With challenge, skier reaffirms Vermont's beauty
BRATTLEBORO — A self-induced challenge to climb then ski down all 110 of Vermont's major mountains led Spencer Crispe to places he describes as some of "the best kept secrets" — and where he was able to do some of most enjoyable skiing of his life.
"Vermont is just so beautiful," he said. "It just reaffirmed, in my opinion, how beautiful the state is and how suited a lot of the terrain is for backcountry skiing and what not."
Crispe, a local attorney and West Brattleboro resident who is a ninth-generation Vermonter, finished the challenge Jan. 5 at Middle Jay after four winters of skiing. He had already skied a bunch of the mountains and climbed all 110 during non-winter months.
"I was like, maybe I could climb them in winter, which would be a cool challenge, and ski them all," he said. "I had this idea to be the first person to ski every major mountain in Vermont."
As far as he knows, Crispe has accomplished that feat. He said he hangs out in "bushwhacking and mountaineering circles," and knows he is the first Vermonter to climb all the mountains in winter. He's aware of two other people who have done so.
"But to the best of my knowledge, no one's ever skied them all," he said.
Crispe recalled learning how to ski around 1981. His father taught him at Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro around the age of 3. His grandfather had been one of the founders of Stratton Mountain Resort.
On his recent escapades, Crispe was sometimes joined by his wife or a couple of his friends. But for many, he went alone.
"I had to take extra steps to be safe," he said. "Because like I said, I don't want this to be like the movie '127 Hours,' where I have to cut off my arm to survive."
The highest climbs for Crispe included Mount Mansfield (4,393 feet), Killington Peak (4,235 feet), Mount Ellen and Camel's Hump (both at 4,083), Mount Abraham (4,006 feet), Pico Peak (3,957 feet), Stratton Mountain (3,940 feet), Jay Peak (3,858 feet) and Equinox Mountain (3,850). Every peak was 3,000 feet or higher in elevation, according to a list provided to the Reformer.
While some of the mountains are also resorts made to ski, Crispe climbed others where the path down was much harder to discern.
"I love the freedom of being off trail," he said. "It's like the coloring book where you don't have to color within the lines. You have the freedom to go anywhere and explore."
Even where the mountains offered chairlift rides, Crispe would still hike up. He always used snowshoes, which he would carry on his back on the way down.
Crispe called some of the terrain "too chaotic" to even consider using cross country skiing skins to climb up, something he said he's never done in his life. He used light-weight alpine touring boots, which are compatible with snowshoes. He strapped his skis to his back.
With many miles to cover, Crispe said he would try to carry as little as possible. He brought several items including two sleeping bags, a military-grade satellite phone, a small knife, a small saw, headlamps, batteries, materials to start a fire and extra gloves, shirts and jackets. He said he would eat a lot before a trek and bring power bars. He estimated his backpack would weigh between 10 and 12 pounds with all the gear packed inside.
Crispe said he never claimed to ski the bigger mountains fast.
"I would take ridiculously slow s-turns when it was thick," he said of the heavily forested areas.
The whole project included "nonstop big challenges," Crispe said before describing a mini-avalanche he had briefly been swept into on Big Jay. "Once all the snow accumulating hit trees, it stopped but it definitely scared the hell out of me."
Crispe said some of the more difficult mountains, such as Dewey Mountain, are not meant to be skied. There were several instances where he had to take off his skis to get out of a rough spot. He described areas where balsam and red spruce "grow like prison bars ... where it's almost impenetrable."
But Crispe said he made every effort to keep his skis on from the summit of a mountain to the road or trailhead. He suggested the next person to take up the challenge might find ways to get down on their skis no matter what.
His love of nature and outdoors helped bring on the project. He said he also loves the idea of a "ludicrous challenge."
One of his goals is to promote getting outdoors.
"I feel very strongly that the more society gets sucked into cyberspace and social media and cell phones, there gets to be an increasing divide with nature and humans, and I don't think that's good for our physical or mental health," he said. "And everyone knows there's an opioid problem and the outdoors is better than heroin. And so encouraging Vermonters, encouraging people, in these healthy, recreational pursuits I think is a tremendous thing."
Another point he's making is that hiking doesn't cost anything. Crispe said he skied 93 days last year and only paid once.
It's his belief that skiing should be available to everyone.
"You shouldn't be financially shut out of skiing," he said, adding that by hiking, a person gets exercise and doesn't have to pay for a lift ticket. "I'm not trying to knock ski areas. They're important to Vermont's economy. It's not affordable to a lot of people but there's ways to make it so there's still ways you can ski."
His next challenge?
"I can never run out of ideas," he said.
His hope is to finish climbing the 46 peaks of the Adirondack Mountains during the winter. When he says winter, he limits himself to the 12 weeks designated as winter in the calendar.
"So you only have 12 precious weeks to do this," he said.
On non-winter weekends over the last six-and-a-half years, Crispe has been trying to climb all 770 mountain summits above 3,000 feet in the northeastern United States. He said he still has 29 peaks left to climb in Maine.
Crispe is the chairman of the Wilmington Trails Committee, which he has served on for more than 10 years. He also sits on the Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming Committee.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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