Stowe, VT– A beloved tradition is back this year: a race that combines Alpine and Nordic skiing. At the 78th Stowe Derby, racers start at the top of Mount Mansfield and ski all the way into the town of Stowe.
A near 2,800-foot vertical drop through a racecourse of 20 kilometers has the town of Stowe cheering and ringing cowbells in support of the racers. The Stowe Derby began in 1945 with a bet, right at the origins of American skiing, notes Sarah Sterner, the derby director.
“We had the Mount Mansfield ski club at the time, their very first ski instructor started this with a bet in a bar with a Nordic skier,” she explains.
Sepp Ruschp, the head of the ski club, and Erling Strom, a mountaineer from Norway, decided to race from Vermont’s highest peak all the way to the village. Ruschp was the winner of the very first Stowe Derby, and on Sunday, his grandson raced.
“I think the derby is kind of like a rite of passage each year in Stowe, for me it kind of marks the start of spring,” says Andrew Ruschp. He skied his first derby at eight years old in the short course; a less rigorous, 6 km section of the long course.
“I felt good, it was nice to have a lot of snow, really excited it was running to town this year, it was great we had this last-minute miracle of snow,” says Ruschp.
In the good nature of the derby, both recreational and competitive skiers can race, including collegiate skiers. The Dublin School Nordic Team travelled from New Hampshire to compete, and for team captains Oliver Wilson and Nate Verter, this race was a breeze.
“We actually had a championship yesterday, we came up today to have a fun day, to celebrate the end of the season,” says Wilson. “It was a lot of fun, it started off with a really long downhill, I had a lot of fun on that, I may have fallen once,” he adds.
“I unfortunately fell a lot more than once, but I had a lot of fun overall,” Verter says.
It wasn’t just adults racing. 11-year-old Charlie Sterner placed first overall in the men’s division of the short course at just under 32 minutes. He says he had a good time, but not without getting cold. “I really like skiing, I just like the feeling of riding on wood over snow, it was really fun to be here,” he says.
Cap Chenoweth is a Stowe resident and has raced 34 Derby’s in his life. “The derby is the derby, and going to town is the important thing, and the fact is, derby fever hits, but once it goes, it’s a ball,” says Chenoweth. “People are crashing, people are passing each other, it’s very entertaining from an observation point of view,” he says.
Sarah Sterner adds, “Stowe is a ski town, and this race is the epitome of its skiing heritage.” She thanks the Mount Mansfield Academy for hosting the Derby every year.
Close to 300 skiers in total crossed the finish line, and despite the tough course, it was smiles all around.