down the mountain at a high speed. You can’t be daydreaming. I find the mental fatigue takes its toll quicker than the physical.’’
The highly skilled and daring off-piste set gravitate toward events such as the Castle Rock Extreme Challenge (March 6) at Sugarbush or Jay Peak’s two-day IFSA Extreme Competition (March 20-21) with finals down The Face.
Mad River Glen’s Triple Crown encapsulates the thrill-seeker’s rush in three competitions over six weeks in February and March. The Unconventional Terrain Competition (Feb. 6) features one run down the steeps, where fluidity, speed, and creativity matter. That’s followed by the grueling Vertical Challenge Feb. 26 and two-run Mogul Challenge March 20.
A skier such as Bouchard might scout a course to better prepare for tight turns or his best chances to get big air before the judges.
He doesn’t do it for bragging rights or prizes (mostly gear) or money (he once won $150 at Jay Peak). He does it for the challenge and to be a small piece of an event in its 12th year.
He’s got two daughters, ages 7 and 3, both skiers. Triple Crown winners see their names on a trophy in the pub.
“Their daddy’s name is up there,’’ Bouchard said. “To think, some day they’ll go in there and see it. I’m famous with them, and that’s cool.’’