"We Choose To Lose!"

Team Moose in the Stowe Derby, 1983-1987

Photos and audio files collected and shared by Michael Levine



By Bull Winkle

Wa-Wa! We choose to lose!"

With that battle cry this Sunday the moose team will once again hurtle themselves down Mount Mansfield, kick themselves up over hills, and stumble their way into the village of Stowe. The occasion is the Stowe Derby — the oldest combined cross country and downhill ski race in the country.

For most of the over 800 skiers registered, the Derby is a serious, almost solemn affair, and some will complete the 10-mile run in under an hour. Their skin-tight suits and rainbow of waxes will provide the competitive edge to get them over the line first.

The moose family, on the other hand, is out to enjoy the beauty of this superbly groomed course. The 3,000-foot drop includes four miles of luxurious (though knee-weakening) downhill on the Toll Road and then six miles of rolling terrain. As moose we spend time pausing to browse in the woods, usually at strategic hairpin turns where we are guaranteed to see those more serious than ourselves eating facefulls of snow.

It was 1983 that the Stowe Derby saw the first moose entries. We started as six rather inconspicuous entrants who chose to wear funny hats and laugh a lot on the trail. Most of the 600 or so participants were scarcely aware we were in the race.

By 1984 there were eight of us and our costume moosetress had equipped us with fake fur tunics and tails to go along with our antlerized ski caps. That was the year the pig farm controversy began heating up in Stowe.

To show support for our struggling cousins we arranged for a catered champagne lunch to be served by a tuxedoed waiter upon a red checkered tablecloth in the snow. All this, of course, in the shadow of the pig barn while the race clock was ticking.

An interview recorded at WRFB when we stopped into the studios shortly after crossing the finish line in 1983:

Last year, the team was challenged by another group who decided they would dethrone our hoofhold on last place. They must have hidden in the fog as we sloshed through the Topnotch fields because we never saw them behind us.

Two minutes after the 12 of us confidently crossed the finish line with antlers locked, they waltzed in. We were momentarily crushed. Luck was with us, however. The timekeepers had gotten tired of waiting and packed up their equipment right after our arrival.

This year the herd has swollen to 20, and if we don't make any moostakes we should fill the bottom line of the official computer standings in no less than six categories. It will be tough, but we'll be looking to slow down last year's time of 2:43:51 — a time that put us over two hours behind first place.

Moosetalgic fans can rest assured that some old favorites will be back, including Chocolate Moose, Mini Moose, and Mickey Moose. Well also be introducing Willie Moose and several French Moose to this year's lineup.

So who are these "moose" and what's a Stowe Derby anyway, you might be wondering? To answer the second question first, let me back up a bit. As chief spokesmoose I feel a little bit of history is in order.

An ad for a moose-endorsed flavor of Gee Whiz Cheez:

The Derby was first run in 1946 as a challenge between Sepp Ruschp, the pioneer of downhill skiing at Mount Mansfield, and Erling Stroni, a ski mountaineer of the 10th Division. It began as a friendly rivalry with the only ground rule being that each of the 13 skiers was allowed only one pair of boards for the entire course. lt continued until 1954, finally succumbing to North America's apathy for cross country skiing.

With the resurgence of the sport in Stowe, the Derby was revived in 1972 as a citizen's race. However, as competition sharpened, recreational skiers became increasingly intimidated by the field.

That's when the moose entered the picture. Born from a desire to enjoy the ski without the pressure of "doing well," we became the first group entry in the history of the race. Throughout the course we skied at our own leisurely pace, ensuring that anyone else could enter without worrying about the embarrassment of coming in last.

Over the years we have pioneered quite a few innovations in cross country technique and attire to assure our place in the pack. Our racing regalia, for instance, is specially designed for greater visual impact and increased wind resistance. The wax we use is made from a synthetic cheese base and is specifically formulated to give maximum grip on the downhill portions and minimum glide on the flats.

Also, we were the first to "skate" in a Derby. Three years ago, one of our members missed the sharp right turn at the end of a harrowing descent on the Topnotch section of the trail. When she wound up on the other side of the West Branch River dry as a bone, we knew she had not been skiing. Only recently did we learn the correct term for her maneuver. Skiers come from as far away as Idaho and Ottawa for the Stowe Derby, and it is always an action-packed afternoon for racers and spectators alike. For the 20 of us, however, it's a wonderful excuse to moose around. Come cheer us on!