It started out as a simple race – fit uphillers donned their tightest pants and lightest skis and made their pilgrimage to the United States’ great northwest in search of rando race glory. Oddly enough, something stuck. The race took off, and soon the spandex-clad uphill ski-running race became a growing haven for backcountry education and passion for the great snowy mountains. They call it Vertfest.
The first iteration of the event took place at Crystal Mountain, Washington, but it soon found roots at Alpental. It became a grassroots-collaboration race, bringing backcountry skiers together for a common love of skiing, sweat and sore muscles. Since then, organizers have shifted it from an endurance-focused event, to one based on education and fun. “After four or five years, we wanted it to be more inclusive,” says event organizer Christian Folk.
Supplementing the successful race with a large, interactive educational component came into being and “Vertfest” was born. Now, it is a multi-stop mountain festival committed to raising the bar in backcountry education for those who chase the wild snow. For two days, racers, revelers, and industry pros rub shoulders, covering all things backcountry. Guides, athletes, and snow science wizards lead clinics on steep skiing, basic avalanche rescue protocols and etiquette, as well as mountain photography.
Along with the daily clinics, several manufacturers put the latest demo equipment into the hands (and feet) of the everyday customer. “We wanted to broaden our reach [to the regular skier],” said Folk. “Because, not everyone wears skin suits.” Participants of Vertfest can check out the latest and greatest hard and soft goods, play with the newest avalanche transceivers, and get a chance to broaden their backcountry knowledge and experience. And, not to be overlooked, each Vertfest has a post-race night of festivities, live music, and adult beverages.
Vertfest has three festivals in the line up this season. First on the tour is Alpental, Washington (Feb. 15-16), followed by Mt. Bachelor, Oregon (Feb. 22-23), and climaxing at Brighton, Utah (March 7-9) for the infamous Wasatch PowderKeg, one of North America’s premier rando races.
Proceeds of Vertfest benefit avalanche centers in the western US. In 2013, Vertfest raised over $25,000 for the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) and the Central Oregon Avalanche Association (COAA). This year, they’ll add the Utah Avalanche Center into the fray, and hopefully break last year’s record. To check out more on Vertfest, please check out their home site here.