Words by Megan Pierce
Photos: Josh Manore, Brett Protasiewicz, Zach McCarthy, Sam Pierce, Andrew Drummond
The event format is simple; once the clock starts, participants must make their way up and down the mountain to be back at the starting line by the start of the next hour, where they begin their next lap. The clock runs continuously so all breaks must be earned by finishing with time to spare before the next hour begins. If you complete your lap in 45 minutes, you get a 15 minute break and that’s all. When the second to last participant drops out, the winner must complete one final lap to become the Last Skier Standing. At Black Mountain of Maine, each lap is 3 miles round trip, with 1,200 feet of elevation gain (~5km, 360m). The format is intriguing and sounds like a reasonable proposition until you see just how long and far some people can push themselves.
Photo by Josh Manore
Entering the event this year, I knew last year’s winner, Brody Leven, completed 65 laps up the mountain which equated to a total of 162 miles and 67,000 vertical feet (260 km and 20,420 m, respectively). I felt like an average athlete who was suddenly entering the Olympics. Brody had skinned more elevation gain than it takes to summit Mount Everest… twice. I consider myself a very active athlete, but prior to registering, I had never skinned more than ~3,500 vertical feet in a day (~1050m). There was simply no way I could come close to winning this event.
Last Skier Standing, however, isn’t a race; it’s an event designed so that every participant can test their limits and see what they are capable of. I was nervous but also excited and curious (in a very self-competitive way) to see how far I could go. Although slightly intimidated, I had been to the event before and saw how special it was. The weekend may be based around some serious Type II fun (Type II fun is a type of fun that’s a bit miserable while it’s happening) but the tight-knit community that comes together annually for the event is incredibly supportive and wants to see everyone do their best.
The event volunteers tirelessly stay awake for most of the weekend, recording participants’ numbers each lap, prepping hot food and snacks, making coffee, washing dishes, fixing broken equipment, and making sure everyone is safe. The event is full of participants’ friends and family who come to act as support crews and help with everything from putting their skins on, swapping boot liners, drying gear, prepping personal food and drinks, tagging along for laps up the mountain, and foot care. The last one may have you raising your eyebrows, but skinning that many hours in ski boots will leave anyone with some gnarly blisters. Lastly, the event directors, Andrew Drummond and Monte McIndoe, have the cunning ability of knowing just what to say to get you to do just one more lap.
An event volunteer serving some fresh baked pizza
When people asked how far I thought I could go I hesitated to say a goal out loud, knowing any goal I set would feel both too small and too large all at once. My friend suggested I set a goal of 10,000 feet (~3,000m), and it kept floating around in my head. It seemed like a very high bar to set given it was significantly more than I’d ever done, but I liked the idea of the achievement. Was I crazy to think I could go almost three times my previous maximum? At the same time, this goal felt too small as the advice of event co-director Monte McIndoe resonated in my head. He encouraged me not to set a goal, explaining that people are often capable of far more than they think. Monte told me that oftentimes when people set a goal they are tempted to drop out when they reach it, even though they could probably keep going. Maybe I could do more? I couldn’t get the 10,000 feet out of my head and the goal more or less stuck because in the end, I felt like I needed something to work towards achieving.
To prepare for the event, I started skinning more resort laps before work and on the weekends to train, but never hitting more than 5k in a day (mainly due to time constraints in my schedule). It made me fairly nervous having only accomplished half my goal in a single day. I prepared the best I could and tried to remind myself that you do the best you can given the circumstances, and that’s all you can ask for.
When the big day rolled around, my stomach was in knots with nerves. My partner Sam and two friends, Josh and Zach, had come along to crew for me and support me with whatever I needed. After just a few laps, I began to wonder if I would fall short of my goal because I wasn’t feeling well. A kind neighbor next to our small encampment who was there crewing for her husband, Rich Connell, passed over some ginger and a homemade rice cake that helped settle my stomach. After lap 5 when things began getting harder, Sam jokingly pointed out “Hey, you’re tied for first!” Always optimistic, Sam wasn’t wrong. In this event you are all tied for first until you are out. There is only one person to complete the event… the Last Skier Standing.
By lap 7, a little misery crept in and I wanted to be done, but I just kept going through the motions: skin up, transition, ski down, throw a warm jacket on, eat a snack, and my crew would prep my gear for the next lap. Monte would yell “5 minute warning” and then a few minutes later “2 minutes”, then I’d stand up, step into my skis, and shuffle over to the start line. At the 30 second mark, my crew would pull off my down jacket; the event directors would yell “Yay, more skiing!” (which was comical in a sadistic, maniacal way) and off we would all go for another lap.
Heading out for another lap
I slowly gritted through 9 laps to hit my 10,000 feet goal. Monte was right; when you are exhausted it’s quite tempting to quit once you’ve hit your goal, but after finishing 9 laps I realized I was close to 10 laps… so I went for one more. After finishing 10 laps I realized that a lot of people would drop after a round number like 10, so I should try and do just one more. It is the “just one more” mentality that repeatedly makes so many of us go back out to push ourselves.
After 11 laps I was ready to call it quits. My eyelids were heavy with exhaustion and my entire body drained. I came in with only 8 min left on the hour and told my crew I was done and I couldn’t go any further. They know me too well and refused to let me quit between laps, knowing that if I quit after a lap and didn’t go back out I would always wonder, “Could I have done one more?” Sam popped me out of my skis as I leaned on my poles, to take the weight of my tired legs, and he silently began putting my skins back on. Zach and Josh pulled up a chair for me, threw a big down jacket over me to keep me warm and told me to shut my eyes and rest for a few minutes. As I rested, my crew worked in unison to get me ready for another lap. Sam continued prepping my gear while Zach and Josh ran to get their boots on so they could join me on what was likely to be my last lap. I was muttering from the very start of the 12th lap that I couldn’t keep going, yet I did.
They skinned next to me as I very slowly put one foot in front of the other for what seemed to go on forever. Stalling on a headwall, they told me afterwards I began to slightly sway using my poles for balance, and they thought I had reached my limit. They silently moved to my side and behind me in case I needed to be steadied or slipped backwards on the hill. To all of our amazement, my feet slowly began shuffling again.
Finally seeing the transition zone, I turned to them and mumbled, “time”. One of them checked their watch, replying “58”. I wouldn’t make the time cut off for the next lap. I was absolutely dead tired after completing nearly 3 times more elevation climbing than I had ever done before, but I still wanted to know if I could make the lap time… only to try for just one more. At the top the wind was whipping, I threw on a jacket, ripped my skins, and headed down. I was done. Next to my name on the board 11 laps were recorded after I missed the time cutoff for my 12th lap. All in all, I skied a total of 35 miles and 14,290 feet of elevation gain (~56km, 4355 m respectively). I was proud to have shattered my personal best and left inspired by those who were still going.
The bottom of my 11th lap
Photo by Brett Protasiewicz
After some sleep I headed back to the course, returning around the 24 hour mark (10:00am on Saturday) to see Hilary was still going strong with just under 30 people still skiing. I jumped in to help crew for her: replacing skins, being ready at the bottom with a warm jacket, prepping soup, coffee, snacks, and whatever else she needed. Hilary went on to beat the previous women’s record, completing 36 laps which amounted to 106 miles and 42,249 feet of elevation (~107 km, 12,880m, respectively) finishing in 10th place overall.
Start of another lap
Photo by Zach McCarthy
Yet again, I left for the night to go sleep at our local rental knowing that the event would still be going when I returned in the morning. I arrived at 09:00 Sunday just before the 48 hour mark and with only four people remaining. The final four consisted of: Rich Connell, Ben Eck (2021 Last Skier Standing, and second place in 2022), Brent Underkoffler and Danny Romano. Rich Connell, who was suffering from a sinus infection, dropped out after 52 laps. By 3pm (at the 53 hour mark) as I prepared to make the long drive home, there were only three skiers left. I was exhausted, yet these three hadn’t stopped since the event began Friday morning. Ben Eck dropped out after 55 laps leaving Brent Underkoffler and Danny Romano to go head to head. They continued another 6 hours, just the two of them, until after a total of 62 hours, Brent Underkoffler was done. Danny Romano went out for his victory lap, finally completing his 63rd lap just before 1am on Monday morning for a total of 63 laps, ~189 miles and ~72,500 vertical feet (304 km and 21,950m respectively).
Winner Danny Romano
Photo by Andrew Drummond
The weekend left me exhausted but smiling ear to ear. Hilary remarked over the weekend how nice it is to hang out with all of these people once a year and I couldn’t help but feel the same. We had all put forth our best efforts, but we couldn’t have done it without the support of those around us. I may not have been the Last Skier Standing, but I am so proud to be a part of this incredible New England Ski community filled with inspiring athletes and supportive friends and families.
Meg is an environmental engineer from New England who loves being outside and on the go. She is an avid skiier, hiker, rock climber, mountain biker, and boater who brings lots of energy and enthusiasm to her adventures. Meg is passionate about encouraging, enabling, and expanding access for everyone to participate in outdoor recreation.