There are two ways to look at the beginning of February, either that the ski season is half over or that we are entering the peak of the season.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

I prefer the latter. The sun is higher now and the coldest weather is behind us. February and March are usually our biggest snow months, so we can look forward to plenty of good skiing for another two months.

There are plenty of big events this month. Naturally, the Olympics, now underway in China, take center stage, at least on TV. Unfortunately, skiing doesn’t command top billing, so watching your favorite Alpine racers might not be easy. With the time difference, it might be like watching the Australian Open tennis. I found myself switching back and forth from the morning weather and the tennis at 6 a.m.

There are places in Maine where you might get to see more Olympic ski racing if you live near the Canadian border. I believe it was the 1994 games that we found ourselves on a ski trip to the Eastern Townships in Quebec. Canadian TV showed every Alpine race. Those games were in Europe, so we watched the afternoon races before breakfast. Now what we see in the early morning will be the evening before in China.

We’ll get our chance to see our best ski racers up close in March when they gather at Sugarloaf for the U.S. National Alpine Championships. Unlike the Olympics, most of our skiers are familiar with Sugarloaf, as the mountain has hosted a number of championships. It’s also quite likely that the downhill on Narrow Gauge will be as difficult as the one in China.

Many skiers are unaware that Olympic downhills are not as challenging as World Cup downhills. The reason is safety. While the World Cup skiers all meet certain standards and train on the courses before the race, that is not the case in the Olympics. Any skier a country wants to enter can compete.

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An example is when Stowe’s Bob Mckee wrote an article entitled, “I was the Irish Ski Team,” in about 1960. Due to a quirk in Irish citizenship law, anyone who could prove Irish ancestry could be granted citizenship and be eligible to compete for the country.

Serious ski race fans are probably familiar with Bob’s nephew, the late Hank Mckee, who kept track of ski racers around the country for Ski Racing, the publication counted on by racers and coaches for their racing news.

I remember Hank calling me and asking, “Do you know these Parisiens that are turning up in all the point standings?” I indicated that I did and spent a very nice evening with Dr. and Jill Parisien at their home around the corner from Lost Valley, getting the story of what it was like to have four competitive siblings running about the house trying to practice slalom. It got front page treatment in Ski Racing and was the first big story about Julie and her siblings.

Of course, Julie’s career with the U.S. Ski Team and the Olympics is well known, along with her success on the Women’s pro tour. Bob McKee’s adventure as the Irish ski team wasn’t only reason for easing the Olympic downhills. A few years before, a skier had been killed training for an Olympic downhill when that course was also one used by the World Cup. Downhill tracks have been less demanding ever since.

The weather could also become an issue. It’s always tough to put on major Alpine races. One of the worst things is a lot snow. When Sugarloaf hosted the World Junior Alpines in 1985, a couple of feet of snow hit a few days before. And the downhill is always the opening race. While those of us who could handle it enjoyed the fresh powder, the grooming crews were actually using the blades on their machines to bulldoze the snow off the Gauge.

There is no way to run a downhill in 2 feet of snow, or any races for that matter. The groomers did their job well and the downhill was run on a smooth, fast track.

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The last time weather played a major role in the Olympics was in 1968, when Jean Claude Killy won all three alpine races — downhill, giant slalom and slalom. The Austrian favorite, Karl Shranz, had trouble in the slalom in fog. It lifted before Killy’s second run and the French star completed his sweep. If poor light is bad in slalom, think about it at 80 mph in downhill.

Of course, this is one of the great challenges of Alpine ski racing. Weather in the mountains is constantly changing and the course can be different for every racer. All these thoughts come to mind whenever watching ski racing at any level, especially the Olympics. Keep changing conditions in mind whenever you ski.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected] 


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