The 2007 Stowe Derby will go down in history as a jewel.
Graced by beautiful winter weather, more than 500 competitors were part of a classic day at one of the country's most historic and heralded cross-country ski races.
Justin Freeman won the coveted Derbymeister trophy with the fastest combined time in two races. Freeman was part of the U.S. Olympic Team in Torino, Italy, and has been a U.S. national champion and a U.S. Ski Team member.
He skied the two runs — more than 20 miles of racing — in a total of 1:14:14.9.
But you don't have to be an Olympian to ski the Derby. Part of what makes the race special is the eclectic mixture of racers, from Division I college athletes to old-timers on shaky legs to kids to first-time cross-country skiers.
Last year marked the 62nd annual Derby and many longtime competitors said it was one of the best ever. The weather and the snow were great, and things went off without a hitch.
Justin Freeman, the men's Derbymeister winner, gets set to start. Kathy Maddock of Wilton, N.H., won the women's title, followed by Robyn Anderson of Stowe.
"The Stowe Derby has such a strong reputation as a good race, and that was in full effect on Sunday," said Igor Vanovac, the Mt. Mansfield Ski and Snowboard Club's executive director. The club organizes the race every winter.
In 2006, there wasn't enough snow to run the usual race; the course had to be truncated.
Last year, event organizers had just the opposite problem, with too much snow on the course, courtesy of the Valentine's Day blizzard that dumped 3-plus feet of snow on Stowe.
Vanovac organized skiers and snowshoers to slide and walk on the trail, trying to pack it down. Then he turned to Wendall Mansfield, who is the Stowe trail boss for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers; Mansfield brought in powerful trail-grooming equipment and transformed the last 7 miles down the Stowe Recreation Path into a ribbon of packed corduroy snow.
The Derby takes the traditional idea of a Nordic ski race and tosses it straight out the window. How often do cross-country races begin with a chairlift ride to the top of a mountain?
The Derby has four divisions: long course freestyle, long course classical, short course, and Derbymeister. The Derbymeister is the top level; competitors race in both the freestyle and classical races.
Racers begin the day atop the Toll Road, high on the side of Mt. Mansfield. Skiers set out in packs of five, 30 seconds apart. From there, it's a wild ride on the skinny skis down the winding, and at times treacherously steep, Toll Road.
Then they descend more than 3,000 vertical feet over the 10-mile course into downtown Stowe.
Some of the best skiers succumb to gravity and the winding trail, and spin wildly off the track. Spectators in the know position themselves at those precise spots on the course to record the carnage.
Once off the mountain, skiers race the length of the Stowe Recreation Path into the village.
More than 40 volunteers worked Sunday's Derby. Most were stationed somewhere along the course, and a handful were on shovel crews laying a corridor of snow across Mountain Road, where the Stowe Rec Path crossed the road.
"We couldn't make the Derby happen without the support of so many people," Vanovac said. "Many people had to work together to have a successful race, and we had that with this Stowe Derby."