Sugarloaf’s ‘Moonlight Climb’ races challenging

Posted Dec. 14, 2009, at 10:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

Ethan Austin admits the people who will head to Sugarloaf Dec. 29 for what organizers are calling “a twilight adventure” are a bit fanatical about their aerobic exercise.

OK. Maybe “a bit” doesn’t do them justice.

“They’re just a bunch of fitness freaks,” Sugarloaf’s communications manager said with a chuckle. “A lot of them are the same kind of people who run marathons. They’re looking for a challenge, and skiing up a mountain in Maine, at night, in December, is a good one.”

There’s no arguing that point … especially for those of us (like me) who admit to being, well, of a certain weight.

Austin said the event, the Moonlight Climb at Sugarloaf, was a huge hit when it debuted a year ago with a single one-mile course up the state’s second-tallest mountain.

This year, the resort turned over organization of the event to Tri-Maine, a company that specializes in triathlons and similar endurance challenges, and a pair of races will be staged.

The first will be similar to last year’s grueling test: An uphill mile race from the SuperQuad chair lift to Bullwinkle’s restaurant.

Ski if you like. Use snowshoes if you prefer. Have fun.

The second race is a real tester: Competitors will cross-country ski three miles from the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center to the bottom of the Wiffletree lift. Then they’ll take off the Nordic skis, strap on metal-edged telemark or Alpine touring boards, and start climbing. Up Wiffletree. Up Ramdown. Onto the Spillway Crosscut. And (finally) down Timberline to Bullwinkle’s.

The total distance: five miles.

Competitors in the long-course race can complete the entire course on their own, or can enter with a partner and tackle the race in a relay. In that case, one participant would ski the cross country portion, and another would tackle the mountain.

Either way, it’ll be a challenge. Or, if you prefer, more than that. Just ask Austin.

“It’s nuts,” Austin said of the long-course race.

Austin said last year’s Moonlight Climb proved popular with locals and visitors alike.

“It was really good. We were surprised with it last year. WE had a little over 100 people sign up to race,” he said. “Having Tri-Maine involved this year, we’re expecting a similar turnout, if not bigger.”

Austin said that asking Tri-Maine to get involved in the event made sense for both parties.

“They’re well-established and do a real good job,” Austin said. “After we had the event last year we thought it would be a good idea to see if they would be interested in taking it over.”

The event is based on classic “randonee” races that are held in Europe. Austin said Sugarloafers were among the first in the East to embrace the concept last year.

“It’s a really unique event, especially in eastern skiing,” Austin said. “You’re starting to see more of them, but mostly it’s been a western thing or a European thing.”

Racers use “skins” attached to the bottom of their skis in order to gain traction during the uphill climb, Austin said.

“It’s a piece of material that hooks onto the bottom of your ski and almost looks like a seatbelt,” he said. “It creates friction so you can grip the snow as you go up.”

The short-course race will begin at 5 p.m., while the five-mile event will begin at 4:45 p.m. Timing for both races will be discontinued at 6:15 p.m.

Racers are required to wear headlamps and appropriate clothing for the conditions, and must stay on the course, which will be marked by lit flares.

The short-course registration fee is $25 in advance, or $30 on race day. The long-course fee is $35 for pre-registrants and $40 on race day. Relay teams will pay $45 in advance, $50 on race day.

Included in the entry fee: A shirt or commemorative clothing, a ticket for the postrace dinner, and refreshments at Bullwinkle’s.

Austin said he’ll be at the event, but only in an official capacity: He’ll be taking photos for the postrace slide show.

“I wish I was in good enough shape to [compete],” he said. “I’ll be watching.”

Sugarloaf gets new snow

While many of us endured a wet and sloppy Sunday, Sugarloaf received some additional snow.

“We got about three inches,” Austin said. “That was perfect to freshen things up. We got quite a bit [of snow] last week, which really turned the [early] season around.”

On Monday, the Sugarloaf Web site reported the resort had received 16 inches of new snow over the previous seven days.

Five lifts were servicing 22 open trails, and the base depth was listed as six to 14 inches.

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