I got my first taste of the 24 Hours of Stratton as I walked into the base lodge at 8 am. The west wing had already begun the transformation into base camp for over 400 athletes. Sleeping bags, air mattresses and even tents could be spotted, lining the edge for those hoping to squeeze a little shut-eye into their schedule. Throughout the day and night, a number of distractions geared towards energizing and comforting competitors would be offered here. There was music blasting all day, a chili bowl buffet, evening fireworks, raffles, jump rope competitions and even a midnight Nathan’s hot dog bar, just to name a few highlights from the full lineup of fun.
It wasn’t until my fourth or fifth run that I really began to understand what 24 Hours of Stratton is all about. You can feel the competitive nature among the athletes jockeying to rack up as many the most vertical feet of skiing or riding as possible as well as the camaraderie of skiers and riders sharing in the spirit of the event. Participants Racers are held together in a private line while lift operators do their best to stagger daily guests with racers in the lift line.
I started with my sights set on the vertical feet leaderboard. Although we had a private line, lifties did a great job of rotating us in with day guests. Depending on which chair you find yourself sitting on could impact your following spot in line, thus continuing what feels like a vicious cycle of working to mitigate wasted time in any way possible. Yet I soon realized that line-jumping tactics were ultimately futile, not only because lift attendants do a stellar job of keeping antsy competitors in line, but also because of the advice I received straight from last year’s champion, who went on to win again in 2018.
Michael Carr managed to crush over 130,000 vertical feet throughout the 24 Hours, so it wasn’t exactly easy to catch up with him and his team from Magic Mountain. When they finally lapped me, I tried to pick their brain about strategy on one of my 117 trips up American Express that day. “The race is lost and won at night. You can gain a few chairs (while waiting) in line, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. People start taking breaks when the sun goes down and that’s really where you gain ground.” I was relieved, and no longer tempted to push my way through a pack children or a happy family while riding over their skis just to grab the next chair.
While there are a few teams and individuals who remain focused and devoted to the vertical challenge, quickly the competitive spirit gives way to a fun and friendly atmosphere that reflects the true purpose of the event, which is to enjoy a unique and challenging skiing or riding experience while raising money for Vermont children in need. That focus is most easily recognizable during the celebratory breakfast the following the morning.
After pushing through 24 hours of madness together, you can feel the sense of solidarity and enjoy the jovial party vibe we share at breakfast. It’s easy to notice the youngest competitors dodge handshakes, cheers and pats on the back while they run to the stage for the best view of the Stratton Foundation video. Similar to the vertical footage, team and individual funds raised are tallied and stacked up against each other. We realize that this is the real challenge, where the real bragging rights belong; the loudest applause always goes to the highest fundraisers.
That mission is clear even in the midst of enjoying memorable experiences like looking down on fireworks from mid-mountain, skiing at sunrise and even just being able to lounge around the fire with a hot dog or bowl of chili at midnight. I realized the energy that drove me back onto the lift for one more run was a meaning greater than the sum of vertical feet skied.
The funds we raised here are injected directly into the community, helping local children in need, whether it is with food, health, warmth or education. The Stratton Foundation is working to fill in the gaps with support for immediate necessities as well as clearing a path to put an end to generational poverty. After it was all said and done, this year’s 24 Hours of Stratton brought in $215,000 to be spread to a variety of important programs and to provide emergency assistance in times of crisis.
We learn that much of the Stratton Foundation’s work is done quietly, and appreciate how the 24 Hours is an opportunity to shine a light, for one day and one night, on an organization that supports our community throughout the year.