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300 skiers and snowboarders compete in Vertical Challenge

December 27, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Ryan Siegman of Winchester, Va., snowboards in the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge speed competition, Monday, at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pa.
Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — A stubborn wind draped Whitetail Resort on Monday, so Donna Clark, recovering from a sprained ankle, decided it wasn't the time to navigate a steep slope at 40 mph.

Instead, she rested inside the lodge, surrounded by the clunking sound of hard boots on wooden floors, pulling for her family to claim victory.

Clark's husband and two sons, who are avid skiers, were competing for medals during the morning hours — participants in the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge.

The Martinsburg, W.Va., woman had planned on being a part of the race. But a fall on Christmas Day meant a change of plans.

"The odds weren't really in my favor," she said, limping to a chair near a window.

The Clarks were among about 300 skiers and snowboarders who launched themselves down Home Run Trail in hopes of winning the gold and advancing to the national finals scheduled for March 28 at Loon Mountain, N.H.

Monday's event attracted participants from throughout the four-state area, with a few contestants coming from as far away as New York and Maine.

This is the 21st year for the Vertical Challenge, said founder Frank Tansey, who came up with the idea as a way to reach out to young people and offer them an opportunity to shine.

Though the event also is open to adults, Tansey said the goal "is to teach youth about sportsmanship, respect and learning that doing the right thing pays off."

About 25 trained college-age students, known as the "Dew Crew," served as mentors throughout the day, interacting with young racers through a variety of games and family activities.

"It's really a party atmosphere," said Tansey, who works for PepsiCo. "But, at the same time, kids are being taught about basic values — something that, in many cases, has been lost over the years."

Following the annual racing event, Tansey said parents are encouraged to stay in touch with Vertical Challenge organizers through e-mail to let them know how their children are doing at home and at school.

Each year, many of the participants return, he said, bringing more friends and relatives with them.

"For 21 years, the core base has continued to grow," he said. "Now, we have three generations of family coming back to race together."

Tansey said the Vertical Challenge is the longest-running ski and snowboard racing competition in the United States.

The giant slalom races are free and open to all ages, male and female.

Tansey said Monday's competition at Whitetail was one of about 30 Mountain Dew Vertical Challenges held throughout the northeastern United States.

Gold, silver and bronze winners in skiing and snowboarding advance to the finals, which usually attracts about 2,000 racers and 5,000 spectators, he said.

In addition to the races, Tansey said the Vertical Challenge features product samples, contests, raffles and a victory party.

Winners of Monday's races will be posted at www.snocountry.com, he said.

Foster Kaetzel, 16, of Mercersburg, Pa., was among the snowboarders participating in the Vertical Challenge.

"I'm here almost every day, so I thought I should enter the race," he said. "Besides, it's free. And free is good."

Foster said he has competed in snowboarding races in the past, but this was the first time he was part of the challenge.

Though the course might initially look easy, "it's deceptive," he said.

"You think you just have to weave between gates. But the turns are short and tight," he said. "It's really harder than it looks."

Lacey Vilandry, 16, of Edinburg, Va., said she has been competing in the Vertical Challenge since she was 10 years old and has previously advanced to the finals in skiing and snowboarding.

"The finals are amazing," she said. "It doesn't stop just with racing. There's so much going on, from contests to parties."

Vilandry, who competed in both venues again this year, said she was hopeful of capturing another winning spot.

"I love racing," she said. "But the entire event is so much fun."

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