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Stowe Prepares To Get Down And Derby

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Amy Kolb Noyes
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VPR
This Sunday hundreds of Nordic skiers will try to make their way down Mt. Mansfield's Toll Road trail on skinny skis with no metal edges, and that's just the first part of the Stowe Derby course.

For 70 years, the Stowe Derby has been blurring the line between downhill and cross country skiing. And on Sunday, hundreds of skiers will line up to do it again.

The first Stowe Derby was held in 1945, and organizers boast it is the oldest downhill/cross country race in North America. Racers compete the entire course – from the top of Mt. Mansfield to the heart of Stowe Village – on a single pair of skis. The first challenge is unloading from Stowe Mountain Resort’s Lookout double chairlift on skinny skis. And it’s all downhill from there, at least until it gets flat.

Justin Beckwith, of the Green Mountain Valley School's Cross Country Ski program, posted his Derby Recon experience on Vimeo over the weekend:

https://vimeo.com/119613798">derbyRUN from https://vimeo.com/user24260249">Justin Beckwith on Vimeo.

Pascale Savard is the derby promoter for the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, which hosts the race. She says the Stowe Derby's challenging course isn't for everyone.

"We start skiing at the top of Mt. Mansfield and it’s a four-mile decent on the Toll Road, which seems like a pretty easy decent when you’re on alpine skis, but on cross-country skis it can be challenging," Savard explained. "And after that you pretty much hook back into the touring center, so you’re on the regular ski trails there. There’s a little bit of up, a little bit of down, nothing major. And eventually you end up back on the Stowe Rec Path. So it’s nice and flat and that part is easy."

The first challenge is unloading from Stowe Mountain Resort's Lookout Double Chairlift on skinny skis. And it's all downhill from there, at least until it gets flat.

There are actually two, 20-kilometer derbies. The first race is freestyle, where the gear can be skate skis, alpine skis, telemarks or split boards. The second run is exclusively for racers on classic Nordic skis. And for the hard-core competitors, there’s the Derby Meister, where skiers compete in both races, back-to-back.

Carol Van Dyke is a Derby veteran and coach of Stowe High School’s Nordic Ski Team. Last week she brought her team to the annual Derby Recon, which allows skiers to preview the Derby’s big descent.

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Credit Pascale Savard / Stowe Derby
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Stowe Derby
Members of Stowe High School's Nordic Ski Team bundled up for last Friday's Derby Recon.

"We just did a practice run right down the Toll Road on a frigid cold, but beautiful sunny day," Van Dyke said. "Toes and fingers and face kind of got over exposed, but because it was sunny it was just really fun."

Van Dyke said racing down the mountain on Nordic skis didn’t faze her group of teenage boys.

"I was just bringing up the rear for most of them. So they were bombing right along," she admitted. "They all do enough downhill and they’re really good Nordic skiers, so they just bombed right down."

Stowe High School freshman Nathaniel Wells said negotiating the Toll Road on Nordic skis brings on a new set of challenges.

"That’s not even the steepest trail on the mountain," Wells said of the Toll Road trail. "It’s kind of a mellow one for most normal alpine skiers. But it was definitely a challenge to do it on skinny Nordic skis."

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Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
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VPR
These members of the Stowe High School Nordic Ski Team will tell you the right wax can make all the difference.

Wells noted that, not only are Nordic skis longer and thinner than alpine skis, they also lack metal edges that are crucial to maintaining control on ice.

For skiers who want to get in on the fun, but would rather skip the decent, there’s a family-friendly short course on the Stowe Rec Path. And derby promoter Pascale Savard said they’re introducing something totally new for the 70th anniversary year – fat bikes, those heavy-duty mountain bikes with snow tires.

"A lot of people are wondering how we’re going to manage this. We’ve got it covered," said Savard. "The bikes will go at the end, after all the skiers, so there should not be any interactions between the two groups."

At least for this inaugural year, the fat bikes will race an abbreviated course, starting at the base of the Toll Road. And, yes, there is also a Fat Meister for folks who want to race on both skis and bikes.

The 70th Stowe Derby will take place on Sunday, Feb. 22. Learn more here.

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