AUBURN — Peter Malinowski drove two hours from Beverly, Massachusetts, to race 6.1 miles in snowshoes around the perimeter of Lost Valley Ski Area, winning the over-60 division with ease. After the race, he headed to the ski lodge for a beer.
This is what this event is about – that is, if you like craft beer. For everyone else, Baxter Brewing’s “Packed Powder Series,” run by its subsidiary Baxter Outdoors, is about the grueling winter races.
“When you look at endurance sports, beer has been a part of the tradition,” Malinowski said as he caught his breath after his 1-hour, 18-minute run. “Back in the ’70s, people used to drink beer in parking lots before marathons for the carbohydrates. I do this because it’s a lot of fun racing through the woods. It’s spectacular and it’s peaceful. The snow cushions you.”
The Lost Valley 5K/10K Showshoe Race on Jan. 30 was one of seven races in the Packed Powder Series, now in its second year. The series takes at sites in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and includes snowshoe races, Nordic ski races, uphill climbs and relay races. In the summer, Baxter Outdoors stages mountain bike races and trail running competitions in its New England Trail Run Series.
Having breweries as sponsors of sporting events is nothing new. Brands such as Budweiser, Heineken and Guinness sponsor events around the world. Closer to home, Shipyard Brewing Company is the lead sponsor of the Old Port Half Marathon and 5K in Portland, an event that has become the state’s second-largest road race in just five years. But while Shipyard sponsors the race, it contracts with GiddyUp Productions to run the event.
That’s where Baxter Brewing’s initiative is different. The Baxter Outdoors subsidiary was created to not only promote the brewery, but to run the events.
“Obviously at these events we’re not going to make a million bucks. We’re in it for the long term. It’s a lifestyle brand,” says Baxter Outdoors founder Adam Platz, 29, a graduate of Edward Little High School and Dartmouth College.
Platz looks at the extreme outdoor sports events that Red Bull stages and airs on ESPN and sees the potential for a craft beer company in sports entertainment.
“They’ve carved out a niche in the extreme sport competitions,” Platz said. “What they have proven is that you can produce these events and make money. You don’t have to just sponsor them. You can earn the money back. Meanwhile, you’re building the brand.”
Baxter Outdoors is not there yet. Last weekend’s race – the third this winter – drew just 26 competitors.
The parent company’s popular craft beer is distributed in New England, New York and New Jersey. Platz said Baxter Outdoors events eventually will be held in every state where the beer is sold.
Regardless of whether they drink beer, competitors say they appreciate simply having more outdoor adventure races in Maine.
“I don’t drink much beer. But I’ve done six to seven Baxter Outdoors races. You get to know the other racers. It’s competitive. But everyone is very supportive. It’s cool,” said Carmel Collins, a teacher from Bridgton.
The course at the Lost Valley race was by no means easy. The 5-kilometer snowshoe loop climbed up and around Lost Valley’s forested hill over streams and through gullies. Many competitors clad in snowshoes came dressed in Lycra tights looking like marathon runners.
“Some people don’t get out in the winter except to get to their car. When I did one of these races last year I went out and bought the special snowshoes that let you go faster. I train with them on snowmobile trails,” said Mariette Hanlon, 45, of Lisbon.
Hanlon is hard-core. She competes in two hockey leagues and trains for the Tough Mountain competitions held around New England in the summer.
And yet, Hanlon said she loves the small-town feel of the Baxter Outdoor races.
“This is for anybody. It’s a lot of fun. It helps keep you active,” Hanlon said.
Every competitor 21 or older at Baxter Outdoor events gets a beer ticket to use at the ski lodge after the race. But not every racer partakes.
Jen MacGillivary, 43, of Richmond was trying a Baxter Outdoor event for the first time, and didn’t care about the beer. However, she said she’d be back for another race in the series.
“I think it’s great trying to draw the community together,” MacGillivary said.