Beauty at the Beast

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Well THAT was cool. If you are or were ever a ski racer in the east, you know what I’m talking about. Quite simply, Killington KILLED it. Record crowds, amazing preparation and flawless execution in less than perfect conditions marked World Cup ski racing’s return to the east.

The first World Cup race I ever saw live was at Waterville Valley, on the sidelines as a visiting westerner in 1982. Every eastern ski racer was there too, most of them scrambling up outside the fence in their zero-tread Bean boots. Many of them were watching classmates forerun or even race in their first World Cup races. I assure you that seeing peers on a World Cup course in any capacity causes a profound shift that can bring a very loose vision into focus.

Later, I would race in World Cups at Waterville, first as a petrified rookie and then at the World Cup Finals at Waterville in 1991. Kids watching that race saw 19-year-old Julie Parisien—someone barely removed from their own start lists—win her first World Cup. At the time we never imagined that it would be a quarter century before an eastern kid could come out to watch a World Cup in person.

The King of Spring, baring up under pressure.

For all that time, the east got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Cushy western resorts became annual stops on the World Cup tour and didn’t leave space on the calendar for humbler venues, regardless of the fan base. The only way a spot on the schedule opened up this season was because Aspen traded its November time slot for the World Cup Finals in March. This left it up to Killington to make an insanely bold bid to host races on Thanksgiving weekend. Bold for so many reasons and hurdles, but mainly because Thanksgiving is not always a winter scene at elev 1,100 ft, even with Beast-worthy snowmaking. In addition to homologating Superstar and adding the necessary sponsor, spectator and safety requirements the races depended on some cooperation from Mother Nature. They got just that…SOME help.

Sure it got seasonable cold early on, but then it got warm again. And did we mention the unprecedented drought conditions? And rain the day before the event? And a bank of fog rolling over the hill right at start time for the GS? And a thick, insulating layer of snow falling on the mush just before the temps finally dropped the night before the slalom? Somehow, Killington was ready for it all, and served up an impressively gnarly GS and a steep, solid slalom.

As part of a gate-keeping crew of World Cup vets, including the entire original Cochran clan, I was lucky enough to see the racing up close. Though I was fully prepared to get barked at by some World Cup regular, the on hill vibe was pure New England: efficient, hardworking and neighborly.  I didn’t get yelled at once, which, while shocking, was no accident. From the very start Chief of Course Chuck Hughes emphasized attitude in his messaging: “I kept saying to keep it light and just communicate well,” explained Hughes. “These are all volunteers. Nobody needs to yell.” That laid back hospitality and positive energy radiated through the event, and the Euros—racers and officials alike—ate it up like good home cooking.

With no yelling and an army of course workers this was without a doubt the easiest gate-k

A gate-judge's World Cup view
A gate-judge’s World view

eeping duty ever. Near the top in the GS, I could not hear any of the announcers, but I could hear the roar of the crowd as racers—from any country—crossed the line. At one point in the GS it was so foggy that I could not see any further up or down hill than my four gates. Watching each racer charge out of the gate and hurl herself into the frozen murk reminded me of what makes this sport and these athletes so tough. Whatever daunting moments these women face in life, they will be prepared.

It was of course awesome to see Mikaela win, and incredibly fun to see so many old friends from the ski world in one place. The best part, however, was looking out on the sea of kids. Many (including my own) scrambled up the fence-line in the mud and straw in treadless shoes, and crowded the race corral hoping for a glimpse or a word or an autograph. Among them were kids that I had coached from the time they could ski, who had, until now, taken it on blind faith that World Cup racing was cool. Who out there, I wondered, was seeing a hazy dream sharpen into focus.

When it comes to ski racing, the scene at Killington made it clear that we as a country do not lack for talent, passion or resources. We’ve got all that to spare.  The smiles and enthusiasm and sheer joy at just being able to see a World Cup event up close was something we all—the keepers of this sport—need to remember. This sport and its people are cool. Killington is cool for taking the bet and putting it all on red for us. As one of the faithful put it: “The east showed up!”

Working the VIP creds. And ‘Murica.




13 thoughts on “Beauty at the Beast”

  1. Edie…when I heard the race was coming to Killington my heart skipped a beat and I think it just about burst out of my chest with pride this past weekend while being surrounded by 16,000 of my best friends. Hats off to everyone that made this incredible event possible, I will forever be in their debt for allowing me to take my three teenage boys with me to a Worldcup Race and have the time of our lives!

    • Sooooo glad you made it. And you are right–these kids will remember it forever. So cool! Thanks for coming out with the tribe and for reading.

  2. Thanks Edie!
    Two of my fellow lady patrollers made it there on Thursday, I had to stay behind to be of service to my sick wife, some things are just beyond our control,,,
    I was able to steam on NBC and DVR’erd the afternoon shows.

    I so hope that this event will continue year after year on the East Coast, spreading the East Coast hardworking, loving vibe! You could see it from a far, all the women waving to the camera and celebrating their runs!!! You know they were loving it!

    Hopefully the World Cup Org walks away knowing how many they have inspired and it’s a no brainer to come back each year.

    • Sorry you missed it but you did the right thing. Got your text on the hill so there was no responding. Gotta be alert you know! Hopefully you can see it next year, or the next, or sometime soon!

  3. Nice piece Edith. I remember seeing Petrine Pelen take on the slalom course in 82 at Waterville. She was so impressive. I have seen the Hahnenkamm and a few others but seeing what Killington did to pull this off was amazing. Good for the east and good for you to call out the achievement. You above all could truly appreciate it. I think my man Rick Hackett was a gatekeeper too. Regards.

    • Thanks so much Pat. Rick was there, and part of the green team! I am pretty sure I will never have it that good as a course worker. It was an amazing experience all the way around.

  4. We asked our ski racing kids if they would prefer to go skiing or go and watch the World Cup. The answer was quite fast and direct. So we got up at 2:00 am and drove 4 hours to get to Killington and experience this historic event.

    The fantastic atmosphere and roar of the crowd were worth the trip. For once, we were surrounded by enthusiastic skiers and fans. The athletes were very generous with their time and lent themselves willingly to the requests of photos and selfies of their fans.

    A memorable experience

    • So glad you punched down and made the trek! And I am gladder still you and your kids were so well rewarded. You’re right–the attitude of the athletes themselves built on an already positive vibe. I hope you are all getting some sleep!

  5. Love your objective correlative here – can feel the epic and endemic energy, effort and endurance that is the most profound heritage of New England and American skiing!

    And this so true: Whatever daunting moments these women face in life, they will be prepared.

    Finally, thanks for gate keeping – probably one of the best gigs on the hill.

    Hope to see you in CO soon.

    • Thanks Julie! The energy was pretty darned inspiring. And yes, gatekeeping was good living. Every gatekeeping vet deserves a turn at that!

  6. Nice job Edie, and SO exciting to have such a successful event in Vermont! I’m very impressed by Killington’s mountain crew – being able to have the hill ready despite the drought conditions. I didn’t make it to the race but am in VT now, and can confirm the race got great coverage in advance from every media outlet in the state. Seeing those crowds was just awesome!! Sure hope they are able to stay on the schedule in years to come.

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