Slush Fun | Outdoors & Recreation | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Slush Fun

At Vermont's ski resorts, mud season means party time

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Maybe Vermont had a so-so season for flurries. But furries had their day - during Bolton Valley's Mascot Madness on March 25. The first-ever ski and snowboard race pitted Bolton's own Moose mascot and a half-dozen other colossal critters from northern Vermont sports teams, businesses and colleges against junior racers on the Beach Seal run. Never mind that the snow had warmed to the consistency of mashed potatoes.

In some ways, it paid to go slow: Kids who beat a mascot won a T-shirt; those who lost got a sweet consolation prize - truffles from Lake Champlain Chocolates. No doubt in training for Easter, the Lake Champlain Chocolate Bunny looked especially speedy on two skis, while the St. Michael's College Purple Knight jousted atop a snowboard. But being plus-sized paid off for the mascots, who, unable to shimmy into the skinny chairlifts, got rides to the top of the racecourse on snowmobiles.

Mascots are not the only ones experiencing a bit of mud-season madness at Vermont ski areas, as the winter's snow runs in rivulets this time of year - kind of like the beer. From Jay Peak to Mount Snow, springtime on the mountain is pretty much all about the party, and every resort plays host with a good-humored event or two.

"Skiing and riding are such social sports," says Heather Atwell of Ski Vermont, a Montpelier association representing 18 alpine resorts. "And suddenly the days are longer, the sun is higher in the sky - it's natural for people to celebrate while saying farewell to a fun winter."

The sun was actually nowhere in sight last Saturday at Killington's Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge. Mother Nature's April Fool's prank was to pour rain on the party - for the third year in a row. Now in its 26th year, the two-day competition involves 200 amateur freestyle skiers bumping and jumping down the Outer Limits run, the steepest mogul slope in eastern North America. But the main event happens slopeside, where a few thousand fans bump into each other at parties under tents. This year's weather enabled an impromptu wet T-shirt contest, while spectators waded through knee-high slush to swill Coronas and snack on lobster and cherrystones. One man clad in an Uncle Sam hat and red poncho grilled burgers. A competitor, staring up at Outer Limits, worried about being blinded by the droplets on his goggles.

Sunshine - and, who knows, more snow - may descend on Killington this weekend for its 13th annual Spring Loaded, a snowboarding competition. During the flashback festivities of the resort's Sunshine Daydream on April 15, GoreTex will no doubt give way to tie-dyes and Birkenstocks, and the whine of chairlifts to the sounds of Grateful Dead cover bands.

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Things were appropriately soggy at Sugarbush on April 1, when the ski area held its 39th annual Pond Skimming. It's a nearly ubiquitous activity at North American ski resorts. Successfully skimming across a manmade pond - usually about 100 feet long, at the base of the mountain - on skis or a snowboard requires speed, balance and a bit of buffoonery. That often means costumes, so Wonder Woman and Batman, along with women in bikinis and men in chicken suits, have all skidded across Sugarbush's ice-cold slush pool.

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To up the costume quotient, Burke Mountain's Pond Skimming always has a theme. Suggesting theY wish it was the beginning of the ski season, this year's event in late March went with "Halloween." But marketing coordinator Hannah Collins still fondly recalls last year's '80s party: Imagine several Darth Vaders, a Richard Simmons and a Rubik's Cube attempting to slide across the pond at the base of Warren's Way Trail. "Richard Simmons looked really funny, with his sopping-wet wig and tight tank top and shorts," says Collins. Burke awards season passes to the "king and queen of the pond."

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Also in March, Ascutney Mountain Resort hosted its third annual Antique Ski Race, in which entrants find a use for their aging sticks rotting in the basement. The prize for the fastest time: a new pair of skis. "One guy raced on wooden skis with leather boots and leather straps instead of bindings," says Ascutney Marketing Manager Allison St. Aubin. "Every time he tried to turn around a gate he would fall, and the whole crowd, including some Olympians, were cheering him on."

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For Olympic-level competitors - or watchers - nothing beats Stowe's Sugar Slalom. The 65th annual event is scheduled for April 8 and 9. The race draws 300 to 400 of New England's fastest skiers; Torino veterans Jimmy Cochran and Chip Knight, both of the U.S. Ski Team, are expected to compete this weekend. Traditionally held on the super-steep Nosedive run, it's been moved to Exhibition Hill, so spectators can more easily take in the races, along with sugar-on-snow treats from Maple Grove Farms. "It's gonna be a pretty good carnival," says Paul Lawson, a Sugar Slalom course official, who has watched racers fly by in tutus, clown costumes and Elvis regalia. "It's the last race of the season, so everybody's ready to let loose."

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The loosest spring skiers of all might be participants in Mount Snow's Dummy Downhill, happening this Sunday as part of the resort's Reggaefest. The event's name comes not from the act of zooming down a slippery incline with waxed planks on one's feet, but from "racers" that are actual dummies. Constructed of such materials as wood, Styrofoam and plastic, the artificial athletes weigh 100 to 300 pounds, and fly off a 5- or 6-foot jump before crash-landing into pieces. "The event has seen everything from Saddam with his head in a toilet to Spongebob Square- pants, the Energizer Bunny and ski patrollers," says Matthew Zogby of Mount Snow. "The only rule is that the dummy not have any type of explosive device."

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Okemo also prohibits pyro-technics on the race craft - 150 pounds and under - entered in its Dummy Huck 'n' Chuck Big Air. Spongebob has also made an appearance here, as has a likeness of the resort's general manager, and Bucking Betty, a blow-up doll riding a wooden hobbyhorse on skis. "She was the only one to take air with any panache," declares Public Relations Director Bonnie MacPherson of Okemo. "Word has it that she'll be making a return this year to take on any challengers."

MacPherson suggests that watching a dummy being obliterated is akin to seeing the ice-out of a river or the flow of sap from a maple tree. "There's something about springtime that brings out the craziness in people," she says. "The simple joy of watching effigies fly through the air and crash on the snow below provides a ceremonial mark to the transition of the seasons."

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