Fun. Fast. Challenging. Those were the words thrown around this past Friday, February 9, when Sugarbush hosted the first annual Legends Cup Downhill open to anybody over the age of 18. Over 30 competitors hurled themselves down the mile-long course that had only 13 turns and a top speed of 66 mph.
Aaron Henderson posted the fastest time of 52.33 seconds to take the $500 first place prize. He was followed by local speedster Nate Bedford in 52.50, and third place went to 52-year-old Mark George, who posted the fastest speed through the trap of 66 mph.
The Legends course started at the top of the Valley House chair and dropped over 1,000 vertical feet down the Upper Snowball and Spring Fling trails. The first half of the course tested the racer's gliding ability and aerodynamics as they built up speed and prepared for the critical Bull Wheel turn at the top of Spring Fling. "All you are thinking about at the top is being smooth, building speed, and getting ready for Bull Wheel," said competitor Ed Bassett (61 mph).
Bull Wheel turn is a four-gate, 200-yard turn that shoots racers onto Spring Fling at 50 mph and into the tough technical part of the course where the racers fight to stay in their tuck while negotiating three radical turns. "You have to ski clean here to carry speed into the speed trap. Get on a low line here and you might as well just pull off because you have lost so much time," said Matt McFall (63 mph).
"What follows is the most fun part of the course. Speed trap into Cutts' Double and Roundhouse turns. The racers jump 20 mph instantly as they point their skis straight down the hill for 400 yards and try to hold their tucks through two choppy, tight, high-speed turns to the finish," said race organizer and former Olympic ski racer Doug Lewis.
"At this point, the speed is trying to pull you apart while you try to keep it together. As you exit Roundhouse, you have this huge smile on your face," says Brad Greenwood (64 mph).
Racers from all age groups and backgrounds showed up to test their limits. There was 71-year-old Phillipe Marielle, who finished in 60 seconds with a speed of 59 mph. There was 35-year-old Wes Lowe from Vermont North Ski Shops with his Motocross helmet throwing his six-foot-plus frame into Bull Wheel and incredibly holding his tuck throughout.
There was also Sugarbush VP Hardy Merrill who exploded out of the starting gate in the race having missed his training run because he had to respond to some work-related issues on the mountain during the morning trial. Even though he missed a gate, he ripped it up on his 216-cm Atomics, helmet and sunglasses.
There were over 60 runs down the Legends Course on Friday (including the training run) and not one crash or injury. "This course sets up so naturally on these trails that it is an easy course to make safe. The fall zones are long and clear. Plus, with 38 safety fences set up on the hill at the critical spots, it would be pretty hard for someone to hurt themselves," said Lewis.
Only one racer came close to testing the safety nets and that was local boy Lisle Gilbert. According to starter Kelley Lewis, "Lisle was seriously amped at the start, repeatedly asking, 'Can I go? Can I go? Can I go?'"
Finally getting the green light, he exploded out of the gate determined to reach terminal velocity. He came into Bull Wheel turn carrying a ton of speed. He was unable to stay on line and went flying towards the nets at over 50 mph. Only his agility and athleticism kept him on the course and out of the nets. Unfortunately for Lisle he lost too much time from his mistake to make the top five.
Legends Cup winner Aaron Henderson was amazed at the safety, organization, and energy at the event. "There were a lot of happy racers today. This downhill was challenging and fast, yet safe for the veteran as well as the rookie. I cannot wait to come back next year to ski this course."
Total prize money was $1,250 and awards were donated by the sponsors including Sirius Radio, High Sierra Sport, Head skis, Obermeyer, Under Amour, Dynastar/Lange, Nordica, Dominator, and Sugarbush Resort.
How did the racers stack up against race director and Olympian Lewis? The curious will have to wait until next year to find out.
"This year I was so busy organizing, setting up, and making sure it was a safe event that I was too busy to run. Next year though, I will forerun and hopefully lay down a fast one for all to chase," Lewis said.
For more information contact Doug Lewis at 802-496-3278.