Wednesday, May 5, 2021
May 5, 2021

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VertFest winners reflect on thousands of feet climbed and skied

The Columbian

BEND, Ore. – This was Barry Wicks’ chance to live out the ski-bum dream.

And, man, did he make the most of it.

Wicks, a Bend resident and cyclist by trade, recently won the Central Oregon Avalanche Center’s Virtual VertFest, climbing and skiing a total of 137,469 vertical feet over nine days from Feb. 27 to March 7.

“My goal going into it was just to do 15,000 feet a day, which seemed like a huge amount, but achievable,” Wicks said. “I kind of did some calculations on how long it would take to do that. I was thinking 1,500 to 2,000 feet an hour.”

Wicks, who often summits and then skis down Cascade volcanoes during the spring, knew he could take the time off to maximize his vertical feet over the nine days. The avalanche center typically stages its VertFest as a one-day event at Mount Bachelor ski area, but this year, due to COVID-19, the virtual event had a nine-day window and competitors could log their vertical feet anywhere they wished.

Still, most stuck to Bachelor, which has a free, easily accessible skin track up the cinder cone and then along Ed’s Garden run up to the Pine Marten Lodge.

Wicks, 39, went to Tumalo Mountain on the first day of the virtual event and promptly skied 11 laps up and down, which took nearly 11 hours. The next day, he headed to Bachelor and began living out of his van.

“It was four cone laps plus nine Pine (Marten) laps every day,” said Wicks, the sports marketing director for Kona Bikes and former pro mountain bike and cyclocross racer. “That took 8.5 or 9 hours to do. That was more achievable.”

Bend ultrarunner Emily Keddie, 34, won the women’s division of the Virtual VertFest, finishing with 83,037 vertical feet.

“It’s a great workout,” Keddie said. “I just enjoy pushing myself at long distances for a long amount of time. Backcountry skiing lends itself to that really well. It’s a really healthy, low-impact exercise. It’s really versatile. You can keep it low-key and just tour around. Or you can go up mountains and back down.”

Like Wicks, Keddie logged most of her vertical feet at Bachelor, but she also ventured to Vista Butte and Tumalo Mountain.

Wicks said he enjoys summiting and skiing vaunted Cascade volcanoes such as Broken Top, Mount Jefferson, Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin, especially in the spring, when the snowpack is typically more stable.

“In the springtime, that’s when you can really go exploring, getting up in the big mountains and high alpine, where in the winter it’s super stormy or super dangerous avalanche conditions,” Wicks said. “In spring, you can do massive tours.”

Keddie moved to Bend 3 1/2 years ago from Lake Placid, N.Y. She learned to ski just six years ago and had her first backcountry experience on Whiteface Mountain.

She said she plans to climb and ski Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens this spring, and she is training for several ultramarathons.