Arts, Dining & Entertainment

Chasing Vertical: Part 3

Boarding the triple mountain challenge with Andy Rhodes

By Brooke Geery

There’s been a lot of recent talk from Colorado, Utah and other typical destinations that one might choose to ski bum that the dream is dead. Housing prices are through the roof! Lift lines are too long! Traffic is insane! Go home! You can’t afford it!

Surely, you’ve gotten sucked down a social media rabbit hole and ended up at this conclusion, too. But I’m here to report that Andy Rhodes is living proof that the ski bum dream is still alive and well, at least at Killington.

Rhodes, 45, spent his first season at The Beast last year, clocking in his 100 days and joining the club thanks to Covid quarantine restrictions, which prevented him from returning home when he’d planned. In the summer, he resides in Morgantown, Pennsylvania, where he tunes about 15,000 pairs of skis and 5,000 snowboards at Buckman’s Ski and Sports headquarters in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

In the winter, he’s the breakfast cook at Mountain Sports Inn, where he also lives, and preps the continental breakfast each morning. He is free to leave by 10:30 a.m., maybe sooner. This enables him to ride daily (though he’s missed out on perfect attendance due to one two-week suspension after an altercation with a tree landed him unconscious on a closed trail.) But even with this forced sabbatical, he’s more than of the way to 100 days, and is dedicated to the goal, as well as staying in Vermont as long as he can this season.

For Rhodes, 150 days isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, and you’ll be able to find out if he did it on the Killington App leaderboard, where he dutifully tracks his days. He also posts a daily chairlift selfie on Facebook with his day count, which is how I tuned into his mission.

We first met in person during his daily leaderboard summit in the Peak Lodge. I recognized him immediately, introduced myself and before I knew it, we were taking runs together until the K-1 gondola closed. He told me he was great at tuning, and I offered to pay for his services in tacos and beer at Jax, an arrangement that works well for us both. But it’s not just the smooth wax job and sharp edges that makes Rhodes a great shred buddy. It’s his unrelenting motivation to ride.

And there’s no better evidence than last Monday, when Rhodes texted me at 6 a.m. with a wild idea.

“I say we do a hat trick today… Pico, Killington, Okemo.”

“Oh wow, that’s aggressive lol,” I replied.

“Just an idea.”

“Not a bad one…”

We quickly settled on starting at Okemo, then working our way back. We’d log one run on the Skyeship, then a top-to-bottom lap at Pico, with a conclusion at Pico’s Last Run Lounge. (Rhodes had suggested Jax, but as a Rutland resident, that was pushing it for me.)

By Brooke Geery
Andy Rhodes snowboards solo carving a nice line on Upper Pike at Pico.

We met at the Killington Deli shortly before 10 a.m., where we picked up the fluids and calories required to complete such a mission, and left his car. We quickly made it to Okemo on Route 100 — an easy 30-minute drive — had no trouble finding free parking (again, the Internet’s complaints proving to be highly over-the-top) and loaded the lift with (almost) no line. Once on the Sunburst Six, complete with its orange shell and heated seats, we wouldn’t wait again in line and found no shortage of wide-open groomers to enjoy. With a moderate knowledge of Okemo, I played tour guide, suggesting we make our way to Jackson Gore for the most-expert experience. Three lifts later I found myself eyeing up the liftline trail known as Vortex, which Rhodes seemed less inclined to hit. But with a little gentle prodding, he soon dropped in and moments later popped out back onto the groomer with a triumphant grin on his face.

“My first lift line of the season!” he proclaimed.

With seven lift rides and 9,337 vertical feet under our belts, we decided it was time for mountain no. 2. Because we both ride Killington daily, we figured a peak-to-creek lap on the Skyeship would be more than enough to count it. As we made our way up the lift just after 1 p.m., Rhodes received a call from his compatriots in the Peak Lodge, urging him to join their meeting. But I shook my head. We were on a mission here! After one fast lap down Great Eastern — adding another 2,320 vertical feet — we were back in the car with a mental GPS set to Pico.

We pulled into the Pico parking lot just after 2 p.m. — more than enough time to do an easy cruiser from the top of the Summit Chair down the gentle groomed Fortyniner trail to Lower Pike. Unfortunately for Rhodes, I had other plans. I knew full well that a weekend of abuse had bumped up the Poma Glades, but I just wanted to show him… for next time it snowed. Luckily, they had groomed Upper Pike, so that was easy, but of course, I ducked into the trees (a bit too soon) and by the time we hit the bumps in the glades, I could tell he’d had enough.

He didn’t complain, though, just laughed, smiled and said, “Yeah, that was a pretty aggressive run for the end of a three-mountain day.”

According to my Ski Tracks app, which I miraculously managed to remember to pause while driving all three times, our total snowboard vertical for the day was 14,431 feet or 31.1 miles over 11 runs. On the road we covered an additional 50 miles or so (that I failed to accurately track.) As we enjoyed a Long Trail Ale on draft and a delicious plate of nachos in the Last Run Lounge, we both agreed, the hat trick was nothing short of awesome!

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