Dedicating five weeks of your life to skiing or riding 26 mountains in four different countries takes a special kind of person. When Vail announced the Epic Race earlier this year, every skier and rider had to ask themselves- is it possible? If the Epic Race is news to you, allow me to summarize. On November 22nd, more than 300 people embarked on a quest to ski all 26 mountains on their Epic Pass in one season. Every racer that accomplishes this by the end of the 2013/14 season will receive an Epic Pass for next year, but the grand prize is something entirely bigger. The first ten racers to ski all 26 mountains will win an Epic Pass FOR LIFE!! Shredding for life! There are few pursuits more hallowed than that. Although I am not a competitor in the Epic Race, I have the coveted task of following their journeys and hosting web episodes as they progress. Of course, one of my favorite days was Opening Day at Canyons – when a dozen Epic Racers flew and drove into Utah and I got to show off my home mountain.
Fast forward to today and the racers with their eyes on winning the lifelong skiing and/or snowboarding have most likely been to, drum roll please… Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar, Canyons, Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Eldora, Arapahoe Basin, Afton Alps, and Mt. Brighton. Many of them have literally criss-crossed the nation! After checking all of these off the list, arguably the most foreign (pun-intended) segment of the race began- Europe. Vail has partnered with fourteen different mountains in the magical regions of Arlberg, Austria; Verbier, Switzerland; and Les Trois Vallees, France. I am currently sitting on a plane from Chicago to Geneva to catch up on their exploits in, en englais, The Three Valleys.
Navigating the Alps most definitely is an experience of a lifetime and epic is an adjective that appropriately describes them. Having spent so much time in Europe during my ten years on the U.S. Ski Team and racing on the World Cup, I so look forward to living vicariously through these racers. For some of them this will be their first time across the Atlantic!
There are couples and families, lone wolfs and impromptu travel partners– every single Epic Racer that I have met is extraordinary in their unique way. It is truly an amazing group of individuals. However, what they all share is this: when the opportunity arose to step outside their normal existence to pursue an adventure they all said yes. Many are strategizing and scheming to be one of the top ten, but none have failed to wax poetic on what a fantastic experience it has been. Some even commented that their desire for an Epic Pass for life has become secondary to enjoying the process.
Whether they arrive home victorious with a lifelong Epic Pass or not, none will return empty-handed or unchanged. I was sitting on the chairlift with one Epic Racer at Afton Alps in MN (about 40 min from where I grew up) who was going to be boarding a plane for Austria later that night. The juxtaposition of skiing the 225-foot hills of Afton to shortly conquering the majesty of the Alps was not lost on either of us, but if anything, that made the experience sweeter. It is not just the terrain, or the accommodations or the competition that makes the Epic Race so incredible. It is the sum of all the parts and finding a community that loves it as much as you do.
Wishing you all the happiest and healthiest of holidays full of family, friends, laughter and fresh snow!