Primary event sponsor, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, hosted several parties and let the vodka flow over the two-days of racing. It was at one such event Thursday night that PR Maven Nancy Marshall asked Ann and me if we would like to meet some of the racers. This was the night before the qualifying rounds on Friday in a packed and boisterous restaurant to put it mildly. Nancy brought us up to a table with a group of about a half-dozen or so of the competitors. They were mostly in their early to mid-twenties I think and from places like UVM, Middlebury, U of Denver and similar racing hotspots. We introduced ourselves and started asking a few questions. We asked if the unique “horse race” format was something they were prepared for. They told us they had a little experience with the format and understood it’s a series of sprints but the side-by-side aspect was the most unusual characteristic for them. They also said the lack of experience in that format was one of the reasons to be in the race. With that opening I asked just how big of an incentive the cash really was. Their collective answer was a little surprising in a very good way. They told us winning some cash to defray the cost of participation would be nice but the money wasn’t the draw. They were there to “find out how good we are.” If that doesn’t show the pro tour has a niche to fill I don’t know what will. Ann and I were very impressed with the polish and confidence these young men demonstrated in the brief time we were with them.
We watched some of the qualifying runs on Friday. There were a few late entries of note to see. Namely, David Chodounsky, AJ Ginnis, and Tim Jitloff; all US Ski Team members. David Chodounsky is the reigning US slalom champion. These guys were certain to impact the event.
We actually spent much of our Friday bouncing from Barker Mountain, the site of the race venue, to Spruce Peak, to the “Chondola” on North Peak. Basically, we skied the center of the mountain. For those who’ve never been, the Chondola is a high speed six-pack with a gondola cabin every five or so chairs. Ride up inside or outside. Your choice. Here’s a tip for you: While the food in Sunday River’s cafeteria is as good as you’ll find at a ski resort it’s still a cafeteria. For a lunch that’s as good as any restaurant in your home town eat at the Foggy Goggle. It’s on the top floor of the South Ridge Lodge. Ann had a Bloody Mary called “Heats On”. It’s like no Bloody Mary you’ve ever had. It’s Stoli Hot Vodka, Jerry’s Bloody Mary mix, celery of course, blue cheese stuffed olives, pickles, a strip of spicy maple bacon hanging over the edge and a Slim Jim to stir with for $12. The food can be equally inventive. They serve a turkey club sandwich on grilled cinnamon bread. It’s similar to a Monte Cristo.
Sunday River is impressive. I have a tendency to compare eastern and western resorts to each other and I think Sunday River’s western counterpart would be Deer Valley. The terrain is long and rolling, every ridge for what seems like miles has trails and a high speed lift, the grooming is extensive, and the real estate all along the mountain constitutes a small town.
No matter where we ski we’re always on the hunt for the best surface on the mountain. This day we found it on North Peak. There was packed powder all over Dream Maker, Escapade, Grand Rapids, Downdraft, and Tourist Trap. We skied each a couple of times. These are all blue squares that are easy enough for an early stage intermediate but fast enough for advanced and expert riders. For a bit of a tour of Sunday River please visit SkiTube.
Friday. Race day. Temp? -1 with a wind chill of -23. No lie. In spite of the weather the race went on. At 11:00 am a small but avid crowd of race fans gathered in the frigid finish area and on the Barker Mountain Lodge deck. With such bitter temps the course was bullet-proof and the wind pretty much blew any loose snow right off of the hill. It was perfect for racing.
The racers didn’t disappoint. In the pro format, 32 competitors become 16, then eight, and so on. The competition was at a high level and many of the heats were decided by a few hundredths. In fact, David Chodounsky trailed AJ Ginnis by a large margin heading into their second run of the finals but AJ made a fatal error just two gates from the finish that forced him off course. Chodounsky looked up the hill after crossing the finish and couldn’t believe he had won. “At first I was confused as to what had happened. He is such a consistent racer and I thought it was going to be impossible to take the title. But in the end it’s an unbelievable feeling to win this race,” Chodounsky recalled. “I gave it my all in the last run and in the end it rewarded me. It was amazing to race against these guys, I had a blast, so it feels amazing to win. It was a good old fashioned drag race.” After the race, Ginnis said “it was an extremely long day of very competitive dual racing and even though I had a large margin going into the second round I knew I had to bring it. After a consistent day of racing, I was two gates from the finish and made a crucial mistake. It cost me the win, but that’s ski racing. It was still an unbelievable event and I’ll remember it forever.”
After dinner Thursday night at the Bluebird, a fun spot to eat, tour promoter Ed Rogers was toasted for “getting the band back together”. He told us the World Pro Ski Tour has ambitious goals for next season. Talks are in the works with marquee resorts such as Sun Valley and Jackson Hole with hopes of a six-to-eight event schedule next year. The hunt is on for additional sponsors. Interested parties may contact Craig Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-446-1492.