Looking Back on the Sugarbush “Tri”

15 years of Run, Paddle, Bike, Ski

Back in 1979, in an effort to build regional recognition of this ski touring center and keep his ski staff “upbeat as the spring sun melted winter’s snow away,” Rob Center, owner of the former Tucker Hill Ski Touring Center, orchestrated the first-ever Tucker Hill Triathlon in Fayston, Vermont.

Thirty two competitors showed up to pole, pedal and paddle their way along the course, initiating what would turn out to be one of Vermont’s most celebrated spring sporting traditions—The Sugarbush Triathlon.

In what could be America’s only four-event “triathlon,” racers of all ages run, paddle, bike and cross-country ski their way to the finish. “My objective from the start was to build an event that would test the fit and unfit alike, with an emphasis on fun,” recalls Center. The misnomer for the Triathlon surfaced in the early 1980s, when the running leg that was substituted for cross-country skiing in lean snow years was added as an integral part of the event.

A true rite of spring for serious and weekend athletes alike, the Triathlon—coming up on April 11, 2003—and the accompanying weekend-long Vermont Adventure Games, now draws nearly 1,000 hearty competitors. And 1,000 competitors is far more than Center can handle on his own. “It is the support of everyone in the community, and I mean everyone, that makes the Triathlon so extraordinary,” he says. “We couldn’t pull this off without our 125 or so volunteers—the Games Committee, the Chamber of Commerce, the entire business community and of course all of the competitors.”

Now, as the Sugarbush Triathlon gets ready to celebrate its 25th birthday, Center has decided that it is time to pass the torch to a new race organizer. “It was time to find a rightful home for it,” offers Center, who couldn’t be more thankful for all the effort that the Mad River Valley and everyone involved has contributed over the years. After looking around the Valley this winter, Center struck a partnership with Sugarbush Resort, which now takes the reigns.

Both Center and Sugarbush are emphatic that no one should be fooled into thinking Sugarbush can do everything on their own. The traditional outpouring of community support will be as important this year as it always has.

After asking Center to delve into the past and share some of his most vibrant triathlon memories, he says the participants and the weather top the charts.
Center continues: “The event has attracted a number of exceptional runners, paddlers, cyclists and cross-country skiers over the years, who competed either as individuals or on teams. We’ve had great Vermont athletes such as Jim Fredericks, who has won the event 14 times as an ironman, John Brodhead, Keith Woodward, Carol Van Dyke, Nancy Andrews, Dana Henry, Andy Bishop, Marc Gilbertson, Louise McCarren, Audrey Augustin, Sam Davis and teams from Onion River Sports, The Ski Rack, Kevin Smith’s, as well as the numerous weekend enthusiasts competing as Dilly, Dally, Stall and Procrastinate; Mud, Slush and Gears; The Blister Sisters; The Hurtin’ Units; Achy, Breaky Parts; Sop-In-Wet; Meadow Muffin Slingers; Saps A Runnin; It’s Trying Time Again.”

Beside the participants, Center can’t forget the years Mother Nature did her best to help the Triathlon live up to its reputation as “a recreational spring race for the sport’s true dilettanti.”

As Center recalls, “The weather has made an indelible impression on me, and all who have raced or officiated. There have been those spring Sundays when the weather couldn’t have been better, but two years stand out as being the most challenging—bitter cold and high winds caused the Mad River to freeze in 1982. Paddlers took to the road and ran two miles wearing their PFDs. Then the spring blizzard of April 7, 2000—we had 648 people compete, with cyclists running to Mt Ellen [instead of biking] and skiers trying to negotiate the course with wind gusts in excess of 50 mph.”
“I have experienced some incredible moments and gotten to know many wonderful people. I would just like to say a most heartfelt thanks, for it has been a blast, and everyone’s loyalty as participants, volunteers, spectators or sponsors has been most valued. Volunteers Freddie Mahl-mann and Steve Slatter were at my side throughout the past 24 years as confidants and extraordinairy volunteers. Their help has been invaluable.”

And Center also remembers: Warren, Vermont resident Lenord Robinson, who has competed in all but two triathlons, learned a valuable lesson in 1979 when his water-filled wine skin got snagged in his spokes causing him to fall and break his collarbone.

During the race 1980 start at Lareau Swimhole, a nephew of Waitsfield residents Hugh and Ellie McIntyre found a money bag filled with cash and checks that had been stolen from The Seasons.

More winter triathons
March 15—Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow is hosting the first-time Harpoon Winter Triathlon, Sunday, March 15. Disciplines are skiing or riding, biking and snowshoeing for teams and ironmen/women. Fee is $15 (lift ticket not included, but aprés ski beer is). For more information call the Okemo Events Department at 802-228-1969. Sponsored by Harpoon Brewery.

May 25—The 13th Annual Killington Memorial Day Triathlon has a GS ski or board, mountain bike and trail run. The last two segments are usually extremely muddy. For ironmen/women or teams. Call Killington at 802-422-1700 for more information.

More info
The Sugarbush Triathlon, now the highlight of the weekend-long Vermont Adventure Games, to be held April 11-13, 2003, is a 5-mile run, 6-mile canoe or kayak on the Mad River, 8-mile road bike, and 5-kilometer cross-country ski. The event can be completed solo or with up to four teammates. There are race categories for just about every type of competitor.

To be assured of having the best of times at this year’s Triathlon, Center and organizers say, “One must always expect the unexpected.” Everything from major snowstorms or lack of snow altogether, to a frozen Mad River has kept all those involved on their toes over the years, and has proved that no matter what Mother Nature serves up, there is always a great time to be had.

For Triathlon information and registration forms, visit www.vtadventuregames.org or call (800) 517-4247.

Brian Mohr

Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Moretown own Ember Photography and publish AdventureSkier.com. They can be reached through their website, EmberPhoto.com.