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RACING BUDDIES

  • Heather Drummond is a key member of “The Other Ones,” the top Wednesday night ski team in the Pats Peak adult racing league. She is on the team with her husband, Ben Drummond. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff

  • A skier crosses the finish line at Pats Peak in Henniker on Wednesday. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, February 09, 2018

The course was set; the gates locked in place.

But the ski racers themselves were anything but uniform.

A president of a local concrete company; a group of Concord-based lawyers; a recent college grad and former racer; an 81-year-old with three decades racing under the belt. One by one they pushed through the starting gate, carving through turns and straights, slicing across the halogen-lit frigid trails of the Pats Peak night skiing operation.

“I could have done better,” said Fred Myhaver, 81, of Hopkinton, moments after his run. “But it was fast – it was fun.”

For decades, Pats Peak has put on its corporate and adult night racing league to those with the grit to do it. And for decades, skiers from around the area, from corporations to ski shops, have taken up the challenge.

Wednesday evening was no different – crowds of bundled skiers lined the starting gate, tucking through the finish line and gathering to take in their times. Many have participated for years; some since the program began.

It started in 1990, following the lead of a few Massachusetts ski mountains, according to Robbie Holland, the program’s former race director. Today, about 70 teams participate, spread across four different weekdays: a mix of company teams and friendly alliances.

“I think it’s a real testament to Pats Peak the teams that return year after year,” Holland said. “I was always amazed by that.”

Each run earns points under a national NASTAR race system, handicapped by age and gender. High scoring teams qualify for a March championship race. ​​​​​​And there’s plenty of competition. One team, “The Other Ones” have dominated Wednesday race results, often shaving seconds off the closest competition.

For some, the league offers a chance to cling to a lifelong passion. Heather Drummond, a key member of The Other Ones, met her husband Ben Drummond skiing at the University of New Hampshire. Since 2002, the two have been weeknight teammates, keeping alive their commitment to the sport and reaping the success.

For others, it’s the scene after the race that’s the primary draw. Around pints and cheerful company, racers swarm the “Sled Pub” bar, comparing final times and reconnecting with colleagues and friends. Many of them work demanding hours, rearranging their workweeks to make the races a key staple.

Back in December, Sam Wiggin, president of Energy Controls New Hampshire, a Bedford-based contractor, learned of the post-race throngs at the ski area and decided he wanted in. He convinced two colleagues and a few friends – none with racing experience – to cobble together a team.

Now, four weeks in and after an investment in racing skis, team “Energy Controls” has slowly climbed in ranks amid Wednesday teams, moving from 14th to 13th to 12th in overall points. But from the banter in the pub, none of that seemed to be a top priority for Wiggin and his team.

Scores had similar stories. Some are local – others hail from the Seacoast and Massachusetts. All said the event, and the family-run ski area hosting it, combine to create a special appeal.

“I think if you break it down, if there’s something that you can do that’s really fun with a bunch of buddies, but add a level of competitiveness to it … it makes it that much more fun,” said Doug Martin, a member of team Energy Controls. “That’s the cool part about it.”

In 1990, at age 53, Myhaver was approached by his nephew with the suggestion he try out a racing league at Pats Peak’s fledgling program. He took a quick shine, willing himself to overcome age expectations and keep competitive against the younger crowd. The team, an amalgamation of people only loosely connected through Myhaver’s nephew, adopted a lasting nickname: “Strangers Still.”

By now, the name may be a misnomer; many members of the team have taken part for decades, and the group meets off the ski slope about once a year, Myhaver said. That history, he said, has guaranteed his return.

“You know, I was gonna retire from it at 65,” he said from the bar, wineglass in hand. “But at 65, a couple of guys on the team said ‘You can’t quit.’ So I kept coming back.”

On Wednesday, the course was fast. A day of freezing rain earlier in the week had permeated the slopes and frozen in place, compacting the slope into a hard mass – ideal conditions for giant slalom. But the gates that night were twisty, many said, forcing particular concentration on the earlier portions of each run.

Midway through his second run, Myhaver fell victim to those conditions, snagging his ski on the wrong side of a gate and flipping headlong down the course, losing a ski in the process. It was the type of tumble that could stall the confidence of many a younger racer. But Myhaver dismissed it, brushing off the snow and finishing the course 14 seconds behind.

It wasn’t ideal, but it isn’t worth worrying over, he said later. For that, there’s always next week.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)