Words & photos by Dan Brown
Oh boy! For the sixth year in a row, Killington Mountain's "Rails 2 Riches" has once again padded the wallets and purses of skiers and boarders as one of the biggest rail jams of the season. Attracting amateur and professionals alike, competitors threw down with hopes of collecting a bit of the $15,000 in prize money. In the end, only the top three in each division cashed in.
With $3000 going to first place, the competition has always been fierce and this year was no exception. The event had begun about a month prior with an online registration for the 100 available spots beginning at 8:00 p.m. Almost as quickly as the floodgates had opened, all the bibs were snatched up.
Tess Hobbs, Event Coordinator at Killington remarked: "It was craziness. It filled up in just over three minutes for skiers and four minutes for riders." A small number of spots had been made available to the winners of the Loaded Turkey Rail Jam, which had taken place on November 21st.
When this past Saturday morning arrived, competitors filled the K1 lodge with a mix of anxiety, excitement and tall tees. With check in at 9:00 and qualifiers not starting until 12:30, skiers had a chance to grab some turns on the hill under gray skies and chilly winds or post up in the lodge, where they could fuel up and settle any lingering nerves before the big event.
One such skier who chose to save his energy before the comp was the East Coast ex-pat Ian Compton. Compton, 21, originally of Brattleboro, Vermont, who now calls Salt Lake, Utah home, had flown back to the Easy Coast for R2R. "I always look forward to it" Compton said who, despite the ever-present toothy grin, was nervous. "It's the only competition I do every year so I always get the butterflies...I almost pulled over to throw up."
As the clock spun toward the start of qualifiers, skiers suited up and gathered at the bottom of the course, which consisted of a down rail, a down-flat-down and a down box with a mini kink, all on a perfectly manicured slope thanks to the Killington parks crew. Not present in the crowd was Rails to Riches 1st place incumbent LJ Strenio. With a few puzzled faces and some light hearted jokes about their chances increasing now that the talent pool had dropped to 49 competitors, skiers climbed up the course for an athlete meeting once the Heshin Session had concluded.
Judge Connor Manning & Killington's Tess Hobbs
With a few remarks from Tess Hobbs and Head Judge Connor Manning, who was accompanied by Keegan Manning, Avert Guldemond and EC Headwear's own Matty B on the judging platform, the action began with 25 minutes of practice followed by an hour of qualifiers in an open jam format. Despite skiers brimming with excitement to drop in, the flow was organized, giving everyone an ample chance to wow the judges and gathering crowd. Waiting in lines above each feature, competitors watched switch up after pretzel get thrown into the mix.
Perched in one of those lines was late arrival Strenio, another EC prodigal son who made the trip back amidst final exams in order to compete. Like a strike of a match head, things flared up quickly and skiers pushed themselves with hopes of making it into the finals. Amidst the trickery, Strenio was the first, and by all accounts the only athlete of the night to make use of the new rule that allowed inverts. Popping off the lip of the down box, Strenio threw his right shoulder into a misty 4 at the box's end, rotating neatly but landing a bit too hard and double ejected from his skis in a mess of snow, yet still emerging with a smile.
Other notable performances were Quebec imports Dominic Laporte and Hugo Pelletier, who had some of the smoothest butters on the down box that almost excuses my cliché description. Je suis désolé pour mon manque de description adéquate, et pour mon français horrible! After what seemed like an instant, qualifiers ended and the top ten men and top five women moved on to compete for the big check.
The men's finalists were Ian Compton, Pat Goodnough, Luke Haggerty, Will Hibbs, Andrew Holson, Jeff Kiesel, Dominic Laporte, Kieran McVeigh, Hugo Pelletier and John Strenio. The top ladies included Amilie Fortin, Emma Hermanek, Jackie Kling, Julia Krass and Kim Lamarre.
With that, an intermission in the jib show allowed the crowd to grab a few more runs on the hill and the competitors a chance to chow down on a delicious looking soup and sandwich combo. Finalists also had a chance to collect themselves and wait as the sun dipped behind the horizon. As the night finally arrived, the portable generator lights immersed the re-groomed course in a green fluorescent light ringed by the once again growing crowd. At 4:30, the finals began.
In the finals, which saw both snowboarders and skiers competing at the same time, competitors hiked the features at a pace that left them trailing steam through their outerwear and exhausting their quiver of rail tricks with combinations being executed in precision timing, or in a few cases, poor timing, which usually ended up with the competitor being taco'd and the crowd letting out a collective gasp. If there was a "money booter" feature to the course however, it was the down-flat-down where a number of tech tricks were displayed. A number of skiers chose this as their feature to air to disaster, which looked impressive if done right and not so much when they pancaked on the hardpack. Compton, when asked after the event, said that this was the feature that left him aching, "There was this dumb trick I kept trying and I think I lost a couple inches because of it. I kept trying to land on the flat of the down-flat-down and do some tails over like that." He added, "but I think the switch tails 270, pretzel 2 on the down-flat-down was my highlight...of the year."
The ladies also didn't shy away from exhibiting themselves on the feature, with Pennsylvania resident Jackie Kling and Quebec’s own Kim Lamarre throwing down stylish maneuvers. If the judges liked what they saw, Tess Hobbs would dole out a cold hard Benjamin to the skier or rider, further adding to the positive environment.
The finals concluded after an hour and the voting process began. New this year, the field of finalists cast a ballot for the top three in their division, which had additionally prevented them for voting for themselves. With the votes tallied and the judges taking into consideration the peer voting system, the cheques were cut and the announcements made.
Jeff Kiesel voting.
The first woman to pass go and collect $250 was Hanover, New Hampshire's Julia Krass, taking third. Joining her on the podium was Jackie Kling of Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania, smiling all the way to the bank with $500. And topping off the first place position and the Rails to Riches title was Kim Lamarre, who took in $1000.
Julia Krass (3rd), Kim Lamarre (1st), Jackie Kling (2nd)
For the men, Jericho, Vermont native Will Hibbs’ disasters on the down-flat-down earned him $750, while Quebec City's Hugo Pelletier took home $1500, and hoisting the giant check above his head was LJ Strenio, with $3000.
Will Hibbs (3rd), LJ Strenio (1st), Hugo Pelletier (2nd)
Many thanks to Killington for their kind hospitality and to the competitors for putting on a great show! See you next year!