This past Friday, Tawny and I headed over to New Hampshire for a trip up Mt. Washington into Tuckerman Ravine. On Wednesday and Thursday the weather report wasn’t looking so optimistic. They had snow and cold temps with high winds. But, knowing that Mt. Washington has rapid weather changes, we decided to risk it and head over anyway.
Boy am I glad we did. We awoke to temps in the 30’s in Pinkham Notch with only a light wind. We headed over for breakfast and to take a look at the daily avalanche report. It hadn’t been updated before or after breakfast, but we decided that there would be something good and stable to ski on so we packed up our gear and waited for our friends to arrive.
About 9:00, the rest of our crowd showed up. Conveniently, the avy report had been updated and things looked good. Low risk in most areas with a moderate risk in the middle part of the bowl. We made some last minute gear adjustments and started up the trail with a few dozen other folks around us. The lower part of the Tuckerman Ravine trail had snow on it, but we all remained on foot for a while with the expectation that we would encounter enough rocky areas that skinning wouldn’t be a good option yet. That proved to be a good call, but after about 45 minutes of hiking two of our members switched over to skins.
Our first views of the ravine were beautiful. It looked almost devoid of people, but plenty of folks were hiking up Hillman’s highway. While snacking, we discussed our options. Hillmans was obviously a popular choice, but more and more people were headed into the ravine so we decided to head up as well to see how things looked in person.
Yep, that’ll do. It’s pretty obvious which snow was expected to be stable and which was considered a moderate risk.
First run: We headed up right gully following a crowd of folks that were headed up to the upper snowfields by way of a bushwhack. We didn’t wand to head up that high, so we kicked off a shelf and started to transition. Did I mention that only two of our group had skied here before? You forget what it’s like to make your first steep slope transition until you do it with a group of people who have never done it before.
The ride down was beautiful. The new snow was thick without being grabby. The old snow was corning up perfectly.
Second run: The left side of center bowl was al old snow and had a good boot pack up it, so we gave it a shot. Most folks were staying out of the new snow in center bowl, but a few had made some big turns and long traverses and it appeared stable. Still, we mostly stuck to the corn off to lookers left of the boot ladder.
Third run, we hiked part way back up right gully for a few final turns before heading down. It was hard to leave on such a perfect day.
The Sherburne trail was well covered at the top. We skied down to turn 5, according to the guide that was putting up the rope, and even that required a little grass skiing.
All in all, it was about as perfect an experience as you can have on Mt. Washington. Great weather, great snow and great company.
2013 Stowe Derby photos are available online and indexed by bib number. Find yourself,order a print to relish the day. Or find a friend and order a print to mock their crash!
Another Stowe Derby is in the books. Congratulations to everyone involved! We were lucky enough to get some snow in the week prior to the race and conditions were nearly perfect. Warm weather on race day even made it a pleasure to stand on a mountain side for hours at a time!
My day starts with checking in and heading over to the short course start. This year, the scenery was beautiful as the first few hundred yards of the course came through the tree-lined Stowe Recreation Path. The fresh snow on the branches makes for an ideal backdrop.
While I’m shooting the start, Tawny gets settled near the end of the course. Some years, this vantage point provides a beautiful mountain backdrop, but this year we were socked in up on the hill. You can’t win them all!
After shooting the start of the short course, I head to the top of the mountain and get settled on turn one. The mountain was really quiet this year and I could clearly hear the “boop, boop, boop, boop, beep!” of the starting bell. Many of the first racers came flying around the first corner with apparent ease. You have my admiration.
Others had some trouble navigating the ice down the center, the powdery ruts along the outside, or the divots from prior competitors’ falls. You have my sympathy.
I think the photo below is my favorite position. I seem to capture one of these every year. This one scores a perfect 10.
As usual, spirits were high and most of the people that fell popped right back up with smiles on their faces. I especially liked the tutu troop’s costumes this year! A fun splash of color on a grey day.
In preparation for the classical start, I headed down the toll road a little ways to one of the more popular corners. When I arrived, it looked like many more people went over the edge than normal, but the patroller on scene said he felt it was about normal. Stowe Ski Patrol did a great job at padding the trees and saplings in the landing zone, though, and even coached skiers through extracting themselves from a difficult position. Props to them.
The classic skiers seemed to have it dialed through the corner.
Well… some did, but if you didn’t clean this corner don’t feel bad — you’re in good company.
This is Ray. He suffered some equipment issues… he broke the duckbill off of his boot while warming up at the start! Never the less, and with the assistance of a little electrical tape provided by a liftie, he started and finished the race. (Did I mention he’s skiing on his grandfather’s Bonna 1800 skis?)
Back in near the finish, skiers always round this corner and start looking for the finish. You’re almost there!
More equipment failures, apparently. This is dedication, though. He’s not walking to the finish, he was running when he passed Tawny and running when he arrived at the finish line about 1k later. How long did you run?
The nice part about being down here is that people will wander about and sometime stay to chat for a few minutes. Some people are just out to walk the dogs and others are in town on vacation, only learning of the Stowe Derby from their waitress at breakfast.
Hey wait – I recognize you!
When the action is over on the mountain, I head to the finish to catch some relieved looks as people round the last corner and cross the finish line. This guy had a mob of kids pushing him to the finish.
Careful! Just a few more yards! (He stayed upright)
You can find all photographs from the Stowe Derby right here. You can even search by bib number to order a print of yourself (or a friend!) Thanks for supporting your local photographers!
Our Stowe Derby day starts by swinging by registration to check in, pick up a lift ticket, and coordinate any last minute details. The early bib pickup system has made this process a lot easier; it used to be that there was a long line of people waiting to pick up their race packets, but now it’s a calm trickle of people.
From there, Tawny and I head to find scout a location with a view of the mountains. With the re-routed course this year, we took a few extra minutes to find a new spot. Once that’s settled upon, I rush back to the start of the short course to grab a few quick shots of the chaos that is a mass start.
While the racers are making their way back towards Tawny,
I head up to Stowe Mountain Resort to get set for the Freestyle start. The first skiers come through fast and gracefully.
It’s funny photographing on the Toll Road. I like to shoot around the first corner to get some interaction between racers (and, I’m not gonna lie, to get some great crashes.) The thing is, it’s a blind corner so I do a lot of listening to know when to shoot. Generally, the first sound you hear is skis snowplowing down the first pitch before the corner. Next, the less experienced racers will often let out a little (or sometimes big!) scream as they realize they have to turn more than 90 degrees and have no edges. From there many will fall, but nearly everyone gets up laughing.
Scrape, Scream, Fall, Laugh – the pattern continues for quite some time!
This year there were definitely some powder hounds who had to get fresh tracks where they could.
I’m not sure what it was this year, but skiers took this corner wide and a number of people came close to the wall.
A few even hit it!
Racers then continue through the bulk of the course before reaching Tawny’s spot with views of a freshly snow-covered Spruce mountain with blue skies. Hard to beat that!
So about two hours later it all begins again with the start of the Classical race. A little further down on the course this time, a crowd has gathered to watch the carnage.
This guy makes it look too easy.
When the last racers have come through, I pack up my gear and head to the finish. Tawny captures everyone in the field with the mountains or Smuggler’s Notch in the background and I get to watch racers smile as they realize they’re within a few hundred yards of the finish.
Nice work everyone! I look forward to doing it all again next year! (When, hopefully, I’ll remember the sunblock.)
You can find all photographs from the Stowe Derby right here. You can even search by bib number to order a print of yourself (or a friend.) Thanks for supporting your local photographers!
It was another successful year for the Stowe Derby. Some 793 racers took on the challenge of a 2,602′ descent over 12.5 miles on cross country skis. That may not sound bad until you look at the course profile and realize that nearly 2,000 of those vertical feet are descended in the first 3 miles as skiers race down the Toll Road on Stowe Mountain Resort.
But I get ahead of myself. Before the insanity begins, the short course competitors start on the Stowe Recreation Path. The mass starts with long skinny skis on your feet is a different kind of chaos but most everyone starts with a smile and the competitors eventually string out into a long line marching towards the finish.
It’s pretty easy to tell who’s in this race as a competitor
and who’s just out to have a good day on snow with a few hundred friends.
This little guy’s only 5 years old and he’s already competed in more Stowe Derbys than I have.
Back at the top, I usually start to get settled as the racers are warming up. A half dozen racers usually ski down two or three turns to get a feel for the snow and the course and then turn around to hike their way back up to the start. When the ski patrol comes through to sweep the course, it’s time for the chaos to begin.
The first racers usually clean the upper corners well. Their legs are fresh and usually they’re experienced enough on skis to manage the hill and loose snow.
It doesn’t take long before the trail claims its first pieces of gear.
and provides us with some spectacular falls.
I may be wrong, but I think you’re missing something, #143. Nice job staying on your feet, though!
When you watch a few hundred skiers come around the same corner, you start to get a feel for the technique or line that contributes to an explosive fall. Sometimes you get surprised, though. #179 looked like he was headed for disaster and then finished his turn with perfect form. I hope the rest of your race went well!
Sometimes, you can’t help but laugh at some of the falls. I’d feel bad except for the fact that most of the racers laugh as they’re going down as well.
After a crash, they pop back up like kids and skate back into the thick of the race. With 5 people starting every 30 seconds, you don’t have long to collect yourself before getting run over!
In past years, I’ve seen people on heavy telemark gear, full-on alpine touring bindings and snowlerblades, but this was the first year that I saw someone on a snowboard. Well, kind of; last year three or four snowboarders popped out of the woods and onto the race course oblivious to the fact that there was a race going on. At first I thought that’s what happened to this guy until it registered that he had cross-country ski poles in his hand. Tawny said she saw him go by at her location, so he made it the whole 12.5 miles on a splitboard. That’s some dedication.
About 1k from the finish, it’s a much more conventional cross-country race.
Well, except for those people that ski by with broken gear on their back. Way to keep Vermont green, #3! (And it’s not even Green-Up Day.)
I’m not sure where Gumby started – you’d think I would remember the big green guy passing me at the start…
As if one run down the mountain wasn’t crazy enough, the Stowe Derby has heats for Freestyle and Classical styles. In between runs, they run a cat down the trail and groom it flat. With a modern, shaped alpine ski, it’s easy to lay down railroad tracks on this easy slope.
but I can’t imagine doing it on skinny skis!
This doesn’t look good! Believe it or not, he pulls it off and continues past as if he did this on purpose.
This is my favorite expression of the day.
Again at the bottom, most people are all smiles as they’re approaching the finish. Dirk is no exception.
I checked in with Tawny before moving to the finish line. She was hard at work at the blind corner, as usual.
As racers reach the finish line, they have to cross one last bridge and round a corner to a cheering crowd.
It’s not uncommon for people to fall within feet of the finish line. Sometimes it’s a sprint for the finish gone wrong, other times it’s plain old fatigue.
I hear this was #795’s first Stowe Derby. I hope you’ll be back again to do it next year!
Skiing during Christmas week in Vermont can be a crap shoot. Some years we get powder and great conditions, other years it’s a complete washout.
Without fail, though, Vermont gets crowded during the holidays. There was a line at the Smuggler’s Notch ticket window from 9:30am to 2:30pm.
The week started with cloudy skies that deposited 6-8″ of snow on the mountain providing us with frosted trees and great skiing & riding.
Monday and Tuesday were cold, though, with temperatures hovering around 0ºF and wind chills in the -20ºF range according to one ski patroller.
The riding, however was worth it. The trails were all soft snow and the trees were powder. It’s still early season in Vermont, so we were skiing carefully in the woods, but if the line was well maintained the skiing was incredible.
On Thursday, the sun made an appearance and we were treated to a Vermont rarity: a bluebird day!
The view from the top of Madonna was great with Mt. Washington and the rest of New Hampshire’s White Mountains visible on the horizon. This one’s worth seeing a little larger.
New friends Chris & Ilene made their first visit to Smuggs and enjoyed Chilcoot from top to bottom.
As the week came to an end, though, the temperatures rose and the snowpack started to melt.
I was solo for Saturday’s turns, so I only took my iPhone with me for a few documentary shots.
The skiing was fun, but the terrain was getting limited. Snowmaking was a saving grace for trails like FIS, Smuggler’s Alley, and Black Snake. I was considering going up today, but instead of just warm temperatures, Mother Nature delivered a steady rain in Essex. The snow reports weren’t encouraging, so here I am in front of the computer. Tomorrow I’m obligated to head to the mountain & enjoy my last day off before returning to work. Let’s hear it for refrozen snow!
I could have also titled this, 5 desperate skiers climb a mountain in search of the last dregs of snow. Burlington received a little snow this past week, Essex a little more, but the mountains really got hammered. While the snow in Burlington has completely disappeared, Stowe is still hanging onto some snow.
The email arrived late last week; Cinco de Mansfield would take place on Saturday, May 1st. I haven’t done a lot of skiing in the last few weeks, my season really ended in March for some reason. I packed a pair of skis, boots, poles, skins, and cameras into the car and headed to Stowe for our 11:00am start.
It was looking pretty bare at the bottom when we arrived. Instead of heading up the gondola, we stuck to Nose Dive.
I guess there were 6 of us – how could I forget Carter? He spent the day looking for snowballs and squirrels.
Cinco de Mansfield wouldn’t be complete without margaritas at the top. Chris played bartender this year and mixed up a tasty drink.
After some time relaxing at the top, it was time to ski. The first turns down Nose Dive were sticky and challenging. I took a digger on my second or third turn and then started to figure out my balance again. It turns out I missed skiing in the month of April. What an odd ski season.