VAIL — The small ski resort of Brides-les-Bains is about to see some serious competition for first chair.
The French resort will serve as the finish line Friday for Vail Resorts’ Epic Race, a competition to see who can visit all 26 mountains serviced by the Epic Pass. Those 26 mountains span across four countries — the U.S., France, Switzerland and Austria.
According to the contest’s rules, the first 10 people to check in and capture a video and two photos at three different locations on a list of approved spots on all 26 mountains will win a lifetime Epic Pass.
Competitors hail from 23 states and eight countries. They come from a variety of backgrounds and have all made sacrifices to participate in the contest.
And all seem to agree on one thing — they had no idea this contest would be so popular.
“Any one of the 132 people who are in Les Trois Vallees right now could walk away with it,” said Carolyn Pope, an Epic Racer from Vail who, like the other 131 people she referenced, was camped out in France this week awaiting the opening of Brides-les-Bains. “All of us deserve to win and could win.”
Pope said while she entered the competition to win, her desire to be on top has been surpassed by her motivation to see some of the other racers enjoy the skiing for many more years to come.
“I’ve met so many amazing fellow racers that have inspired me, and I realize we all have several things in common,” Pope said. “A love of skiing and the mountains, a thrill of adventure and travel, and a competitiveness and sense of fairness that is unsurpassed. I have met many racers who are 20, 30 years younger than I, who would have many more years to enjoy their passion of skiing than I.”
A YOUNG PARTICIPANT
Epic Racer Matthew Walence is closer to 40 years Pope’s junior. The Vail resident started the competition at the tender age of 13 and turned 14 while racing. The timing worked out well for Walence, who found himself of legal drinking age on the German leg of his family’s travels.
“When we got to Europe, I got to have a beer that my dad bought me at a bar! It was a really fun time for my first time overseas,” Walence wrote in an email.
His father, Jason Walence, said cultural experiences like that one were part of the reason they wanted to treat young Matthew to the experience.
“All the traveling, seeing new places, it’s a great experience for him even if we don’t win,” said Walence. “But make no mistake, we want to win. I can’t even calculate the value Matthew would get out of a lifetime pass to Vail.”
For Jess and Dave Schnoll, the trip has been a honeymoon. The South Lake Tahoe couple were engaged at the top of Heavenly in March 2012 and married earlier this year.
“We were undecided on what to do for a honeymoon, until this trip came up,” Jess Schnoll wrote in an email. “We’ve had an amazing time traveling around Europe and quite a bit of fun night skiing at Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton — places we never would have skied.”
Dave Schnoll said his favorite part of the experience has been being able to ski such long distances, from one town to another in Austria and France.
“This is something that has been completely new and incredible to see just how far you can go on your skis,” he said. “The infrastructure with lift systems, trails, snow retention etc., has been very impressive. We traveled a total of 42 miles roundtrip on skis for our check-in at Orelle from Meribel.”
CAMARADERIE AND COMPETITION
Carolyn Pope said there’s a deep feeling of camaraderie among the competitors.
“I’ve heard of folks who have quit jobs, or one that asked his boss to be laid off for the month,” she wrote. “Some are consultants and can work from anywhere. Two men actually told me they were doing this because ‘they are rich.’ I’m planning on tackling them before the finish line, just to make sure they don’t finish in the top 10.”
Brides-les-Bains is set to open Friday.