RUMFORD – The racers at the annual Never Ever World Cup at Black Mountain were hardly deterred Sunday by the freezing rain that pattered against their colored ski suits.
Even as the cloudy, gray sky guaranteed the arrival of more “weather,” the determined racers zipped down the mountain with smiles on their chilly faces. And soon as they reached the finish line, most begged to take another run.
About 30 participants took two timed runs each down the giant-slalom course on the mountain’s novice trail. It was a fitting way to celebrate the final day of Winterfest, an annual, weekend-long event at Black Mountain.
A few skiers were 3 years old. Most were younger than 10. Some were 50 or older.
“It’s just a fun race for the kids,” said volunteer Judy Collette, who said this year’s races were open to all ages. In the past, Winterfest ski races have been limited to those younger than 14.
Roger Arsenault, another volunteer, said the tradition began when they set up slalom gates during a previous Winterfest, and “kids just started coming out of the woodwork.”
“You don’t think kids will want to race but then you put up the gates in the snow and they show up,” Aresenault said. “I love to see kids do it, and it builds our development program.”
Connor Pinkham of North Anson was watching her two nephews in the race, Ethan and Adrian Knowles, 6 and 3, respectively, who have been skiing “ever since they’ve been able to,” primarily at Black Mountain.
Ethan Knowles placed third in his age group, and Adrian Knowles placed fourth in his.
Brynn Bartash, 3, of Hanover said she has “raced lots of times,” and competes “just for fun.” Bartash placed second in her age group.
“(I ski) because I like to do races,” she said, following a successful run down the course.
Anderson Diehl, 6, of Rumford, said skiing in the rain “wasn’t too bad.” The rain just made the snow “kind of sticky,” which he said was slightly more challenging.
“I think I did good (in the race),” Diehl said. “I’m in it to win it.”
And he did, placing first in his age group.
In addition to racing, attendees also enjoyed sleigh rides, courtesy of Sam the draft horse and his driver, DiAnne Ward, of Deepwood Farm in Bethel.
Ward has been driving horses professionally for more than 20 years. She and Sam can be found on Main Street in Bethel at Christmastime pulling locals and tourists alike.
Ward said Sam, at 21 years old, is a rare and special horse because of his winning personality and genuine love of what he does.
“Sam has a secret,” Ward said, coyly ruffling Sam’s mane. “He trots to ‘Jingle Bells,’ and thinks it’s great fun. He loves to hear his bells jingle.”
The jolly sound of jingling bells certainly keeps Sam happy while doing his job. After about two hours, however, he is ready for quitting time.
“Draft horses have an internal clock,” Ward said, “and he knows he works about two hours.”
Mark Angell of Albany Township helps Ward with the sleigh rides, saying he “just can’t stay away” from draft horses.
“I used to have two of my own as pets,” Angell said, “and I just have to be around them.”
In addition to helping with Sam, Angell has also rebuilt the red-and-green sleigh on which he pulls people.
That sleigh, Angell said, is from 1880. It was used originally to get groceries. Now, 138 years later, it works great for Sam to bring seasonal cheer to everyone who is lucky enough to get a ride.
“He’s just safe and reliable — I can’t say that enough,” Ward said of Sam, all 1,300 pounds of him. “It takes a while to train them, and good horses don’t just show up.”
DiAnne Ward of Deepwood Farm stands Sunday with her horse, Sam, and sleigh during Winterfest at Black Mountain in Rumford, where she and Sam provided sleigh rides to the public. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Brynn Bartash, 3, looks up at volunteer Barbara Arsenault at the start of her ski race Sunday at Winterfest at Black Mountain. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)