COMPETITION: Who's the Fastest Ski Bum?

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PREPARATIONS FOR THE FIRST ANNUAL SKI VERMONT SKI Bum Championships at Sugarbush were intense this past March: Team Stratton lobbied until the eleventh hour to get one more former U.S. Ski Teamer on its roster (sandbaggers!); Team Bromley arrived a day early for some last-minute carbo-loading (beer and jalapeño poppers, we suspect); and Mad River beat the bushes for a snowboarder or telemarker-required to field a full squad-till the starting gun went off (hey, they're from Mad River-they don't know any snowboarders, and who knows why they couldn't find a freeheeler).

Amateur racing in Vermont, of course, predates the contest, which saw nine ski-area teams contend for the crown in a dual-giant slalom format. And like the time-trial events held on Civilian Conservation Corps lands in the 1930s, the weekly beer leagues and the Ski Bum Championships are all about teamwork. To get a shot at the title, all six racers must finish, including a man and a woman under 50 years old, and a pair over 50.

"It's always cool to race another mountain," says Scott Hardy, a fortysomething former collegiate standout-before he posted the fastest combined time of the day, pacing Stratton to the overall team win. "What's more," says Hardy, "It's a good excuse to drink beer. That's what we're really here for."

Heather Atwell, director of programs and public affairs for the Vermont Ski Areas Association (who sponsored the race), hopes the clash of the ski bums will become an annual tradition-and possibly a primer for the ultimate twin-state dual. Yes, people, here's the challenge: Vermont versus New Hampshire. Should Bode Miller opt out of the Olympics next winter, he may get some tough competition at least at the bar.