Driving a small, two-wheel drive Chevrolet up and over the sandy, undulating roadways of Rumford, Maine, was not how I’d anticipated spending the third week of February in 2003.
It was far too early in the morning, the coffee was just kicking in, and despite the fact I’d grown up in Maine — a veritable winter play land — I’d never once strapped on a pair of skis, Nordic or Alpine.
But those small Western Maine roads, they have a way of taking you not only where you want to go, but where you should go. That day, I was on my way to cover high school skiing. What I found was one of the greatest hidden treasures in the Nordic ski world.
Black Mountain is one of the top five tallest ski areas in Maine. It has seen amazing upgrades in the past 15 years thanks to a since-severed association with the Libra Foundation, including new lifts, an updated lodge and a new Nordic start/finish area.
But the mountain and its amenities are not the treasures. Nor are the 17 kilometers of Nordic trails.
The treasures here in the western hills of Maine have names — and they all wear red jackets: Herb. Galen. Roger. Mark. Mary. Marie. Seth. Richard. Slim. Muriel.
And Chummy. Of course, Chummy.
There, are many, many more treasures who have left footprints in the snow and ski tracks along the trails as members of the famed Chisholm Ski Club at Black Mountain. They would, in fact, fill an entire publication.
This year, Chisholm Ski Club is getting set to celebrate 100 years of existence.
That week in 2003, I gathered three pens, two notebooks and a tape recorder and stuffed them all in the same pocket of my parka. I adjusted my tuque, slid my already frigid fingers into my gloves and stepped into the iced over gravel parking lot. Snow pants a-swish, I slid to the bottom of the steps outside of Muriel’s Kitchen, snagged the handrail and hauled myself up the 10 or so steps to the start/finish area. Three more steps to the left, I opened the door to tournament headquarters.
It could have been overwhelming.
It wasn’t, and the Chisholm Ski Club was the reason for a swift acclimation process. Never mind that each one is friendly — starters to timers to scorekeepers to trail groomers. They had to have seen through my novice ski acumen, despite my ability to sling stories with the best of them, and yet I was always an equal. They offered me lunch at the aforementioned Muriel’s Kitchen, reserved otherwise for Chisholm volunteers.
I wrote about those ski meets (I was there four times that week) with passion, as I try to do with everything I write, and I think, perhaps, they appreciated that, as well.
So, the next year, I went back.
And again the next year.
I started to get to know many of these treasured volunteers by name. I learned their back stories.
And I learned of their reverence for Chummy Broomhall.
Of all of the treasures that have shined brightly for Chisholm in its 100 years, Chummy has been the brightest. As a competitor, he helped put the small Maine ski area on the map, earning two consecutive trips to the Olympics following his service in World War II. As an ambassador to the sport, he’s earned the love and admiration of generations of skiers. He helped shape Black Mountain, literally carving many kilometers of Nordic trails himself. Skiing was a passion, and Black Mountain, Chisholm and everyone who has ever stepped into a pair of skis there were the beneficiaries.
Chummy celebrated his 97th birthday in early December. Though he isn’t at the mountain in person every day anymore, there’s no doubt he is there in spirit.
And, sadly, this winter’s sojourn to the hill will also serve as a reminder that time does, indeed, wait for no one. Muriel Arsenault, of Muriel’s Kitchen fame, passed away in May.
I have returned to Black Mountain more than three dozen times since that first trip. My mode of transportation has evolved into something a bit more amenable to the conditions. My method of recording interviews has evolved with advances in technology. And I have had a front-row seat to the amazing physical changes that have taken place at the venue.
And while the sizes and shapes of Black Mountain’s treasures have changed over time, what makes them truly treasured has not. They still have names. They still have red jackets. And they still carry on a proud tradition unlike any other in North American Nordic skiing.
This year, driving a small, all-wheel drive SUV up and over the sandy, undulating roadways of Rumford, Maine, is how I anticipate I will spend at least a few days this winter.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.