By Greg Petrics, Famous Internet Skiers
This weekend was the venerable Stowe Derby: A race from near the summit of Mount Mansfield, Vermont all the way down to the town of Stowe. The race takes the competitors from the alpine terrain of Mount Mansfield down nearly 3,000 vertical feet via Stowe Mountain Resort's thrilling Toll Road trail, and then links several of the cross country trails through the valley to the town of Stowe. The best equipment for the job is often cross country skis, but telemark skis have proved to be quite effective as well in recent runnings of The Derby.
Needless to say, each and every one of the Famous Internet Skiers was eager to participate, but unfortunately none of us owned cross country or telemark skis. Since we didn't want to make fools of ourselves in the actual event, we decided that we would instead run our own private race just before the official race. Whoever completed the course the fastest would win a six-pack of Rock Art Vermonsters. We decided we'd do it the old fashioned way too, and ascend the mountain ourselves rather than take the chairlift. The guide book we picked up insisted that route up the Toll Road was gradual and easy to navigate, but we must have gotten off on the wrong foot or something. From the very beginning we found the route treacherous and extremely difficult to navigate. Needless to say, before too long we were lost.
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The grooming of the Toll Road was simply atrocious! The powder was so deep! How are skinny ski skiers supposed to schuss this safely (say that ten times fast)?
The result of the 75-100 cm of snow from the storm on Wednesday February 24 was astounding to see. Trees that are 3-7 meters high in summer were reduced to bumps in the snowpack.
Despite the beauty however, Christian the Curmudgeonly splitboarder started to get nervous. "I don't think this is Toll Road guys," he said. "This looks more like a blue square, and the I'm pretty sure the Toll Road is a green circle!"
Ben wasn't worried though, and assured everyone that the top of the Toll Road trail was just ahead. Before too long though he started to get nervous too... The terrain was quickly becoming more like a black diamond; maybe even double black diamond :-o !!!!
GULP... I don't know how anyone does this on cross-country skis.
Soon after this point we were all freaking out. The clinometer was showing 48°, and if this was Toll Road, it was far and away the most challenging green circle any of us had ever encountered. Our lucky stars must have been shining exceedingly brightly though: despite the gentle ascent promised in the guide book we had a rope, and we all brought ice tools and crampons. As we pushed up the steep and deep snow, red flags started going off left and right. Then suddenly we all heard that unmistakable and terrifying "WHUMP!" My head shot left in time to catch a glimpse of a shallow slab cracking and propagating several tens of meters across the climb. The hardened sludge from the big snow storm on Wednesday February 24th acted as the bed layer for the ten-or-so wind loaded centimeters. We all took strong stances and dug in as the snow came down just to our left. We were in a strong position, and were prepared for the contingency but there were those below us who may not have been so well positioned. "AVALANCHE!!!" I yelled as the snow thundered down the mountain. As the dust settled, we took count, and were relieved that everyone was healthy and accounted for. A temporarily missing ski was the only casualty. As we clung to our stances no one could believe what had just occurred. The only thing that was certain: If this was Toll Road, the Stowe Ski Patrol needed to do some SERIOUS avalanche control work to get this slope ready before the Stowe Derby could be run safely.
(the crown was approximately 12-16 cm deep, 10-15 m wide)
For several minutes we were forced to hang tight and not trigger any of the hangfire that remained, while below us the missing ski was recovered. In those tense moments we discussed our constantly evolving plan. Should we continue the race or not? Whatever we decided, a significant, but manageable slab remained hanging to the climbers left, and before we could do anything with the slope it needed to be cleared. Ben devised a plan of using ice chunks to trigger the slab, and before long we managed to flush the remainder of the hangfire. With the course clear, we pushed on, and shortly thereafter summited what we assumed was the Toll Road trail. We poked around in earnest, but despite our best efforts we couldn't find any trail signs marking the way of the race. Nevertheless, we decided this must be it, and we all put away our implements of ascent, and were relieved that we could finally don our implements of descent. And, so began the Famous Internet Skiers' version of the Stowe Derby.
Check out the rest of the event on FIS to see what happened during the descent... or click the following picture:
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.