NEWRY — As the army of adrenaline junkies marched uphill, skiers and snowboarders at Sunday River gawked, looked quizzical or simply stopped and stared.

The fundraiser for Maine Adaptive last Saturday featured a randonnee race – a ski-up, ski-down contest – across seven peaks. Randonnee, which means ski touring in French, is popular in Europe. Skiers attach synthetic “skins” to the bottom of their skis to hike up mountains and then remove them to ski down.

This “skinning” – or ski mountaineering – is not new to Maine, but randonnee races are scarce. Sugarloaf held one a few years ago and Saddleback, when it was open, held an annual race. Races are also held in Colorado, Montana, Washington and Utah.

Sunday River is the newest ski area to join the four-race New England Rando Race Series, one of a few in the Northeast. And racers ages 18 to 70 who last Saturday took anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to complete the “Something Bigger” race were thrilled with it.

Most wore Lycra race suits and ultra-light Alpine touring gear, including skis with a detachable heel that allows skiers to skin up. “This is my first year racing. But it’s an ideal race for endurance racers,” said winner Ian Clarke, 18, who competes on the cycling team at the University of Vermont.

Clarke, the youngest member of the U.S. Mountaineering Ski Team, won in 1 hour, 52 minutes and 15.8 seconds. He said he may eventually just focus on mountaineer racing, which will be a demonstration sport at the next Winter Olympics.


Doug Hase of Hingham, Massachusetts, was one of only three racers to drop out from the 25-person field. Nonetheless, Hase was elated.

“I loved it. That was so fun,” Hase said. “Most of these races are up one peak. This was the longest race in the series. It’s perfect for people who like to go anaerobic.”

Whitney Withington, 31, of Boston has been competing in mountaineer races for three years and said the “Something Bigger” race was the longest yet, and that made it better.

“This one was awesome,” said Withington, who finished in 2:25:37.6 and placed 11th. “Usually these races are on a smaller course. You do loops around one mountain. It was fun going from one end of the ski area to the other.”

Meanwhile, the comments coming from race spectators across Sunday River’s slopes were as much fun to hear as the racers were to watch.

“Our daughter started skinning. I didn’t know what it was before she started,” said Jeanne Costello of Saco.


And Berni Tragert just kept saying: “That’s amazing.” Tragert of Ipswich, Massachusetts, saw the racers as they skinned up Bim’s Whim, a black trail. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Tragert said. “I could never do that.”

As the racers reached the top of each of seven peaks, they “transitioned” the way triathletes do, taking off their uphill gear, peeling off their skins to get ready to ski down.

Rachael Hunt, 24, of Boston watched in amazement after getting off the lift at the top of Locke Mountain.

“I have never seen that,” said Hunt without taking her eyes off the racers.

“It’s an interesting concept. It’s amazing. I don’t think it’s that common.”

Maine Adaptive Executive Director Barbara Schneider – who helped direct traffic on the ski mountains – said she hopes the Sunday River fundraiser remains in the New England series because of the positive energy it created.


Schneider skins for exercise. She loved seeing the fit Lycra-clad athletes practically jogging uphill atop skis.

“This is our 32nd ski-a-thon. This is a great benefit for us,” Schneider said. “And there’s so much excitement around it. These guys wear gear that’s super light.”

Maine Adaptive volunteer Madeline Vreeland of Bethel said she skins, but there’s a huge difference between people who skin up for exercise and those who race.

“I would be dead,” Vreeland said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 2:27 p.m. on April 3, 2017 to correct Whitney Withington’s age.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

Twitter: FlemingPph

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