On skiing: Championship thoughts, and a season winds down

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I have no idea how many ski competitions I have covered, but the National Championships at Sugarloaf brought back some interesting memories.

One of the first people I met in the finish was Sun Journal editor Justin Pelletier, who introduced me to Lee Horton. Along with Brewster Burns to take pictures that day, and a whole team of writers and photographers over five days, the Sun Journal had the event well covered.

I watched as Lee made sure he talked with each racer on his list of those with some local connection or top U.S. Team members. He had his mini recorder, which made me think of how electronics have changed everything in our sport when it comes to competition.

As each racer came down the super-G course, their position on the Narrow Gauge was shown on a large screen mounted above the finish. Their time and finish position was printed out. At the same time that information was available on a computer in the press room. If all a reporter wanted was results without quotes from the competitors they, could cover the race from that room in the hotel. We used to write the times on our start lists. Now, minutes after the race, they are printed out in the press room.

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With the race over, Justin and Lee were at their laptops in the press room writing the stories we read in the paper the next morning. Brewster was transmitting his photos to the paper. It made me think of working with Chip Carey in the seventies. His office in the basement of the old base lodge was half darkroom. We would come down off the Gauge, and Chip would develop the black and white film. We had to wait for the results to be tabulated and the gate keepers’ cards to be reviewed to verify any DQs or DNFs (Disqualified or Did Not Finish). As we wrote our stories, Chip was busy rounding up the skiers traveling south who would carry the pictures to newspapers and TV stations. They would also take along our typed pages.

I remember one Nor-Am race I covered for Ski Racing, the paper out of Vermont that covers ski competition at every level. Because the two top U.S. finishers were slated to join the World Cup in Europe the paper wanted the news before their deadline. After interviewing Jesse Hunt (Now a U.S. Team coach) and Cory Carlson (Now an ambassador at Vail and Beaver Creek), I typed my story and drove from Attitash to the Portland Jetport, to FedEx it to Ski Racing in Vermont.

Things improved with telecopiers, but they took 6 minutes to send one double-spaced page and if the phone connection was lost you had to start over. Next came Radio Shack TRS 80s, which we could transmit by phone directly to the paper’s computer. Of course, they had only enough storage for one or two pieces. We had to delete everything to write a new piece. Now, with today’s laptops and the internet, we can access stats on the racer as we write. All of this technology is why Justin and his team could bring the best coverage of any paper of these championships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the team at Sugarloaf. Ethan Austin, Noelle Tuttle and their team had the press room completely organized and out on the hill we could get snowmobile rides up to the finish area. This has been a constant at Sugarloaf for many years, well organized on and off the mountain and it’s a major reason why the U.S. Ski Team keeps coming back for its National Championships.

After a day at the Championships, I shifted to Sunday River to sample the conditions. On March 26, they were mid winter all over the mountain. My route onto the mountain took me across Monday Mourning, where two weeks before the pro races had taken place. The pro bumps had been bull dozed away, but there were plenty of gates. The lower race arena was set for slalom while a pair of GS courses was set on the main run.

I learned from a coach guarding the crossing that the racers were part of the Gould-Sunday River program. Cathy Fisher told me the kids were testing next year’s skis. A half dozen tents were set up at the bottom of the run next to the Locke Mountain Triple where they could swap skis. This was not a demo for recreational skiers. It was restricted to the GSR athletes and featured only race models set up for running gates. The kids tried various GS models on the long courses and SL’s on the shorter courses.

While race skis typically share the same characteristics, there are still differences and each racer wanted to identify the skis that fit their technique best. I asked Cathy about breaks for these kids when purchasing equipment. As I have noted before, unlike team sports where the schools furnish the equipment, ski racers buy their own. GS or SL race skis set up with bindings retail for as much as $1500 a pair and to be truly competitive skiers need a pair for each discipline. The coach told me there are programs with discounts, but before getting big breaks, a racer has to show success. It’s not like the World Cup, where skiers are sponsored. Even if they got the skis wholesale, the investment would be considerable and when you throw in boots, poles, helmets, pads and race suits — it’s a very expensive sport.

After watching these very good young skiers for awhile I moved on to my real purpose, to see how my own skis (GS models) would handle the conditions. Of course, any ski would have worked well that day on the groomed, mid-winter surfaces with 100 percent cover.

After this weekend, Maine will have only Sugarloaf and Sunday River in operation. Without a major warmup and washout, there is plenty of cover for Easter Weekend. Check their websites for details of the celebrations.

See you on the slopes.

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