One would typically think that a bunch of rats would destroy access to clean water, and most rats would. But one small community made up of a special type of rat is currently doing quite the opposite.
The sun is scorching at 8,000 feet on Timberline Lodge’s Palmer chairlift. Portland, OR has been experiencing a stretch of 90 degree days, and suddenly 70 degrees doesn’t seem so bad at near the top of Mt. Hood. Nestled in one corner of the Palmer snowfield there’s a maze, crafted by a few mad scientists who call themselves Drink Water. Their plan is to send rats racing over the maze’s whoops, around its berms, and through a narrow key-hole mid course. The Drink Water scientists, Austin Smith, Bryan Fox, and Stephen Fox, call this annual experiment the Drink Water Rat Race.
We’re here now at the 7th Annual Drink Water Race Rate, a banked slalom event with a focus on raising funds to aid the global water crisis in association with Water.org. I’m standing near the top of the maze looking down at it with a dozen other racers, and a few dozen more are spread out along the course performing their own personal inspections. It’s quiet among those standing around me. This kind of course requires intense pre-run studying to pick the fastest lines while keeping your snowboard below you. If you don’t have a section dialed, the course will let you know.
With the sun cresting in the Oregon sky, it’s time to race. After a couple practice runs and dialing in the timing system (upgraded from timing with an iPhone in years past), Jared Elston drops in for the first timed run of the day. With two major whoop-sections, each rider is left to figure what works best for them. Austen Sweetin shows he has no issue greasing the back-to-back triple right before the finish. Most others would settle for a triple-pump-double, or double-pump-pump, to remain on their feet to the finish.
The sun is nearly on the horizon as Austin, Bryan, and Stephen stand in front of the Rat Race crowd in the climber’s parking lot. Oregon’s tallest peak booming in the background makes for an epic backdrop. The trio hands out various awards in addition to top finishing racers including the “Dead Last Award” to Stephen Fox’s nephew, Gavin, and the “Warbington’s Award” given to the Max, Gus, and their parents for the endless support they offer to the snowboarding community—most recently for cooking complimentary burgers and hot dogs for all this year’s Rat Racers.
In the end, the 7th Annual Drink Water Rate Race raised upwards of $30,000 to donate to Water.org, a non-profit organization with a goal of providing access to clean water for all citizens of the world. In turn, members from water.org wrote a powerful letter to Drink Water and the Rat Race participants to show their appreciation for the event. It helped instill the thought that while snowboarding in the heat of summer is a treat and we are very fortunate to do so, many are not as fortunate. We can do what we all love doing while still creating a positive impact globally.
“You have given families hope and opportunity helping turn their poverty into possibility,” the letter reads. “From all of us at water.org, and on behalf of the people we serve, we thank you rat racers for being an incredibly talented, creative, and fearless community that you are. You have all found a way to turn your passion for snowboarding into a way to change lives. See you next year on the slopes.”
1) Harry Kearney (33.18 seconds)
2) Austen Sweetin (33.70 seconds)
3) Blair Habenicht (33.83 seconds)
4) Jared Elston (33.85 seconds)
5) Gabe Ferguson (33.90 seconds)
1) Elena Hight (38.88 seconds)
2) Isabella Gomez (39.04 seconds)
3) Desiree Melancon (39.11 seconds)
4) Sarka Pancochova (41.18 seconds)
5) Colleen Quigley (41.72 seconds)
1) Danny Kern (34.88 seconds)
2) Justin Schoonover (35.18 seconds)
3) Mitch Kirby (35.43 seconds)
Special thanks to Drink Water for creating this awesome event, and to Rick Hower & the crew at Timberline Lodge for their hard work in hosting it. Thanks also to all the participants and donors who have helped raise upwards of $160,000 through the past seven Rat Races. Your donations go a long way in helping to provide clean water for our fellow citizens of the world. This year’s Rat Race is in the books, but you can still donate and be included in a raffle to win prizes through the Drink Water’s official fundraising page here.