Recounting Team Nordica’s road to victory; 2014 Road Trip Challenge

Recounting Team Nordica’s road to victory; 2014 Road Trip Challenge

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The Return of Road Trip Challenge

Based on Thrasher’s popular King of the Road series, FREESKIER’s Road Trip Challenge debuted in 2007. That summer, many of you followed along with the video series that showcased two weeks’ worth of shenanigans all across New England, with Team Völkl’s Scott Hibbert and Ahmet Dadali battling Michael Clarke and Andrew Hathaway of Team Salomon. The basic premise being: complete challenges, earn points, acquire the ultimate bragging rights.

Those web edits are the best. I love to watch ’em time and again. The content is absolutely hilarious, and the skiing is top-notch. The RTC of ’07 is also dear to my heart—I hold fond memories of tagging along for the ride as Hath and Clarke were among my closest friends at the time. We were all involved with a freeride program at Waterville Valley, NH, then.

I recall jibbing dumpsters, jumping over cars, bagging double-kink rails in the streets (at the time, a feat in itself) and so much more. My best buds were going to be featured in FREESKIER magazine—a multi-page story, no less. There was a huge coolness factor involved with the whole thing.

Yet, among all the ups, there were downs. I won’t soon forget an incident that occurred at Okemo Mountain Resort, March 16, 2007, during a training session for the Fischer Super Slopestyle Open, where big points were on the line.

Hathaway hooked an edge on a sticky down rail, ultimately whacking his head on the rock-hard ice and suffering a traumatic brain injury. He was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, just minutes from his home in Norwich, VT. We spent a number of tense days in the waiting room before Andy was finally released after surgery—he had the same shit-eating grin on his face, as always.

Despite the setback, the RTC rolled on. Clarke actually went on to take third in that contest, while one Willis Brown served as Hathaway’s substitute. Team Völkl would eventually earn the win, and the RTC was inked into freeskiing’s history book as one of the all-time road trips.

Alas, hard drives went missing, along with much of the priceless film footage. The web series never aired in full, and combined with the Hathaway scare, the blunders were enough to put the kibosh on all future editions of the Road Trip Challenge.

Until now.

From the moment I came on board full time at FREESKIER, the return of Road Trip Challenge was oft on my mind. That adventure of ’07 was just too damn fun—we had to bring it back. It took a fair amount of lobbying on the part of the edit staff, and by February 2014, the stars had aligned. Team K2 had signed on, as did Team Nordica. I could taste it. Once again, New England would be the stomping grounds. The hair now raising on the back of my neck. And from there, it was down to the finer details.

Of three things we were certain: we’d arrive in Boston on a Tuesday, we’d rent RVs and we’d depart the following Monday. On second thought, that third point was never a given. No telling where the road would carry us or bury us. Arrangements, plans and team members shuffled right up to the last minute—and I mean minute. With the flip of a coin, though, in the back of an RV parked in Cambridge, MA, it was game on.

The Players

Representing Team Nordica: skiers Ian Compton, Kieran McVeigh and Dale Talkington, along with cinematographer/Nordica team manager Evan Williams, photographer Peter Cirilli and yours truly.

Representing Team K2: skiers Maks Gorham, Sean Jordan and Clayton Vila, along with cinematographer Kyle Decker, photographer Christopher “Topher” Baldwin and FREESKIER managing editor, Damian Quigley.

The Rules

The rules were simple. Keeping with the theme of the original RTC, each team would be given a packet of challenges; the tasks included skiing stunts of all shapes and sizes, plus off-hill antics. Challengers would travel around New England via motor home, with the goal of completing as many challenges as possible, each goal corresponding with a certain point value. Whoever racked up the most points in the allotted time period won. Eternal glory, plus an invitation to defend the title during next year’s showdown, was the prize. Pending, of course, we don’t take another six-year hiatus.

Would we remain injury free? Would the RVs be returned in one piece? Dive in; enjoy our accounts of the 2014 Road Trip Challenge.

Team Nordica: Road to the Top

The coin flip is a great moment. Both teams—11 of us—are packed into the RV surrounded by cameras. Moments earlier, we’d presented the list of challenges to the skiers. “The skiing shit is boring. Show me to the real stuff,” someone mutters, wanting to see the off-hill challenges. After strenuous planning and anxious moments in the final hour, it’s a relief to see smiles upon the competitors’ faces as they mull over the plethora of tasks. Some of the guys put hands on top of their heads in classic “WTF?!” fashion as they lay eyes on some of the more obscene potentials. In this moment, all of the worries and the uncertainty fades. This thing is really happening.

I have no preference as to which side I end up on. Team K2, I figure, is chock full of talent, rowdy and streetwise at the same time. There would be no shortage of madness with those hooligans. Nordica, on the other hand, has been preparing for weeks, exchanging group emails to build hype and talk strategy. The positivity is tangible. Both teams will feature numerous New England natives—me and Quigley included—so there’s no real advantage for either squad in terms of knowing the lay of the land.

There isn’t much time to worry about it anyhow. Damian flips. Heads up. “I’m Nordica!” And the shit-talk begins. This is war.

Outside the Hilton DoubleTree in Cambridge, the RVs are parked side by each. It’s dusk, and the Boston skyline begins to twinkle against a darkening sky. The teams are split up now. We’re making gestures at one another through the side windows. Hangin’ in the “living room,” I soak it in—our new home.

A few of these faces are familiar. I’ve known Williams and Talkington for some time. Cirilli, I’ve just met. Compton, I’ve followed via his former days with Line Traveling Circus and also his own web series, The Weak. This is our first meeting, though. McVeigh is not yet with us. He’d arrive the next day.

And so, we are five. Our first order of business is to activate the Verizon flip phone I’d brought along. This trip wouldn’t be complete without some live interaction with ski fans in the East and beyond. It takes but a few minutes. Next, Compton pencils a message on a piece of paper, snaps a photo and ’grams ’er up. “CaLL uS (603) 892-8930. Anytime. Hot Gossip.”

Approximately 10 seconds later, the first call comes in. Moments later, call waiting. Then again. And again. Within minutes, we receive 100 calls. I know this longhaired Vermonter has a cult following, but this is unreal.

Callers ask, “Is this Ian Compton?” Some phone to tell him he’s ugly and has big teeth. He resents the nickname “Chompton.” Others, girls, call to make offers of unspeakable actions. Many call, panic, and hang up before uttering a single word. We hear from folks all along the Eastern seaboard, from the Midwest, and abroad—Norway, China.

Meanwhile, I peer into K2’s van. They’re piercing Gorham’s ear. That counts for points. Fielding phone calls, on the other hand, does not. The clock is ticking. We hit the road.

Video Playlist (7 Videos): Watch the 2014 Road Trip Challenge unfold

We spend the night in the Bean. Come morning, I find myself navigating the 30-foot RV through narrow city streets. I’m pretty sure the only things keeping folks from exiting their cars and bashing in my windshield are the Boston Bruins flags hanging from either side of the vehicle. Everyone respects the spoked-B.

I can’t possibly understate the total cluster that I cause while trying to enter the Sumner Tunnel via a row of tollbooths. I’m about to pass through as a woman comes running frantically with both hands waving in the air. I roll down my window. “The Aah’V can’t come though,” she yells with a heavy Boston accent, “Propane ain’t allowed in the tunnel!”

Taken aback at first, I realize I’m safe. The motorhome is winterized. I explain, “The propane tanks are empty.”

“Don’t mattah! You need to clee’ah that with the State Police befo’ah you can come through!”

“Where’s that?”

“Ov’ah the’ah!” she says, and points to the far side of the tolls, I don’t even know how many lanes wide. And it’s f#cking rush hour. I panic.

The woman offers no other solution, so I pop ’er into reverse. Cars flood past on either side, horns blaring. I inch backwards. Minutes later—and I’m not quite sure how, as my panic state lends itself to a completely blurred reality—a number of individuals stop the entire flow of traffic, allowing me to back away from the booth and swing right, where I make my way across, perpendicular to the traffic, all the way to freedom. What a relief. Now I’m simply embarrassed to be flying the Bruins colors. I’ve likely just tarnished the Black and Yellow.

Meantime, I’ve got other worries. We bagged just a few hundred measly points the previous night by mailing postcards to T-Swift and Miley, McVeigh hasn’t arrived yet, and all I can think about is how we’re falling behind. K2 is out there crushing life, and I’m driving circle jerks around town. Great.

In time, we collect McVeigh from the Logan Airport and head north. There’s a massive storm brewin’, and we’ve got our sights set on Burlington, VT. We’re keen to arrive before the heavy stuff flies. But we fail in this regard. The would-be 3 1⁄2-hour drive takes us approximately 11 hours. The RV isn’t exactly built for speed, nor is it equipped for winter driving conditions. Also, given the trouble we went through to bring the RTC back to life, the last thing I want to do is ring the office on the first full day of the trip to report a totaled RV and multiple injuries.

We make good use of our time, though. As I white-knuckle my way up the highway, the boys set to work. We kick off the 100-hot dog challenge, and we choreograph a dance to Miley’s “We Can’t Stop.” McVeigh volunteers for the push-ups challenge, and he also takes down a pint of maple syrup—at least for a minute. Puking always feels better when you earn precious points out of the deal.

All the while, the burner phone is ringing off the hook. Some call to tell us we’re huge losers. One girl wanted to know, “You guys ‘trynta’?” i.e., trynta f#ck? One dubs the RV “Susie.” The name sticks. Others call to let Compton know that he’s a hero—a true inspiration. “I’m your biggest fan, I can’t believe I’m talking to you,” says one. These latter moments are quite special, actually. But, sap story aside, the K2 crew is also firing text messages our way, claiming huge points and the ultimate win. Where are they? They say they’re at Sunday River eating lobster dinner. Are they lying? Have they all gotten tattoos already? These questions weigh heavily on my mind as we roll into Burlington. This is the biggest snowstorm of the year.

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