STOWE, VERMONT — Peter Ruschp remembers when pack animals were used to carry dynamite up the mountain to clear trails. As a teenager in 1960, he served as "gopher to legendary ski pioneer Charlie Lord, who was designing the trails Goat, Starr, Centerline and Hayride. Those memories were rekindled this year, as Ruschp assisted the resort in making changes to Hayride.
"I can remember draft horses hauling logs off Big Spruce when those trails were cut," he says with a smile. "By the '60s, we had bulldozers and modern drilling rigs, which was a real luxury. It's been fabulous to see the progress of the technology used to make trails."
Those same technological advances have improved the equipment used by skiers and snowboarders, too. Shaped skis and the aggressiveness of racers have changed the parameters for trail widths and overall design. For years, North Slope was Stowe's main trail for races. But when the International Federation for Skiing (FIS) mandated new standards for race courses, North Slope became obsolete. Resort officials and the Mt. Mansfield Ski & Snowboard Club (MMSC) looked at ways to meet the new standards of 40 meters. Because of environmental concerns, that was impossible to accomplish.
That's when Ruschp was called in to help. "Peter had the feel, the history with the land, says Rod Kessler, VP/director of mountain operations. "He has the right perspective and feel to ensure we maintain our famous trail character for our recreational guests, meanwhile providing an improved racing environment." After some deliberation, it was decided that Hayride had all the elements of a great race trail. "You have to have some character to a race trail, and Hayride has lots of turns and changes in pitch," says Ruschp. "You couldn't groom a trail like Hayride in the old days, but with winch cats and modern grooming machines, we could look at different trails for the race course."
The project came up very quickly, so Kessler had to assemble a team to secure permits and execute construction. With several initiatives running concurrent, Stowe Mountain Resort reached MMSC to ensure FIS standards would be met and permits obtained. The two organizations worked closely with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Forests & Parks to ensure that the changes would have minimal impacts on the environment of Mt. Mansfield. "At the same time, we were very busy with various mountain improvements including pipeline replacements, hydrant and snowmaking tower installations and pump and compressor work," says Kessler. "But we knew this project would require special attention if we received approval."
After Paul Reed of the MMSC had secured the permit, Kessler assembled his construction team. John Kern, snow surfaces operations manager, was responsible for overall trail construction. Ray Staskus ensured that permit conditions were met. Royal Trail works was brought in to perform the steepest upper elevation construction, while Sundown Corporation completed the lower elevation and finish area. After construction began on this huge project, it took only 33 days to complete. "We had grass growing 10 days after opening the ground," says Ruschp with pride. Ruschp found himself taking on familiar tasks like establishing cut boundaries, and it brought back memories of carrying hatchets, stakes and ribbons for Lord.
Those trails designed by Lord and Ruschp were part of the package that made Stowe a renowned international ski resort. Stowe became a big name largely because of ski racing. "I can remember Tony Seiler racing here on Nose Dive after he won his three gold medals," Ruschp says. "C.V. Starr (founder of AIG, Stowe's parent company) brought the best racers in the world here… There were days where we had 10,000 spectators here for a race."
Stowe's heritage of making and hosting skiing and snowboarding champions continues, following the silver medal won by Stowe native Billy Kidd in the 1962 Olympics. Before wwinning two silver medals in the 2002 Olympics, Bode Miller raced at Stowe. Successful World Cup racers Chip Knight and Eric Schlopy both have strong connections to Stowe. Ruschp expects more greatness to pass through. "We're now capable of hosting a Nor Am race here now, which is one step below the World Cup," he says. "Challenging courses help us discover the truly great racers, and the top racers are looking forward to testing their race skills on this new venue."
Kessler is equally satisfied with the results of the project. "Those who have been skiing Hayride over the years will undoubtedly notice the change in width," he says. "The careful attention given to protect our high elevation tributaries and sustain the trail's 'high thrill' character may be missed. This type of effort and the associated results now reflect how future mountain improvements will be addressed."
The new Hayride makes its debut to the race world with the Eastern Cup on January 9-10. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for 8:30 am on January 9, and Ruschp has been promised first tracks down the course.
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