SNOWBIRD — Having a reputation for being taller and longer didn't help the Jackson Hole ski area much when it came to a "foot-for-foot" showdown on the ski slopes.
In one day, four women — one on a snowboard, one on shaped skis and two on telemark gear — were able to chalk up more vertical feet skied or boarded — roughly 81 more per person — at Snowbird than their four male challengers in Wyoming, led by Olympic downhill gold medalist Tommy Moe.
It was the first such competition pitting resort vs. resort in a winner-take-all event called Skiing Magazine's Tram Off.
Both resorts offer tram-served skiing. Snowbird's tram rises 2,900 vertical feet and takes about seven minutes to run from base to summit. Jackson's tram rises 4,139 vertical feet and takes 12 minutes to summit. Jackson Hole, in fact, offers the most vertical drop of any ski area in the United States by nearly 1,000 feet.
What Snowbird won, said Dave Fields, public relations director, was "simply bragging rights" when it comes to claims about which mountain a skier or boarder can accumulate the most vertical drop.
The four women — Sarah Clemensen, Nora Pincus, Kasha Rigby and Shannan Yates — chalked up a total of 348,000 vertical feet.
The Jackson team, of Moe, John Griber, Scott McGhee and A.J. Cargrill, a free-ski champion, accounted for a total of 347,676 vertical feet.
After a long day of continuous skiing and boarding by the eight competitors, the difference was a mere 324 feet.
The event was the creation of Nathan Rafferty of Ski Utah and Perkins Miller, editor of Skiing Magazine. The two men, in fact, shadowed the women on their record-setting day.
Starting at 9:01 a.m. sharp, the group made the first of what was to be the maximum number of tram rides — 30 — possible before the scheduled closing at 3:45 p.m. Each skied or boarded a distance of 75 miles and each accounted for 87,000 vertical feet traveled. The previous record for tram rides in a day was 27.
Once on the tram, competitors were able to sit and rest, snack and, as the day wore on, take advantage of the talents of two Snowbird masseuses.
The Jackson team took 21 tram rides and each tallied 86,919 vertical feet.
The best part of this day for Clemensen, she said as she stepped out of her telemark skis for the last time, looking just as relaxed as she did after her first, "was being able to finish. I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect. But I'm not nearly as tired as I thought I'd be."
"Of course we got tired," Rigby shot back at the question. "Around 2:30 my legs got a little crampy, but I knew we could do it. I thought we'd be way worse off.
"It was nice to be skiing with friends. There were times when we were so close together it felt as if I was racing them. I still can't believe we got a record number of tram (rides) in."
The rules were simple: Teams started when the resorts opened, skied together, linked up with regularly scheduled tram rides and took as many runs as time and their legs would allow before the resorts closed. They could take any trail they liked, but were bound to obey all safety rules.
The Snowbird team left the tram at the 11,000-foot summit, slid into Chip's run, followed it for most of the run, then finished through Peruvian Gulch.
It helped, of course, that outside conditions for Tuesday's face-off were ideal. Temperatures were warm, visibility was excellent and snow conditions were perfect — firm, but with enough loose snow on the surface to allow for precise edge control and stability.
"This proves that Jackson Hole and Snowbird are two great ski areas. It was fun; it was friendly. It was an unbelievable day," Fields said. He'd like to see the contest become an annual event.
And, he knows there's certainly one vote out there for a second Tram Off — Jackson Hole.