Sapphire knows how to throw a ‘potty’
Sitting on a toilet, Kyle Iezzi is ready for victory.
“The main thing is that I hope we go straight,” the 15-year-old said.
Within his homemade outhouse, Iezzi was a competitor at the 8th annual “Great Sapphire Outhouse Race” on Feb. 15 at the Sapphire Valley Ski Area, just outside of Cashiers. Amid several other outhouses bolted to skis and pushed down the snowy hill, Iezzi felt he had the advantage with his design. Dubbed “White Lightning,” the structure looked and felt strong enough to actually be used for its namesake purpose.
“We have our skis angled a little bit towards the center to give it a straighter performance, little more of a ‘pizza’ angle,” he said. “The design does knock off our speed, but it’s better to go straighter than faster.”
Standing next to Iezzi was his father, David. Along with his son Evan, the trio built the outhouse over the last few days. For David, the best part has been spending quality time with his sons.
“It’s fantastic, not only for our family, but also for the community,” David said. “We’ve got [Evan] strapped in there, helmet on. His mom isn’t crazy about this, but then again, she isn’t crazy about a lot of things we do.”
Coming into its eighth year, the race has become something of a tradition as it as evolved.
“There’s a lot of speculation as to how it began, some suggesting it was a late Friday night idea,” said Chris Grimshawe, marketing director at Sapphire Valley. “It’s something to cap off the end of the season. It’s a lot of fun, and has been since the beginning.”
Each time it comes around on the calendar, the preparations and excitement builds, only to come to fruition amid the winter wonderland that is the mountains of Western North Carolina.
“This race is similar to NASCAR — it’s about speed and everyone comes to see the crashes,” Grimshawe chuckled. “It’s a great family atmosphere. Nobody takes it too seriously, and it’s not intended to be. It’s a nice community event that grows with interest.”
So, what’s the key to a successful outhouse race?
“A lot of luck,” laughed Chris Green, mountain manager at Sapphire Valley. “You’re going freestyle down a mountain in a homemade outhouse. Hold on tight and make sure your helmet is on.”
And alongside the festivities and competition is the heart of the matter — raising money for a good cause. The race itself provides a fundraiser (through entry fees and donations) for the nearby Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society.
“It’s so much fun, and yet we’re raising money, so you can’t go wrong,” said Tonya Dickey, an employee at the humane society. “This race is exciting and unique, and who in the heck in the world races outhouses besides Cashiers, North Carolina?”
Dickey is also a racer in the event. This is her second year at helm of her outhouse. She hoped this time around she wouldn’t flip over, like she did twice last year.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” she said, strapping on her helmet. “But this year, we put three skis and bumper rails to push off the [snow burm] instead of flipping.”
Start your toilets
Approaching the start line, racer Kelsey Mears and her “Notre Dame” themed outhouse are ready. Mears throws on her helmet and gazes down the icy track, lined with hundreds of spectators — it’s do or die at this point.
“This is my first time doing this, so I just don’t want to fall and get hurt,” she grimaced. “Our outhouse is short and stocky, and has a cross on the top, so we have Jesus with us.”
A few outhouses down, Rob Kenyon, manager at nearby Mica’s Restaurant, is gearing up to be one of the pushers for his team.
“Winter is kind of slow for us up here, so this is great for everybody,” he said. “All I’ll be thinking at that start line is, ‘Go, go, go, go.’”
Green approached the line and named off the first racers. The outhouses line up two at a time as the signal is quickly given to push. Spinning their “tires” in the snowy slush, the pushers get any traction they can as they shove the contraptions down the hill. The structures pick up speed, barreling down the mountain — some straight forward, others veering left and right, with some almost right into the raucous crowd.
Standing on the sidelines, Jeff James is visiting the area from Chicago. He’s never seen something like this race, and can’t believe what transpiring in front of him.
“I would say if you ever get a chance to come here, make sure you do, because it’s a real ‘potty,’” he howled in reference to the festive atmosphere of the event.
The snow and ice fury soon clears, with Iezzi and his crew the victors. The teenager is ecstatic over the surefire design he felt all along would work when put to the test. Standing next to his outhouse, he’s all smiles as the newly crowned “King of the Mountain,” a title that’ll be his for the next year.
“The ride was a lot smoother than I expected, and I couldn’t have done it without the horsepower behind me,” he said. “Build it light and keep pushing until the end. She went straight down the hill, just like we wanted. It was amazing, and it’s an honor to be here.”