Black Diamond Awards 2017: Most Inspiring Vermonters

Who inspires you? We asked, you answered. This year, we got more replies than any year since our survey started in 2011.

PEOPLE WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE

BEST PHOTOGRAPHER

There’s no shortage of scenery or action in Vermont and even less of a shortage of photographers to shoot it. All our finalists are top athletes in their own right and out there doing it every day. This year, Montpelier’s Jeb Wallace-Brodeur takes the title of best outdoors photographer. When not skiing or hiking or biking on his own, you can find Jeb shooting his son, downhill and enduro mountain bike racer Aidan Casner, 18, who has been chewing up the Eastern Cup (and now national) circuits. Winner: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur. Runners up: Brian Mohr and Emily Johson/EmberPhoto; Brooks Curran; Berne Broudy; Herb Swanson. 

Kevin Pearce, the former pro snowboarder, now helps those with traumatic brain injuries through his Love Your Brain foundation.
Kevin Pearce, the former pro snowboarder, now helps those with traumatic brain injuries through his Love Your Brain foundation.
MOST INSPIRING ATHLETE: MALE

Kevin Pearce sees double. He can no longer perform the same snowboard moves that once made him an Olympic contender and a threat to gold medalist Shaun White. But Pearce, whose parents founded Simon Pearce (the gift and glassware giant), has not let that stop him. Ever since he hit his head in the halfpipe in 2009, Pearce has devoted himself not only to recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that threatened his life, but to helping others recover as well. His Love Your Brain foundation raised more than $375,000 in 2015/16 to help TBI victims overcome their injuries by hosting retreats, yoga workshops and educational programs. Equally inspiring to many of our respondents were Nordic U.S. Ski Team veteran Andy Newell, World Cup ski racer Robby Kelly, Sugarbush ambassador and former extreme ski film star John Egan and trail builder Knight Ide. Winner:  Kevin Pearce. Runners Up: Andy Newell, Robby Kelly, John Egan, Knight Ide. 

MOST INSPIRING ATHLETE: FEMALE

This year, above all others, Vermont was ready to claim ski racing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin as its own. Shiffrin grew up ski racing just over the border in Hanover, N.H. and honed her craft at Burke Mountain Academy. So when she returned to win the Audi FIS World Cup at Killington this past November, the state’s ski racing fans went nuts. Shiffrin, a three-time slalom World Champion just keeps getting better and better. On February 17, she won a slalom race by the largest margin in slalom history: 1.64 seconds. And then, on February 26 won her first Super Combined (Super G and slalom) event. And at 21, she’s the youngest World Cup champion ever. The runners up are all inspiring in their own right. Lea Davison took home a World Cup silver this past year. Liz Stephen has been a top finisher for the U.S. Nordic team in World Cup racing, biathlete Susan Dunklee became the first woman to qualify for the 2018 Olympics by earning a silver in the Biathlon Worlds in Austria this past February. Kelly Brush, the former ski racer, inspires thousands as her Kelly Brush Foundation helps prevent ski racing injuries and raises money for adaptive sports. Lastly, at 71, Trina Hosmer is still competing internationally on the Nordic masters circuit. And winning. Winner: Mikaela Shiffrin. Runners Up: Lea Davison, Liz Stephen, Kelly Brush, Susan Dunklee, Trina Hosmer. 

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OUTDOORS PERSON OF THE YEAR

If winning the silver at the UCI World Cup Championships and taking seventh in the Olympics weren’t enough to make Jericho mountain biker Lea Davison our 2017 Outdoors Person of the Year, perhaps finishing second in the three-day, 161-mile La Ruta de los Conquistadores would. After racing in the grueling event that sent riders on a coast-to-coast adventure through the jungles and mountains of Costa Rica, Davison admitted she felt like a “zombie.” While Davison excels at nearly every sport she tries (she’s a strong alpine and Nordic ski racer as well as a cyclist), it’s her work with the foundation she and her sister started in 2007, Little Bellas, that earns her perennial love from Vermont Sports’ readers. In the last 10 years, Little Bellas has grown into a national movement pairing young girls ages 7 to 16 with mentors and offering mountain bike camps to help them build skills and confidence. Among the runners up were Mikaela Shiffrin, John Egan, Tim Tierney, the executive director Kingdom Trails and Tom Stuessy, executive director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Winner: Lea Davison. Runners Up: John Egan, Mikaela Shiffrin, Tim Tierney, Tom Stuessy 

GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE OUTDOORS

Over the last five years that he’s served as the Vermont Mountain Bike Association executive director Tom Stuessy has worked hard to leverage and link mountain bike organizations as well as mountain bike trails around the state. VMBA  helped open new land to riding, connect trail networks such as Little River State Park with Cottonbrook and Stowe’s trails and created a statewide map and directory for mountain biking. The only statewide alliance of its kind in the country, VMBA is moving into a new role. In 2017 it will be working with other outdoor and mountain bike organizations (ranging from the Jersey Off Road Bike Association to Maine Huts & Trails) around the region to build the Northeast Mountain Bike Alliance.

At the same time, it is engaging a small group of successful businesses such as Outdoor Gear Exchange, Cabot Creamery and FUSE Marketing to “establish a new business culture in Vermont that recognizes the impact our amazing outdoor recreation infrastructure,” and build on it. And this July 21-23 VMBA will celebrate its tenth Mountain Bike Festival at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen. There’s a lot there to celebrate. Winner: Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Runners Up: Catamount Trail Association; Rochester Area Sports Trails Alliance, Vermont Adaptive.Fellowship of the Wheel.

 

Emma Cotton

Emma moved to the Green Mountain State a year ago, but has felt at home here for 20. Find her exploring the mountains when she's not posted up with a good book.