On Skiing: The ‘Bear’ of Sunday River

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They call it Bear’s bump.

Sunday River regulars know it well and racers know it even better. Just above lift nine, which carries skiers from White Cap base and dumps them onto Lower Cascades, is a natural bump in the trail. With a depression before it, the bump attracts skiers who like to feel some air under their skis. For racers, especially in speed events, the idea is get as little air as possible. It’s at this bump that Bear Bryant can be found during Super Gs and Downhills.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Sunday River for Gould Academy Competition Program’s Speed Week. Monday was a training day for the U16-21 MARA race the next day. I wanted to spend time on the race course next to a legend and watch as Bear Bryant directed the event from his bump. I spent some time with Bear the night before, as he stopped by our place after getting off the hill. It’s difficult to refer to our time as an interview. It was more like a pair of long-time ski industry insiders reminiscing about events, especially the time we were together in North Conway in the late seventies.

That was during Bear’s time with Hart Ski Company as Promotional and Service Manager, and during the years when Hart furnished my skis as director of the Sunday River Ski Patrol. It was also just after his son, Perry, suffered a broken back skiing downhill with the U.S. Ski Team. Fortunately, he made a nearly complete recovery, albeit with some fused vertebrae in his lower back. It was also during the run-up to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, where he would work as a service rep for K2 and as an Olympic Official.

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Barry (I have an idea many of the younger skiers who see him don’t know his real name) “Bear” Bryant has done it all in skiing. He got started as a racer, winning the slalom and finishing 10th in the downhill to win the combined in the 1953 Eastern Junior Alpine Championships. That downhill was run on the Sherburne Ski Trail that comes down to Pinkham Notch from Tuckerman Ravine, a narrow run even for recreational skiing and impossible to imagine as a downhill today. That qualified him for the nationals at Whitefish, Montana. But there was no money to go, so he missed that chance.

His next stop was the U.S. Air Force, where he was stationed at Westover Field in Western Massachusetts. His job was servicing B-52 bombers, and he concentrated his time so he could get it done in four days a week, leaving him three day weekends to head north to ski country. In 1963, he became a ski instructor at Wildcat, spent some time as ski school director at Smugglers’ Notch, and returned to Wildcat before going to work for Hart in the seventies. Bear also coached ski racers and got involved with USSA as a race official.

Now, he looks back on a career that has included ski instruction, ski school director, (Life member of PSIA), race coach and race official that has taken him to the ski countries of Europe, Canada and Japan. During our après ski get together Bear related how he a had a great conversation with Bode Miller at the start of the Birds of Prey World Cup Downhill at Beaver Creek.

He has served as start referee for a number of years and gets to talk with many of the racers. He recounted how Bode has grown up now that he has the responsibility of being a father, and how he is a nice young man. It reminded me of the time I spent an entire race at the start with Bode during Bode Fest at Bretton Woods. Every kid and even adult race teams got their picture taken with Bode and he took the time to sign every bib and helmet. It’s not the picture we got from the press after the last Olympics, but I think Bear is right.

Now, after 75 years of skiing, the Bear is Event Coordinator for Sunday River, where he has been at home for the past 15 years. The events he covers are alpine races, and he covers everything from having the trail groomed to working with course setters and organizing the on-hill staff for training and the race. Until three years ago, he had done even more, actually driving the snowcats and working with chain saws, but Sunday River President Dana Bullen told him, “Bear, at 75, you tell other people to do that stuff.”

It hasn’t slowed him down much. According to Gould Sunday River program director Mark Godomski, Bear is the office early every morning and first up the lift to check out the hill.

“He means everything to our program, he always knows exactly what’s needed and points it out,” Godomski said. “He knows everyone — lift mechanics, groomers, ski patrol, and mountain ops, they all have his respect and they respect him.”

As I watched the training runs beside him at his Bump, I could hear the radio conversations as he directed staff to their positions and coordinated the start. From the time it took the forerunners to reach our position on the course he determined that 40 second start intervals would work and through two runs there were only a couple of holds, and they were brief. He never had to pick up the yellow flag at his feet to wave a racer to a halt due to a problem further down the course.

Bear doesn’t mention it but, he recently received the Julius Blegen Award, USSA’s highest honor for service to the sport. That recognizes the high esteem in which he is held by USSA’s top brass, and he is held equally high by racers, coaches and all who work with him. Think about him when you ski Lower Cascades and approach Bear’s Bump. I know I will.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer from Westbrook.

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