“The Oldest Ski Club in the East” banner welcomes world class skiers each season to the Woodstock Ski Runners club to pick up their bibs for the longest running alpine trophy race in North America. This Feb. 12 marked the 80th anniversary of the Fisk Trophy race, a men’s FIS slalom, held at Suicide Six in South Pomfret, Vermont. The temperature was brisk and the air humid; clouds sat just above the summit in the morning, threatening the heavy snow that was forecast for later in the day.
At the registration table, the Fisk Trophy was on display for all to see, past winners engraved around the base, many in the lodge hoping to claim one of the open spaces and become immortalized in the oldest ski race on the continent.
As gatekeeper Neal McNealus scanned the list of previous victors, he rattled off Olympians and World Cup athletes while recalling his own time racing the Fisk during the 1970s.
“It was good to not go early,” he reflects, noting that they raced with bamboo shafts instead of breakaway gates. “Let a couple guys go, so they’d soften the bamboo. Or course workers would set them so they’d lean a little bit.”
Neal’s son, Andrew, won his spot on the trophy in 2012, while Neal’s name is inscribed on the original cup for his win in 1975. It is a reminder of why this particular race is so endearing to all. It is not only a race steeped in a rich history, but a history that lives on today through the people who continue to show up year after year.
While Suicide Six may be one of the smaller venues to host a race in the East, it is not a hill to be taken lightly. Nearly all of the 50-second slalom course is viewable from the finish area which itself is situated just across from the base lodge. The start house, newly built this year, is located at the very top of the mountain. A few quick turns out of the start are followed by a sharp breakover onto a steep and sustained pitch. More than halfway down the course, skiers hit a short flat section before rolling over onto a final brief pitch into the finish. The first run course set this year was tight and across the hill, so skiers had to manage their speed all the way to the finish line. There was no point in the course to really let the skis go.
After first run, Redneck Racing’s Robby Kelley took a commanding lead over the rest of the field, finishing with a time of 49.93. His closest competitor, Guillaume Grand of Saint Michael’s College, was 1.15 seconds back while Brian McLaughlin of Dartmouth College sat third, 1.28 seconds off of Kelley.
Heavy snow started to fall near the end of first run, so race organizers pushed for a quick second run inspection and start time to beat the weather.
Second run brought a shake-up to the top 10 as Sandy Vietze of of the University of Vermont (UVM), who was seventh after first run, skied the fastest second run and just missed out on the overall podium in fourth. Colin Hayes of Middlebury, who placed third in this race last season, repeated his performance for a second consecutive year. UVM’s William St. Germain beat out Hayes for second place by just 0.01 seconds.
Kelley, who skied the fifth fastest time in the second run, proved to have attained enough of an early lead to win the race by an astounding margin of 1.42 seconds. It was Kelley’s second Fisk victory tying him with, among others, his brother Tim.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Kelley says of the race. “But I want to be the first one to get three. So next year, hopefully I can surpass my brother.”
Kelley packed his confidence from the Fisk Trophy in his bags for Europe as he headed to the World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, just after the race.
See full results from the 80th Annual Fisk Trophy race here.