Quiz: Where can you get thrilling competition, spray-painted trophies, beer, and friends on Thursday nights in the Upper Valley? The Thursday Night Race League at Whaleback Mountain, of course. With teams called Big Red Wire Nuts, The Millennial Snowflakes, and Freezin’ for a Reason, this is obviously the place to be in the winter. But #TNRL has more than laugh-out-loud team names. For almost three decades, this Upper Valley institution has been a way for skiers of all ability levels to get together with their friends after work, ski, share a beer or two, and have fun outdoors during the coldest part of the year.
There are more than 200 skiers in the league this year, divided up into several leagues—A, B, C, and Tuck Leagues, depending on the speed of the teams. The A League is for fast, competitive skiers, and the C League is for more laid-back skiers who want to have fun. Each team has four members, with at least one member of the opposite sex. The winners of each league get great prizes and everyone competes for giveaways like free skis or snowboards. The League is sponsored this year by Nissan, Omer & Bob’s, World Cup Supply, and Marker, Dalbello and Völkl.
Racers get ready for another night of skiing in the Whaleback Lodge.
Hulda, from Team IW8ForU, loves the mountain for its laid back vibe. “It’s good company, a good mountain. It’s just fifteen minutes from the house.” She also notes that “it’s a fun date night for my husband and me.” (They’re on the same team). Any conflicts? “Just a little competition between who has the faster time.”
Bill Barr, of the Barrbarians, has been skiing with the league since 1987. “This is what we do in the wintertime,” he says. “A bunch of friends get together and have a good time, ski a little bit, drink a little bit. It’s fun.”
While the competition can get fierce, skiers keep coming back because of the fun they have. In years past, a favorite race was the “Chinese Downhill” (where the only rule is There are no rules). For this race, you had to ski down the course, take your skis off, run up the stairs to the lodge, and ring the bell.
Racers waiting at the bottom of the hill last Thursday at #TNRL.
Chris, Crystal, Ben, and Nick of the Golf & Ski Team (one of the mountain's sponsors), have been skiing in the league for between two and fifteen years. “It breaks up the week. Gets you out skiing once a week. We won a silver ski boot one year" (and this is no ordinary silver boot--it's a genuine spray-painted kid's ski boot, meaning bragging rights for a year).
Gerd has run the timer since the 1990s. He grew up on Whaleback Mountain and has many wild stories from years past. When he used to time skiers from a booth on the mountain, he had several skiers run into him. Nora Barre, Whaleback’s Marketing Director, says, “When I think of Whaleback, I think of Gerd. He’s always out there; he’s the hands of the mountain.” Evan Dybvigand Jim sit in Giny’s Hut at the top of the mountain, lining up skiers for their runs. They’re strict about times. If you miss your start time, you miss your points. Giny’s hut was built for Ginny, Jim’s dad, who lined up racers for several decades before finally passing the torch on to his son.
Jim Mitchell and Evan Dybvig line skiers up at the top of the mountain.
Matt Knittle, of Team Nordica, another sponsor, has been skiing with #TNRL since the early 2000s. His favorite part of the league? Well, he met his wife there. “She wasn’t a skier; she was just there for a drink. She had not skied a day in her life at that time.”
So not only can you enjoy good skiing, good friends, and good beer at the Thursday Night Race League, you just might meet your wife there. And with Valentine’s coming up, how romantic is that?
Friends, skiing, beer, and competition. It's the place to be in the Upper Valley on Thursday nights.