Video: Kick Off The Season On The Rails

Some people stare wistfully at their boards as they wait for snow to fall. Others create the slopes themselves.

Every year, in the weeks before lifts start turning, students in Burlington kick off winter on their own. On Oct. 28, the University of Vermont pulled the curtain on winter with the season’s first annual rail jam, Dawn of the Shred. Champlain College’s annual rail jam was Nov. 4.

“This is the first time people are really putting their gear on since last winter,” said Dan Maurice, UVM Ski and Snowboard Club’s event coordinator. “It’s a way to bring our students together to celebrate the beginning of the season.”

Photo courtesy of Peter Cirilli
courtesy of Peter Cirilli

For days before the events, members of both college’s ski and ride clubs drive to ice skating rinks in Burlington to gather Zamboni shavings and cart the “snow” back to campus in U-Haul trucks.

“Sometimes we shovel snow until 12 o’clock at night when we have a class at 8 a.m.,” said Champlain College club president Neal Cummings. “That’s the coolest.”

And the show always goes on, even with the 70-degree weather and rain that hit the Burlington area last year.

Both UVM and Champlain College have partnered with Sugarbush to help them install rails on their respective quads. After the sun goes down, the events start under the lights, and the skiers and rider strut their stuff for the first time all season.

This year,  Champlain College expected over 300 spectators, and UVM expected over 1,000. Prizes ranged from skis and snowboards to gift certificates and giant bricks of Cabot cheddar cheese.

“It gets people excited to do what they’ve been waiting for all summer,” Cummings says.

Champlain College’s club has taken a strong stance on safety, donating all proceeds from raffles, product sales and participant entries to Love Your Brain, an organization that raises awareness about traumatic brain injuries. It was created after snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a near-fatal head injury while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics (See “Regaining Consciousness”). As of press time, it was rumored that Pearce would make an appearance.

“(Safety) is super important,” Cummings says. “At the event, everyone is required to wear a helmet to compete.”

He says that the jam’s location—dead center in the residential section of campus—attracts students and members of the public. “Those people who aren’t that passionate about skiing or snowboarding,” he says, “they’ll see this big showcase on campus, and it’ll kind of spark their interest or maybe get them to ski or snowboard a little more this year.”

“Everyone who likes to ski and snowboard will be there, all of the industry heads will be there, pro skiers and pro snowboarders are there,” Cummings says. “So it kind of gets every like-minded person in one space, able to shoot the shit about skiing, about what you’re looking to do this  year. It’s like a big family reunion.”

But you don’t have to be a college student to hit the rails and get an early taste of snow. We’ve got a list of early rail jams around the state that are open to everyone.

And if you’re taking advantage of these preseason opportunities, you might be lucky enough to see a few pros along the way. Freestyle skiers LJ Strenio (hailing from Burlington) and Christian Franchino (from Manchester) along with riders Lucas Magoon (who lists Killington as his home mountain) and Niko Cioffi (from Rutland) have all participated in Vermont’s rail jam scene. They’ve gone on to compete in national competitions, get sponsors and appear in ski movies.

Snow or no snow, rail jams are a sure-fire way to get excited about the upcoming season, and sliding and grinding on those rails will help you practice balance and coordination before the real deal begins.


courtesy of Sugarbush
courtesy of Sugarbush

THE BIG KICKER | Waitsfield, Vt. | Nov. 19
Sugarbush and Mad River Glen kick off the winter season with a freestyle party hosted by American Flatbread, with a rail jam, ski movies, yard games, local food and drink and snow brought in from Sugarbush. The High-Fives Foundation will hold raffles (prizes include a season pass). The Foundation, among other things, has been raising money for the Five Families Fund, a charity founded after five Mad River Valley teens were lost in a tragic car accident in October. Cost is free for all attendees.


courtesy of Stowe
courtesy of Stowe

The University of Vermont is partnering with Stowe for the First Trick Rail Jam, the first of Stowe’s Triple Crown series. And there’s a cool twist: anyone can submit a design for the course. The  winning design chosen by UVM’s Freeskiing Team will be built by Stowe’s park team. The event is open to all ages of skiers, riders and telemarkers, so long as they’ve purchased a lift ticket (discounted at $32). Don’t miss music, raffles and giveaways. Registration costs $20 and takes place in the Mt. Mansfield base lodge. Then head up to 5th Ave Terrain Park. Thanksgiving costumes are welcome.


LOADED TURKEY RAIL JAM | Killington, Vt. | Nov. 20 The pre-cursor to Killington’s esteemed Rails to Riches rail jam, the Loaded Turkey has been a tradition for over a decade. First place winners in each category receive a frozen turkey, while second wins stuffing and third gets cranberry sauce. Top groms take home a pumpkin pie. All ages are welcome. Register at the lodge, then head over to the Upper Downdraft and strut your stuff. The top two gain coveted spots in Rails to Riches.

RAILS TO RICHES (Invite Only) | Killington, Vt. | Dec 5

If you’re looking for cold hard cash, Killington’s Rails to Riches is the place. Give it everything on this exclusive, custom-built terrain in front of a tough-as-nails cast of pro judges (though Killington wouldn’t reveal their names). First place prizes include a $5,000 reward for top male skiers and riders, and $1,500 for top female skiers and riders, plus endless bragging rights for the whole season. If you weren’t invited, don’t feel bad—spectators can watch from the sidelines for free.


courtesy of Mt. Snow
courtesy of Mt. Snow

GROMMET JAM | Mt. Snow, Vt. | Dec. 27

This one’s for the little ones. Enter your twelve-and-under to compete for prizes on a mini terrain park in this first of three Grommet Jams. Coaches and trainers from the Ski & Snowboard school will be around to help youngsters on and off the lifts (though kids need to be able to ride lifts on their own). This fun event includes raffles and a pizza lunch at the Carinthia Base Lodge. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and is limited to 70 participants.