January 26, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Gonna ski around the clock that night

By JOSH CHRISTIE

Thanks to years spent following my champion skier father around the slopes, I'm used to putting in long days on the hill. I hardly spend a day skiing that doesn't start with the first chair and end with the last. It can be exhausting – eight hours straight is a long time to ski, after all.

In a few weeks, I'm going to see if I can triple that. That's right – 24 hours of skiing.

On March 9, Mount Abram is hosting the inaugural Downhill Derby, a 24-hour ski marathon. Running from noon on the 9th to noon on the 10th, the fundraiser will bring in money to benefit the WinterKids organization.

WinterKids, a nonprofit tasked with promoting outdoor winter activities for children, is familiar to most Mainers. Parents statewide are well-acquainted with the WinterKids Passport program, which offers free and discounted tickets, lessons and rentals in Maine to fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders. Along with this popular program, the organization handles education and events statewide.

It's a pretty big footprint for a four-person organization. The programs are helped immensely by community sponsors, as well as a veritable army of volunteers.

The Downhill Derby is open to teams of skiers and snowboarders 12 and older, with a minimum of five members per team and a maximum of 10. An $85 registration fee gets participants entry in the event, swag bags and an event T-shirt, and dinner and breakfast during the derby.

Each team will also share a timing chip, which can be passed from member to member as some retire to eat or rest. The chips track the runs of each team and results will be posted on a digital board as members reach the bottom of Abram. The setup allows for instant bragging rights because you'll be able to track your progress against other teams from start to finish.

The event itself is pretty straightforward – keep at least one member of your team on the hill at all times, over 24 hours. Well, technically it's 23 hours (hello, Daylight Savings Time) but you get the idea.

The spirit of the event is more celebration than competition, but that won't stop a bit of jockeying for strong results. At the end of the event, WinterKids will be giving out prizes like gift cards, gear and apparel in categories from biggest fund-raiser to best team name.

With slots available for just 50 teams, there's a good chance that the derby will fill up quickly. Registration, details and a FAQ are all available at WinterKids.org.

While the Downhill Derby is unique in Maine, there are a few similar events around North America. Twenty-four hours of Schweitzer, held at Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain Resort since 2009, raises money for cystinosis research every spring. The biggest event of this type is "24h of Skiing," which occurs at Tremblant in December. The annual race is actually North America's biggest sporting fund-raising event, and has raised more than $10 million in support of various children's causes over the last dozen years.

Since these events tend to be held out west or up in Canada – and fill up quickly – I've never before had a chance to participate. I've always wanted to, though. There's something very cool about the idea of skiing at 2 or 3 a.m. With 50 teams made up of passionate, wild (or at least nutty enough to ski through the night) skiers, a raucous atmosphere is pretty much guaranteed. Live music, a beer garden and a promised midnight surprise should keep things interesting.

The Downhill Derby is one of many new exciting happenings at Mount Abram. Abram recently became one of the nation's first ski areas to install 220-volt charging centers near the lodge – a reward for drivers of hybrid and electric cars. New groomers were added and the snowmaking upgraded. The Greenwood resort was the nation's first to pair with the Mountain Riders Alliance, and the two entities are working to move the mountain to a new model for providing affordable skiing.

In next week's Skiing in Maine column, John Christie will go into greater depth about these changes, and what the MRA partnership means for the future of Mount Abram.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

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