Get ready for a real adventure

man’s company to host first winter adventure race in Vt.

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

In these digital days of Google maps, GPS-equipped SUVs, and cell phones, there is little need for the art of analog navigation.

Unless, of course, you are one of the brave souls who take part in the burgeoning sport of “adventure racing.”

Adventure races are team-based races, which include a combination of “disciplines” such as hiking; mountain biking; skiing; horseback riding; skijoling (having a dog pull you on skis); canoeing; and the arcane art of orienteering, or navigating with a map and compass.

Williston Web developer Chris Yager took part in an 8-hour race near Ottawa several years ago and was immediately hooked. In 2003, Yager, 29, founded the nonprofit Green Mountain Adventure Racing Association to accommodate his and his friends’ desire to explore nature competitively.

“People don’t go on expeditions any more to explore unknown territory,” Yager said. “This is about as close as you can get for the Average Joe.”

Races last anywhere from 8 hours to several days, and take place year round in any region of the world. Yager’s company hosts 12-hour races in Vermont twice a year, and this year GMARA will hold its first winter race, the Frigid Infliction Winter Adventure Race at Bolton Valley Resort on March 4. All of GMARA’s races are held at ski resorts, but the other two races, the Bitter Pill and the Pillage Plunder Booty Siege, are held in summer and early autumn.

Yager said one of the most unique things about adventure racing is the lack of a marked course. At the start of the race, teams (usually 2-3 people) are given maps and a series of checkpoints. At each checkpoint teams may be instructed to proceed using a different discipline. For example, contestants might pick up their bikes or canoes at one checkpoint and leave them off at the next. The course area typically covers dozens or hundreds of acres, and teams must use topographical maps and compasses to find the best way to the next checkpoint. Often, teams will choose completely different routes.

“You can go anywhere from two hours to over a day without seeing anyone else from the race,” Yager said.

A team wins by being the first to get to the final checkpoint, but Yager said much of the challenge is even finishing the race at all. Teams must stay together or be disqualified, and if a team takes too long getting to a checkpoint, they are rerouted to an easier end point, but are then out of the running for the win.

“It makes it more than just a physical challenge,” Yager said. “It’s not just who can move the fastest, it’s who can make the best decisions.”

Adventure racing has grown in Vermont in the last few years. Yager said he started out with 6 teams competing in the first GMARA race, and in the most recent race there were 21 teams.

Two other companies host races in Vermont. Killington-based Ultimate Sports Association holds a series of races in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire. Another company, Racing Ahead, says on its Web site it will host races this year in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

The disciplines for GMARA’s winter race will be snowshoeing; cross-country skiing; navigation; post-holing (hiking in snow without snowshoes) and Tyrolean traverse. Tyrolean traverse involves using ropes to get across a ravine or a river, but Yager said racers don’t need special rope skills in order to complete the course. However, learning to navigate with a map and compass will be crucial to getting through the race.

“It doesn’t matter how fast you are going,” Yager said. “If you are going the wrong way you just get lost quicker.”