Each year, we send out a survey to find the best in Vermont’s outdoors. The best ski areas, shops, bars, brews and restaurants and more. To see all the 2019 Black Diamond Award winners click here:
Certain people help make outdoor sports what they are in Vermont. They may not always be the top athletes. Often they are volunteers. But one thing is always consistent: they help make their sports and Vermont a bit better. Here are the winners of our readers’ survey for the Black Diamond Awards.
Best Outdoor Photographer
Many of Vermont’s outdoor photographers are accomplished athletesm, as well. Jeb Wallace-Brodeur of Calais has hiked the 46 ADK 4,000-footers and all of New Hampshire’s. Waitsfield’s Brooks Curran and Matt Kiedaisch, who often shoot Ski the East’s films, could ski in them as well. But few photographers live the dream they portray the way Brian Mohr of EmberPhoto does. The Moretown-based photographer not only shoots skiing, biking, camping, running, paddling and hiking, but often brings his whole family (wife, Emily Johnson and his two young daughters, Maiana and Lenora) along with him. As if that were not enough, he also built a rope tow (“The Barnebaken”) in his backyard and grows or collects most of the family’s food—all while shooting for this magazine and our sister publication, Vermont Ski + Ride as well as national magazines such as Powder, Outside and Adventure Journal.
Organization That Contributed the Most
There have been some landmark gains by various non-profits this year. The Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trails Alliance unveiled the vision for the Velomont Trail—which will connect trails in the Killington area to Waitsfield, and eventually, on to Waterbury and Stowe. Vermont Huts Association opened two new huts: one at Chittenden Brook Campground near Goshen and one in Huntington, and has plans to rebuild the hut at South Pond. But the organization that has laid the groundwork for all of this is our 2019 winner: the Catamount Trail Association.
Under the leadership of new executive director Matt Williams, the CTA has been working on Section 13 near Chittenden Reservoir, just north of Killington, to relocate the Catamount Trail so that it connects to the new Vermont Huts Association hut being built at South Pond. “A portion of this relocation will be co-located with the Velomont Trail minimizing trail density and forest fragmentation while appealing to a broad range of users,” says CTA’s Communications Director Greg Maino.
The CTA has also helped to spawn the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, which is growing and adding chapters around the state with the goal of improving backcountry skiing and riding. The organization hosts single and multi-day tours of sections of the 200-mile trailThe CTA also runs the Race to the Top of Vermont and is currently working to complete a reroute near Camels Hump that has been in the works for years. Watch for big news to come this summer from the CTA, Maino hints.
Favorite Female Athlete
It’s been a big year for Sophie Caldwell, the Peru-based scion of the legendary Caldwell cross-country skiing family. While Caldwell may not have won an Olympic medal (her teammates Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins did), she won the first World Cup sprint of 2018 in Austria and earned an 8th in the sprint finals behind Diggins’ 6th in PyeongChang. Just this season, she has earned three World Cup podiums and finished in the top 5 in a handful of other races.
Currently ranked fourth in the world in sprint by the Federation International du Ski, Caldwell, 28, already has two Olympics under her belt and looks poised for a third. And this January, while skiing together in Vermont, Simi Hamilton, her long-time boyfriend and fellow U.S. Ski Team racer, proposed.
While Jessie Diggins, a recent Vermont transplant, may have won the gold, Sophie Caldwell won the most votes as Vermont’s Best Female Athlete in our survey.
Favorite Male Athlete
This year’s honor goes to someone who races as a pro while maintaining what is more-or-less an 8:30-to-5 job. Adam Morse spends most days working as a manufacturing engineer at Flex-A-Seal in Essex Junction and evenings and weekends working out in the gym, snowboarding and fatbiking in the winter and doing what he does best: riding the trails in the summer. In 2018, the Yeti-sponsored rider collaborated with photographer Dave Trumpore to tell the story of how he balances his job with competing on the Enduro World Series circuit. Morse, who graduated in 2008, explains his choice of a full-time career in the first of three episodes in “The Working Man’s World Series” videos, which aired on Pinkbike.com: “I had achieved a degree in Mechanical Engineering, a pro cycling license and an empty bank account all in the same year.” In 2018, the Enduro Worlds had him racing in Chile, Columbia, Jamaica, France and Italy. While Morse’s best finish on the World Series was 52nd out of 322 (in the first race of the season), he won the first Maxxis Eastern States Cup racing as a pro and finished eighth (and the fourth American) at the U.S. Enduro Open at Killington among Pro Men. Not bad for a working stiff.
Outdoors Persons of the Year: Steve and Andrea Charest
Since taking over Petra Cliffs in 2012, Steve and Andrea Charest have helped shape and grow Vermont’s climbing community, all while serving on the board of organizations such as CRAG-VT (Climbing Resource Access Group Vermont) and the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The Charests have added new mountaineering programs to the Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Mountaineering School and grown the Smuggs Ice Bash ice climbing festival to an event that drew 200 participants in January. Now, they plan to more than double the size of Petra Cliffs in a new climbing center.
On February 22, the Charests announced that Petra Cliffs, which has operated in its current space for 18 years, closed on a 1.67-acre parcel that abuts City Market’s grocery store in Burlington’s South End. The move will more than double the size of the climbing gym, adding a rooftop lounge and yoga studio.
“We are still whittling down what the walls are going to look like,” said Andrea, recently. Climbers can expect walls 51-feet-tall and an overhang that allows for 60-plus feet of continuous climbing, more bouldering, more variety of roped climbs and rooftop yoga classes. Construction is slated to start at the end of March and the new climbing center could be open as early as October 2019.
This comes at a time when the family has also faced tragedy: on December 27, 2018, Steve, the 39-year-old father to a two-year-old, was guiding an ice climbing program in Smugglers’ Notch when a piece of equipment he was using failed and he fell 40 feet. He suffered trauma to his head, face, abdomen and left extremities and was evacuated by helicopter to the University of Vermont Medical Center. After spending 21 days in the intensive care unit and seven weeks in the hospital, Steve finally went home on Valentine’s Day. “His physical injuries are healing well and his brain and personality are back to where we know him. His rate of recovery has been astounding for how severe his injuries were and how complex his surgeries were,” said Andrea in late February.
Though Steve has climbed and guided all over the world, he’s made Vermont home. Since his days as an intern at Petra Cliffs in 2000, he’s dedicated his career to teaching the next generation of Vermont mountaineers and expanding access to climbing for Vermonters. “People just love him,” says professor Brad Moscowitz of Northern Vermont University’s Outdoor Education program. In 1999, Steve Charest was Moscowitz’s student and now Steve teaches outdoor skills to NVU students. “People love working with him and learning from him in the mountains. And people trust him. He is just so good at what he does and such a stellar guide.”