Youth Runners Show Grit at Inaugural Highlander Sky Vertical

Written by US Skyrunning Head Coach Ryan Kerrigan. Photos by US Skyrunning.

A quick-moving snow squall dusted the slopes of Mad River Glen ski area minutes before the start of the Inaugural Highlander Sky Vertical race on Sunday November 3. An inch or more of snow covered the steep slopes, providing a wintery feel and reduced traction on the steep trail to the summit of General Stark Mountain.

“I think the little clipper that came through right before the race was great. It added a little spice to the race and gave it a big mountain/alpine feel!!” Said Meet Director and Head Coach of US Skyrunning, Ryan Kerrigan.

Looking up the steep Highlander Sky Vertical course before the snow fell.

“It was rough. That inch or two of snow made it an entirely different type of race. The bridges were especially slick, I fell once. But I loved the course and the conditions, I had a blast.” said Steve Croucher of Randolph, Vermont, winner of the overall race. Croucher is leaving his job at Randolph Union High School and moving to Greenville, South Carolina next week to focus his attention and training as a professional Triathlete. “I want to try all running events to gain experience. This race was certainly an experience.” Said the 30 year-old Croucher.

The race was the first of its kind. A skyrunning style vertical race designed specifically for Youth (under 18) athletes. “Truth be told, I kind of rolled my eyes the first time Lauri Van Houten (Executive Director of the International Skyrunning Federation) said “Skyrunning is not running, it’s not trail running, it is its own sport!!” But the more I think about it, the more I agree with Lauri. It is a different sport and young people need opportunities to understand that and love Skyrunning.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I loved it.” Said 16 year-old Mason Berry a member of the Harwood XC Team.

Highlander Sky Vertical course at Mad River Glen.

There were 25 runners who challenged themselves on the steep slopes and wintry conditions of General Stark Mountain. Many of them were Youth runners (under 18). The top youth female and top overall female finisher was 12 year-old Beth McIntosh of Ripton, Vermont. Alex Pendo (2nd place) and Jill Rundle (3rd place), members of “Kerrigan’s Army” (Harwood XC) also had podium finishes in the youth category. Naia Tower-Pierce of East Burke, Vermont, the only youth athlete with international experience finished a mere 7 seconds from the podium. “Races in Europe are even steeper and much harder than what we all ran today.” she remarked to the celebratory crowd at the base-box lounge at Mad River Glen ski area.

In the men’s race the top youth runner was Baxter Harrington. Eliot Schneider followed him in 2nd place. Both runners are members of the Frost Mountain Nordic Skiing Program in Ripton, Vermont. “This is great training for cross country skiing.” Said Mr. McIntosh a Frost Mountain parent. Son, Elvis McIntosh was one of the few public high school students in the country who qualified for Junior Nationals in Cross Country Skiing last year.

14 year old Zennor DiMario, a member of the Harwood XC team, finished a solid third place. Christine Natalie of Williamstown was the winner in the open women’s category. Complete race results can be found below:

“Special thanks to Mad River Glen ski area. Their venue really makes the event possible with big mountain terrain, cascading waterfalls, mossy peaks and a cozy fire at the base lodge.” Kerrigan is hoping to follow up this event with another youth event in June 2020. The Middlebury Snow Bowl in central Vermont has been mentioned as a possible venue.

The US Skyrunning Program is in the midst of starting an Association of athletes and supporters. They are looking for financial aid and sponsorship to support youth skyrunners in Vermont and across the country who qualify for the Youth World Skyrunning Championships in Gran Sasso Italy in August 2020.

Please contact US Skyrunning Youth Head Coach Ryan Kerrigan (rnkerrigan@gmail.com) if you would like to make a contribution. You can also follow US Skyrunning on Facebook for all the latest updates.

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