A quick-moving snow squall dusted the slopes of Mad River Glen minutes before the start of the inaugural Highlander Sky Vertical youth and open race on Sunday, November 3. An inch or more of snow covered the steep slopes, providing a wintery feel but reduced traction on the steep trail to the summit of General Stark Mountain.
“I think the little clipper that came through right before the race was great. It added a little spice to the race and gave it a big mountain/alpine feel,” said Ryan Kerrigan, the meet director and head coach of U.S. Skyrunning.
Steve Croucher, Randolph, winner of the overall race, said, “It was rough. That inch or 2 of snow made it an entirely different type of race. The bridges were especially slick. I fell once. But I loved the course and the conditions. I had a blast.” Croucher is leaving his job at Randolph Union High School and moving to Greenville, South Carolina, next week to focus his attention and training as a professional triathlete. “I want to try all running events to gain experience. This race was certainly an experience,” said 30-year-old Croucher.
The race was the first of its kind. A vertical race designed specifically for youth (under 18). Kerrigan said, “Truth be told, I kind of rolled my eyes the first time Lauri Van Houten (executive director of Skyrunning International) said, ‘Skyrunning is not running, it’s not trail running, it is its own sport!’ But the more I think about it, the more I agree. It is different, and young people need opportunities to understand that and love Skyrunning.”
Harwood cross-country team member Mason Berry, 16, said, “It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I loved it.”
Twenty-five runners challenged themselves on the steep slopes and wintry conditions of General Stark Mountain. Many of them were youth runners (under 18). The top youth female and top female finisher was 12-year-old Beth McIntosh of Ripton, VT. Alex Pendo (2) and Jill Rundle (3), members of Kerrigan’s Army (Harwood XC), also gained podium finishes in the youth category.
Naia Tower-Pierce of East Burke, the only youth with international experience, finished a mere seven seconds from the podium. “Races in Europe are even steeper and much harder than what we all ran today,” she remarked to the celebratory crowd in the Base Box lounge at Mad River Glen.
On the men’s side, the top youth runner was Baxter Harrington. Eliot Schneider followed him. Both runners are members of the Frost Mountain Nordic Program in Ripton, VT. “This is great training for Nordic,” said Daniel McIntosh, a Frost Mountain parent/coach whose son, Elvis, was one of the few public high school students in the country that qualified for Junior Nationals in Nordic last year.
Zennor DiMario, 14, a member of the Harwood XC team, finished a solid third. Christine Natalie of Williamstown was the winner in the open women’s category.
“Special thanks to Mad River Glen. The venue really makes the event possible with cascading waterfalls, mossy peaks and a cozy fire at the base,” Kerrigan said.
He is hoping to follow up this event with another youth event in June.
The U.S. Skyrunning Program is in the midst of starting an association of athletes and supporters. They are looking for financial aid and sponsorship to support youth in Vermont and across the country that qualify for the World Youth Skyrunning Championships in Gran Sasso, Italy, this August.