The Equinox Ski Challenge was born on a long drive home from the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race in October of 2006. Sad to not have another fun 24-hour event until the following summer, I wondered if skiers would enjoy the race format as much as mountain bikers have over the last decade. Further inspired by the memory of some past events where participants routinely helped each other and challenged themselves, preparation for the first ever Equinox Ski Challenge began in late 2006. In the process, the Equinox has become an experiment in reconciling competition and caring, an experiment in competitive events supporting the entire local community rather than being an isolated bubble set apart from the community, an experiment in asking questions and trying something new.
Throughout the years of growing up, I had found myself at the start lines of several events that were quite challenging, such as the Iditasport and the Midnight Sun 600K. It almost seemed as if the organizers of these events were saying, “I dare you. I bet you can’t finish this one.” The result was always incredibly hard and incredibly profound. Participants in these events routinely helped each other and challenged themselves rather than vice versa. These events were influential moments in my life.
My racing aspirations eventually fizzled years later after experiencing the mentality of national competitions, where the atmosphere found in the smaller and more challenging events previously mentioned fell by the wayside. I stopped racing for several years, disheartened by the attitudes. During this time, I began to work with young adults, some very privileged and some at-risk. This brought to light the need for programs to support teens of all backgrounds in the process of growing up, in acquiring the life skills, communication and self-awareness that is so necessary in navigating the world we live in today.
In October of 2006, I participated in the 24 Hours of Moab and was reminded of the possibilities of competitive events to foster community and compassion as well as personal challenge. I began to think about creating a ski event that embodied these values.
Given my work experience with youth programs, I decided that Manaia Youth Programs was where the event would direct its community support and involvement. The West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation (WYSEF) also came to mind as an organization promoting support and health for youth in the community. WYSEF and Manaia now split the annual donations made by the Equinox. The Food Bank also seemed like a practical way to integrate this event with the well-being of the community.
The 2007 Equinox had a small but passionate showing of 30 racers. We raised $100 for Manaia Youth Programs and the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation and also collect 45 pounds of food for the West Yellowstone Food Bank. It was a success, and yet I was uncertain about continuing the event. It was a lot of work for the seemingly minute donations created. The total kilometers skied by all participants was close to 3,000 km, with a whopping 900 km of the that skied by three separate 24 Hour soloists from the University of Utah.
Persuaded by those who competed in the inaugural event in 2007, the event returned for 2008 and continued to grow from a seed to a sapling, attracting 50 racers. Our 2008 donations increased by 30% and continued with the same hourly wage for myself, the sole employee. The remaining increase in profits went to costs for advertising and supplies. The 24 Hour team event was topped by three women from Park City who combined for a total of 388 kilometers.
In recent years, the weekend has continued to slowly mature and develop an annual contingency of racers. Donations to the food bank, Manaia and WYSEF all have grown. There is now a 3 Hour division and a 24 Minute Kids division to welcome more families to the event. Traditions such as hand picked recycled event t-shirts, acrylic prints from Bozeman artist Mimi Matsuda as prizes and stellar costumes on Saturday morning have become anticipated portions of the weekend for many.
The Equinox continues to operate on a tiny budget of about $1800-$2200. The donations have averaged 20-30% of the net income so far. Ideally this event can support itself in the future while donating 30-40% of the profits and pay a living wage to the employee(s). It has been generosity, passion, creativity and resourcefulness that allowed the event to make these donations and grow in accordance to values rather than simply finances. The tremendous support from friends, family and sponsors who share our values has been crucial in the growth and continuation of the Equinox Ski Challenge, and for that I am thankful.
The charitable goals for the Equinox are to provide a donation that funds part of a Manaia workshop at the West Yellowstone High School. This workshop occurred in 2008 and has not happened since due to lack of funding, despite interest on the part of the high school. It is an important program that is valued highly by the participants. A student in the 2008 workshop mentioned feeling “an indescribable closeness within the school” as a result of the program. It is my belief that the teaching of communication and life skills to teenagers should not be cut so quickly in light of tight budgets that we all experience. If the program is not able to occur again due to funding, we will find an organization in West Yellowstone to support. Right now this is the case and so funds raised will go to Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Yellowstone.
So, we dare you. How far can you go? Can you ski, bike or run for 24 hours? 12 Hours? 6 Hours? Can we laugh at ourselves and support each other in the process? Can we support WYSEF in continuing its efforts to keep young people active and engaged? Can we make a Manaia workshop at the West Yellowstone High School happen? Are we willing to take on a challenge in pursuit of supporting what we believe in? Do compassion and community have a place of importance? We hope to see you in West Yellowstone this spring and maybe we will all find a few answers and lots of laughter in the process.
Blessings on your day,
Sam Newbury, race founder