Hayride. It's a classic, comfy Yankee name. But last season, after Stowe, Vermont, finished a two-year project to make their Hayride trail meet International Ski Federation (FIS) standards, the 'Ride became a monster. "It's as challenging as any course I've skied on the World Cup, says Chip Knight, a Stowe resident and U.S. Ski Team member.
Not that Hayride was ever a pushover. Twisty and narrow, it was cut in 1960, along with legends Goat and Starr. "We wriggled down the least offensive amount of ledge, recalls Peter Ruschp, Stowe's director of skiing, who worked on the resort's trail crew as a teenager. Everyone's a bit hazy on the name's origins, but Ruschp believes it came from the hay spread over the newly contoured steeps for mulching—and erosion prevention.
For races, Hayride's incline has never been a problem: The notorious Waterfall pitch and the headwall below are both nearly 40 degrees. But the FIS demands width, as well, to allow for today's short, radically shaped race skis that tend to sling falling skiers across—rather than down—the hill. So Hayride was widened an average of 30 feet. Still, "Stowe isn't a supertrail resort, says mountain-operations VP Rod Kessler, noting that the intent wasn't to put a gash down the mountain or obliterate the decades-old tree shots off the run.
The result? For the everyday expert looking for speed, the new trail is like goose shit on a wet lawn—while still retaining the bends and undu-lations of an Eastern classic. For the racers on the Eastern circuit, though, Hayride is the new intimidator. As one college coach watching his women run gates put it last spring: "There are going to be some wet suits out there, but they're not going to be from falling.
NOTE: Look for Hayride to host the NCAA downhill championships this winter, along with the Eastern Cup and other top-level races. NorAm and World Cup races are also in the works.