Another great ski season is in the books and another Top 10 list is coming at you below!
This year’s vert competition was a tale of three parts. The early season belonged to last year’s king and all-time record-holder Ken Jones. Ken began on a quest to break last year’s record (8 Million plus vertical feet) performance. As the season began, we (local skiers) all read the Flathead Beacon article, entitled Man on a Mission, highlighting Ken’s brilliant success last season and detailing his off-season conditioning regimen and his readiness to shatter the record from last year.
Ken began in earnest, fighting through the unusually cold early season, skiing huge days, while the rest of us slowly skied our way into shape. Ken skied over 880,000′ in the first two weeks of the season. He was well on his way.
Unfortunately for Ken, a freak microburst storm hit the mountain on the afternoon of December 20th, 2016. As it hit, I had just gotten off of Chair 2 and was headed toward the Jesus statue.
About half way there, the 74 mile per-hour winds lifted the snow off of the adjacent trees and created a virtual whiteout, whereby you couldn’t see your hands holding your poles in front of your face. The winds and whiteout continued for at least a minute, maybe two. The only safe thing to do in that time was to stay in one spot and wait for it to pass.
In Ken’s case, he was skiing the Big Ravine, at speed, when the winds/whiteout hit. He lost his edges/footing and crashed, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Ken got himself a trip to the hospital, where they knocked him out and put his shoulder back in place. Ken then took 2-3 days off, with his arm in a sling. After a few days of that, without a lot of residual pain, Ken resumed skiing for 8 more days. He skied his way to 1,332,874′ before the end of December. Ken was several hundred thousand vertical feet ahead of the nearest competitor, when at the end of that 8th ski day, while taking his jacket off, he dislocated his shoulder again. This time it was a season ender. Ken had surgery a few months later and is currently rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder back into shape. We look forward to seeing you back doing your thing next season Ken!
Once Ken got hurt, the question arose as to who would set the pace and maybe go on to win this year’s competition. It was no surprise to anyone, that four-time winner and long-time Vert powerhouse, Fred Frost took that challenge. Fred passed Ken’s early season mark in early-mid January. Fred skied his way into a comfortable lead ahead of the nearest challengers and held on to 1st Place through the middle third of the season.
In late February, I passed Fred, overcoming what had been a 600,000 feet deficit, after early season tooth woes, cost me 8 days of skiing. I started slowly this season, took more days off than usual, but had a middle-section of the season where I skied like Ken Jones and Tony Cooper both did in their record-setting seasons. During the mid-section of this season, I slowly but surely whittled away at Fred’s lead.
Had it not been for Tony and Ken both showing us that 60,000 feet days can routinely be done in a 9:00-4:00 ski day, I wouldn’t have known to even try. When I decided to try and catch Fred, I knew that my greatest resource was time. So, I set about getting to the mountain early and skiing big days, and I used the night skiing time as a tool too. To ski big days, I sacrificed variety and social ski time, to focus on efficiency and numbers. Both choices were calculated and a direct homage to Tony and Ken’s previous feats. I offer my apologies to those who might’ve hoped to have skied more with me. Hopefully, we’ll get our chance next season.
This season, I earned my 4th Vert Title, tying Fred Frost for the most all-time. I also earned my 10th consecutive Top 3 (proverbial Podium) finish and 10th consecutive appearance on this list. Over my ten years of Vert Competition, I have skied to 4 first, 4 second, and 2 third place finishes. And whether its coincidence or not, I am not sure, I have won the Vert Competition during each of the La Nina, deepest snow seasons. My first win was in the 426 inch season of the 2007-08. My 2nd win was in the La Nina of 2010-11. And this year brought us 407 inches. Deep snow appears to be my friend and ally.
And through all of that, I believe I am most proud of my record of safe skiing and overall durability through whatever the Big Mountain and mother nature throw at us. During this past 10 years I’ve learned to ski well and I’d like to think I ski smart…but skiing smart is something you have to prove with each turn you make, each run you ski, day in, day out, year in, year out. The next run is more important than the last. Tomorrow is more important than today. And staying healthy today is paramount to skiing tomorrow.
But enough about me and my ski philosophy.
This year’s Top 10, like every other one in our Vert history, gave us a mix of old and new faces.
Fred Frost earned his 14th straight Top 10, finishing 2nd. This was Fred’s 13th Podium (Top 3) finish, after missing out last season. Fred remains a pillar of consistency and durability and he ensures that whomever wins will put in the time to earn it.
Sue Armstrong, our Ladies Vert Record-holder and back to back Ladies Vert Champ, earned her first Podium, coming in 3rd, in her third consecutive Overall Top 10 finish. Sue also skied every day this ski season. Congratulations are in order for all of that. Well-done Sue~!
Albin Kwolek skied his 5th Top 10 season, finishing 4th, well over 3.5 Million feet.
Newcomer of the year, Cindy Klein, skied (despite her surgically repaired knee) into 5th place, posting 3.14 Million vertical feet. Cindy proved that the discussion of possibly amputating her leg, vice fixing it, was a premature thought. We all admire your tenacity and are glad that you fought your way back. Congratulations Cindy~!
Another newcomer to the Top 10, Frank Creasia, came in just behind Cindy at 3.12 Million feet, finishing 6th. Welcome to the Top 10 Frank!
Finishing 7th, Paul Descoteau skied a personal best 2.88 Million feet, earning back to back Top 10’s. Often seen skiing with Sue, Paul always has a smile on his face and offers a kind word.
Mark Sanman earned his 4th straight Top 10, finishing a run shy of 2.4 million feet.
The 3rd newcomer to the Top 10 Club is Jim Petersen. Jim surpassed his ski goals, powering his way past 2.3 Million feet and into Vert History. I enjoyed riding with you and getting to know you a bit this season. Congratulations Jim~!
And rounding out the Top 10 again this season, just like last, former Ladies Record-holder Jeanne Reichstadt skied her way into 10th over the final week of the season. Jeanne passing former Ski Instructor Alex Bucur with just a few days to spare. This is Jeanne’s 5th Top 10 performance. Congratulations Jeanne~!
On that note, here’s the list.
The skiers of Whitefish Mountain Resort just completed the 14th season of the modern “Vert” era. The vert era began when the resort, known then as The Big Mountain Resort, started empirically tracking the number of times patrons rode chairlifts. If you ride the lifts up, you must then ski down. Each lift services a known number of vertical feet. Tracking the lifts ridden, reveals the skiers who ski the most.
From the beginning, the vertical (shortened to vert perhaps because we humans are verbally lazy) competition was a huge hit with the locals. People skied hard, to beat their peers, to win the prizes the resort offered, and to earn the bragging rights.
After a few years of cutthroat competition, the Resort de-emphasized its recognition of winners, but continued to scan passes and track the vertical of folks. I moved to Whitefish and began competing just after the de-emphasis began.
Fourteen years of vert have yielded 6 winners of the competition. Chris Chapman (aka Chappy) won the first two seasons. Fred Frost won the 3rd season, then went on to win 3 more times (in the 6th, 7th and 11th seasons). John Gibson won the fourth season. Yours truly won the fifth season, and also went on to win 3 more times (8th, 12th and 14th seasons), including this year. Tony Cooper won back to back in the 9th and 10th seasons, breaking Chappy’s original record. And Ken Jones broke Tony’s record last year.
For the past 6 years or so, I’ve been honored to keep the Vert Records here on this website. Vert isn’t for everybody. Some care, some don’t. For those who do, these pages/posts are for you.
If you think you have it in you to compete and win, come on up and join us. Cheers from the Big Mountain. JDPF