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Cannot beat skiing in Vail.

Byline: Shaun Sutner

COLUMN: SNOW SPORTS

Vail.

Enough said.

The Rockies mega-resort's motto is, "There's Nothing Like It on Earth," and that's pretty close to the truth.

Nowhere - not elsewhere in Colorado or the West, not Europe, not South America, not Canada - is this place matched considering its sheer expansiveness, lift capacity and mind-blowing breadth of terrain combined with primo snow quality and quantity, and ski culture and nightlife.

Ironically, I left last week on my second trip to Vail this season amid southern New England's first major snowfall since October.

I was not disappointed, though, because it was dumping in Vail, in what was the latest round of a late-winter weather pattern that has deposited a much-needed several feet of new snow on the resort.

My college friend - Rich Schreuer of Hamilton, a former pro freestyler - and I ranged all over Vail's front and back sides, from the pristine groomers Avanti and Simba to the gnarly cliff-riddled steeps of Mongolia Bowl and untracked powder of Outer Mongolia.

We both raced a NASTAR giant slalom as part the American Airlines Celebrity Ski event, a fundraiser to fight cystic fibrosis. Non-celebrities such as us competed against other unknowns and the likes of former Red Sox great Jim Lonborg, former Patriots kicker Matt Bahr, Boston comic Lenny Clarke, film star Jason Priestley and actor Sydney Poitier's daughter, also named Sydney Poitier.

Also on hand, as usual, were freestyle ski legend Wayne Wong, an accomplished ski racer in his own right, and U.S. Olympic and World Cup Alpine race great Billy Kidd, a Stowe, Vt., product and the legendary ambassador for Steamboat Springs, Colo.

At 60-plus years old, Wong won the race, throwing down a fast, clean line in a bulky, bright red outfit and besting younger foes and competitors clad in more aerodynamic speed suits.

This year's event grossed about $2 million for research into the deadly chronic lung disease, which afflicts 70,000 people around the world. The fundraiser produced nearly double the usual take. A major reason was a huge last-minute donation from retired NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, whose son has CF.

Celebrity Ski has raised more than $30 million for CF over more than 27 years, most of it at Vail. It is a great annual event that has built a unique camaraderie among the thousands of participants, many of whom come back year after year for the snow and musical entertainment, which this year was American Idol alum Adam Lambert.

Locals in the Rockies

Among the Central Mass. natives with whom we crossed ski tracks in Vail was Ravi Jayanath, a Wachusett High School grad from Sterling who is finishing his junior year at the University of Colorado.

Ravi, a former racer with the Wachusett Mountain Race Team and his high school alma mater, is now a skilled big mountain free skier with mountain goat-like agility and ability to gracefully launch off cliffs and slither rapidly through steep, tight trees.

With Ravi and his friend, Burlington, Vt., native Charlotte Dworshack, a CU club team racer, we also tried to slither through trees - though with not nearly as much grace.

My college friend, Rich, 54, hucked a small cliff and looked pretty good doing it. I picked my way around such obstacles, including the massive rock face on Rasputin's Revenge, one of Vail's scariest descents.

We also ran into Tom D'Errico in a back bowl lift line. A former racer for Shrewsbury High and Castleton State College in Vermont, D'Errico is now a Vail local, working at a restaurant in the base village and shredding powder lines on fat skis by day.

Still more fine conditions

OK, here's the pep talk for the rest of this unpleasant season.

Get psyched. The best is probably still ahead.

Last week's snow, plus fairly cold recent temps, spell good skiing and riding - especially up north.

Base depths are not as thin as one might expect. Barring rain, and with more snowfall this March in what is historically the snowiest month, conditions ought to put us in good stead for good spring sliding.

It says here that local snow sports mecca Wachusett Mountain will stay open into the first week of April, and that Stowe, Jay Peak, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Cannon, Waterville and other northern mainstays will thrive well past that date.

Strap on your boards and get out there.

Shaun Sutner can be contacted by email at ssutner@telegram.com.

Calendar

Today - Ski Ward, Shrewsbury, reopened through Sunday.

Today-Sunday - Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, Princeton, Acrobag Progression Tour. Designed as a training tool for skiers and riders, this huge, air-filled bag cushions the landing for aerial maneuvers. Coaching is available throughout the week, and the progression culminates from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday with a big air competition. Go to wachusett.com for details.

Saturday-Sunday - Wachusett Mountain, Massachusetts Special Olympics Winter Games.

Sunday - Nashoba Valley, Westford, fourth annual pond skim and barbecue.

March 16 - Wachusett Mountain, Women's Fest, full day of NASTAR racing for women.

March 17 - Wachusett Mountain, Y.E.S. Mass Snow Challenge, full day of racing and other activities to benefit Youth Enrichment Services.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Mar 8, 2012
Words:858
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