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Vertfest: Celebrating Backcountry Culture to Benefit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

March 8th, 2010

vertfestWords by Paresh Kamdar

Photos by Ryan Beck

Backcountry skiing is usually about getting away from the crowds. It is usually about spending time enjoying the beauty and solitude of the mountains at your own pace, making your own way. Why then would more than 100 backcountry skiers and riders enter a competition in a ski area on a gorgeous clear day in the middle of winter? I think the answers lies in their support for the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and their desire to “fest” with others in the backcountry community.

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Verfest is a celebration of backcountry culture that benefits the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center. It is a euro-style “rando race” inviting all forms of glisse to participate in the human-powered race up and back down the mountain. The 4th Annual Vertfest was held at Alpental near Snoqualmie Pass on this bluebird Saturday, March 6th 2010. Martin Volken of Pro Guiding proudly announced that this was the most well attended rando race yet in the Northwest with more than 100 participants!

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) provides an essential resource to backcountry travelers. We have come to love and rely on the avalanche and weather forecasts provided by NWAC. NWAC operates one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive mountain weather and data networks in the US, providing information that is crucial to the safety of mountain travelers.

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The race course at Alpental is always steep and challenging. This year the cold clear morning made it extra technical with icy conditions.  The recreational category made one lap within the Alpental ski area climbing about 2,300’, while the race category climbed two laps for a total elevation gain of 4,100’. The second lap was a completely different route that took participants into the Alpental backcountry, out to the infamous “Piss pass” and back.

Local favorite Monika Johnson took 1st in the Women’s race division vertfest2completing both laps in just 2 hrs 7 minutes! Ellen Parker took 2nd with a time of 2:39 and Kristine Kleedehn came in 3rd at 2:44.  The Traslin brothers from British Columbia took 1st and 2nd place in the men’s race division. Andy’s time was 1 hr 40 minutes with his brother, Mike, just 3 minutes behind at 1:43! Kirk Turner took 3rd with a time of 1:46. Local favorite Lowell Skoog placed 4th with a time of 1:49. All incredibly fast given the vertical gain and technical nature of the course!

As for me, I think “suffer fest” would be a more appropriate name.  This was my 2nd entry into this game. I worked hard at it and was happy to have improved my time over my last showing at Crystal Mountain a couple of years ago.  It took me 1hr, 26minutes to complete the recreational category of 1 lap.  That put me in 9th place out of 41 in the category*.  I accomplished my goals of finishing without injury & of not getting lapped by anyone in the race category (in the event at Crystal in 2008, not only did I get lapped by one of the racers, Benedikt Böhm, but I later heard that he enjoyed a smoke between laps!)  It was fun to push myself and see just how fast I could tour up that much vertical. It was also fun to meet and hang out with many of the “who’s who” in the NW backcountry community. I got to have lunch with Lowell Skoog and Garth Ferber, a couple of local legends. I learned that Garth is one of only 3 employees at Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center! Wow! All that work with only 3 employees!  I shook hands with the Traslin brothers and thanked them for all of their inspiring trip reports. I met Tyler Kloster, of Karakoram and saw the prototype of his soon to be released all new splitbaord system!

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Vertfest is a great event that is gathering more support every year.  It’s an excellent way to meet others interested in backcountry touring adventures and to support an essential resource that is constantly underfunded.  The free beer and copious swag from all of the sponsors added to the fun. Everyone had a blast!

IMG_0031A huge thanks to Osprey for their support of Vertfest for the 4th year in a row!  Thanks also to Martin Volken and his crew from Pro Guiding for setting & maintaining the course, to Outdoor Research for organizing the event, to Alpental for providing the venue, to all of the participants for their infectious energy, and to everyone else that helped in putting this together!

Be safe out there and have fun!

*unofficial race results  – official results should be in later this week

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