Taking the plunge into icy waters? No problem, say dozens of kayakers

BRISTOL — Several dozen kayakers on this past Saturday challenged the lively New Haven River at the Ledges Race, despite freezing temperatures and ice that clung to boulders on the water’s edge.
Race organizer Ryan McCall said the weather didn’t deter the competitors in the annual race down a mile-long stretch of rapids.
“We had 47 racers in the river, and it was 27 degrees with three inches of snow on the ground,” McCall said in an email, adding the event, during which kayakers fly off ledges and though fast waters, has been held for nine years without a single injury.
In the Ledges Race, the region’s best kayakers are confronted with boulder gardens, slides and waterfalls that culminate with a 15-foot drop dauntingly named “The Toaster.” After plunging into the water below that final obstacle, racers slap a buoy to stop the clock. Kayakers take two runs before the final lap, which determines the winner.
Billy Thibault from Quebec won the men’s race with a time of 1:47. Tied for second place and only one second behind were University of Vermont student Ryan Mooney and Emilio Blanchette, also from Quebec. Both had a time of 1:48.
New Hampshire resident Leanna Bernier took the women’s race with a time of 2:14, and Catharine Schott of Richmond came in second in 2:32.
The friendly race, organized by Vermont Paddlers Club, draws whitewater enthusiasts from around the region. Vehicle license plates showed origins from as far as away as Massachusetts and New York, and McCall noted a higher-than-usual number of paddlers from Quebec.
“Every one of these boaters is on a first-name basis and spends multiple days a year with each other on rivers around the Northeast and Canada,” he said.
McCall encourages those restless during springtime to give the action sport a try.
“Vermont isn’t just about maple syrup, skiing and the Green Mountains. There’s a whole lot of whitewater boating happening in Vermont,” he said. “If the mud season has you down because you can’t ski, hike or bike, shift gears and learn to whitewater boat.”

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