Tag Archives: races

Run up Mt Ellen (for free!)

The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it  is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace.  I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running.  I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often.  If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter.    A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in The Race to the Top of Vermont”.

Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September.  Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill.  Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics.  Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity.  These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities.  Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races.  Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudderraces have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity.  In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race!  I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets.  The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race.  This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers!  To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25!  Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!

After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain.  I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen  parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me.  The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent.  For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right.  I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride.  While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope.  Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail.  I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run.  All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.

Trail Butterfly

Trail Butterfly

This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go.  Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.

Glen House Views

Glen House Views

I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair.  I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service?  This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time.  Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.

Steep Flowers to the Summit

Steep Flowers to the Summit

So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions.  Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections.  Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.

Summit Views

Summit Views


After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that!  Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.

Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run?  You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Norske Trail to Brown Gate Trail

While the snow cover is much improved from my last posting, the gorgeous spring-like weather could bring the ski season to an early close, so I had to get out over the weekend and enjoy the deep, but increasingly slushy snow.  You will also notice something very different about this post.  As a rule of thumb, I am usually a purist in that I earn my descents by putting out the effort to gain altitude first.  But today, I felt that a lobster analogy was quite appropriate.  Most of the time, the effort of cracking open the lobster, and prying the meat out of its exoskeleton is just the cost of enjoying its sweet flavor.  But every now and then, as a treat, you just have to say “to heck with it” and order the Lobster Newburg.  Today was my Newburg day.  How so?  I cheated and took the bus uphill, making it a tour with far more descent than ascent.

My primary destination today was The Norske Trail, a short wilderness run which begins just above the entrance to the Middlebury College Snowbowl on Rt. 125, and concludes at the Rikert Ski touring area.  Instead of doing this route as an “up and back”, I made use of the ACTR bus which picks up passengers at Breadloaf and concludes at the Snowbowl.  The trailhead for the Norske Trail is a 5 minute walk uphill on Rt. 125 from the turnoff to the Snowbowl.


Trailhead Marker

The Norske Trail is much more of a wilderness trail than those in the ski touring areas, or snowmobile trails of earlier posts.  It starts off with a series of modest climbs and descents, and despite the lack of grooming, is never particularly challenging.  While the trail never seems to get heavy use, you can pretty much count on the trail being broken within a day or two after every good dumping of snow.  Cruising along through the open hardwood forest, I eventually came to an overlook, with good views across the valley to Moosalamoo, and the meadows of the Breadloaf campus.  I could see from the well-beaten snow where previous ski and snowshoe parties had also enjoyed the vistas since the last storm.

Norske Vista

Norske Vista

Continuing the gradual descent, one eventually gets to a section where there are several intersecting trails, including the Burnt Hill trail, an easy summer hiking trail which reaches the top of the Green Mt. Ridge.  I chose to follow the ski trail marked with blue diamonds until it intersected with Forest Service 59.  At this point, I had been descending at a leisurely pace, covering a little over 4 km in about 45 min.  I knew that a right turn on FS 59, and a left turn onto the Gilman Trail would bring me to the Rikert Center in about 10 min, and I wasn’t ready to call it a day, so I instead stayed on FS 59 for another km or so until I got to the groomed descent on the Brown Gate Trail, extending my afternoon’s ski a little deeper into the touring center.  The remainder of this route is made up of the same trails described in the opposite direction at the beginning of my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin“.  Immediately after crossing the bridge over the beaver pond outlet, I spied a notice affixed to a nearby tree.  Curious as to its message, I stopped for a moment to read it.  Needless to say, I am relieved to note that some of my fellow backwoods sojourners are concerned for my safe passage in the presence of fierce wildlife.


Watch out for Angry Buffalo!

An easy cruise on Rikert Center trails brought me back to my car at the touring center.  This was a relatively short tour, covering a little over 9 km, with an overall descent of about 600 ft, but with enough ups and downs, and less manicured trail to keep it scenic and challenging.

As a postscript, when I arrived at Rikert to catch the bus up to the start of the day’s ski, I was a little surprised to see an older gentleman skiing in a tux and stovepipe hat, as well as a much younger woman cruising on by attired in a jogbra and blue jeans.  Unbeknownst to me, Sunday was the day for the rescheduled Breadloaf Citizen’s Race, a “Just for the Fun of It” race which I have participated in on many occasions in years past.  While I was sad to have missed the race, I was glad to see the race go on in the same spirit of semi-competetive fun which has been its hallmark for decades.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Fun Events for the New Year

With the coming of the new year, a few resolutions, or at least a few thoughts about fun running events for the new year are in order.  I have been collecting information for a while on a variety of trail running events in the area, some of which are reasonable goals, and some of which…well you can be the judge as to the likelihood of even seeing the starting line.

The first category is “Challenging, but Very Doable”

First on this list has to be one of my favorite trail runs, and the event which first got me interested in trail running – the Goshen Gallop.  It is nearby, not terribly long (just over 6 miles) and well run by the owner and staff at Blueberry Hill.  Some of the details on the the race are in an earlier post, so please look there for the details.


There are a few more ridiculous ultramarathon trail races in this part of the state, but fortunately, some of them have toned-down versions which have plenty of fun and challenge for those of us who have other things to do with our lives besides train.  One such event is the Pittsfield Peaks 50 miler, which has an associated 10 mile “fun run”.  Knowing Andy, the race organizer, I am not entirely confident in his definition of what constitutes “fun”, and am not sure on the complete specs on this one, but I have heard it has about 1500+ feet of climbing and is mostly on trails. Most decent runners can count on taking 2-3 hours to complete it.  Next summer’s race is on June 5th, so it will take some good early spring weather to get my miles in if I want to put this race on the calendar.


If any readers know of any more fun trail running events and races under 10 miles in this part of the state, please share them with me!

The next category is….”Maybe, if  VERY motivated”

I have come across a few races, which are not beyond the abilities of avid runners, but are likely to take a few months of very focused training to pull off.  One such race, which fell into this category, was the now-defunct Jay Peak Half Marathon.  This race, which was last held in 2008, was the “half” version of a longer race, but still went for 17-19 miles (depending on who you believed) and 3000-4500 vertical feet of climbing, including an ascent of Jay Peak – and that was the easy version!  It was great fun however, and was set up by a race organizer who clearly had a great sense of humor and adventure.  In addition to the ascent, it also included several miles of running in streams, through culverts under roads, a leap down a waterfall, and many miles of deep mud.  In other words, good clean fun….  I had the pleasure of competing in this event and  I think I was sore for about a month afterwards.  A few comments on the race itself, including one great description can be found at

http://www.marathonguide.com/races/racedetails.cfm?MIDD=1934070728 .

Unfortunately, this race got too popular for the organizer, so he moved it to Mt Tremblant, a few hours north of Montreal.  While there are shorter versions of this race scheduled for 2010, 5 hours is a long time to drive for a shorter race! There is a 35 km version however, which could be a lot of fun.


Another similar, and probably a little easier race is the Mt. Greylock Half Marathon.  I have never met anyone who has done this one, which is a mere 13.5 miles, but it sounds like a slightly more sane version of the Jay Peak race, and includes an ascent and descent of the tallest summit in Massachusetts.


Finally, I recently learned of a charity race in the Adirondacks which includes 4 pretty tough ascents, but covers a reasonable 12 miles.  It also requires a donation to the organizers’ charity, a camp in NY in addition to the entry fee.  The web page for this race makes it look like there is a strong comraderie among the runners, so it is probably a fun one!  And of course, there is also the unexpected challenge of getting across the lake, but I suspect that by next summer the ferry service from Addison, VT to Crown Point, NY will be up and running!


And the final category…”Not in This Life”

Probably the craziest trail run I have ever heard of is the Pittsfield Death Race, put on by the same organizer who also runs the previously mentioned Pittsfield Peaks races.  This one is only 10 miles long, but takes about 24 HOURS to complete. Sick.  The race description says  “You can expect barbed wire, mud boggin, wood choppin, tunnels, deep water diving, running, crawling, crying, screaming, and sweating. Doubtful you’ll finish but be proud of yourself for trying.”  Lovely.


A video of this event was posted on the NY Times webpage, and was the most frequently viewed sports video there for the year 2009.  To take a look at this video:  http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/07/06/sports/1194841322337/surviving-the-death-race.html If you try this one let me know, and put me in your will before the start!