Outdoor Adventures: Masters on snow
As a little girl, Nadine Price dreamed about ski racing.
But she never got around to it until a divorce at age 40, when she found herself in a Masters ski racing starting gate for the first time.
That was 18 years ago.
Now she’s hooked on racing and president of New England Masters, with more than 300 members competing across the region from December through March.
“You have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy it,” the lawyer from Pittsfield, Vt., said.
They are also doctors, plumbers, teachers, electricians, students, the retired and others. Some never raced before joining, while others skied on college and academy teams.
“They take it very seriously, but it is very serious fun,” Price said.
Governed by the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, the nationwide league of 2,000 competitors features races largely in technical slalom, giant slalom, super G and occasional downhill, with the national championships at Okemo in Ludlow, Vt., from March 17-22.
Racers are aged 18 to 80-plus (21 for the finals) and must join New England Masters for $35, purchase a USSA license for $110 and pay about $51 per race and that includes a lift ticket. Want to try? A temporary license is $25.
They can also spend money on gear, travel and training. Clinics are run year-round in spots like Chile, Colorado’s Copper Mountain and Oregon’s Mount Hood, as well as winter in New England.
“Sometimes it’s tough to get in training and gear is expensive,” Eastern chairman Bill McCollom, 67, of Barnard, Vt., said.
A Masters skier since the 1980s, he’s a former Ski Racing Magazine contributor, Vermont Alpine Racing Association Hall of Famer and current Woodstock High School coach.
“This is a physically demanding sport,” he said. “You do have to do your homework and pay your dues in terms of conditioning and training. For some, that is a motivator. For others, it is a deterrent.”
Different from recreational beer league racing where skiers tend to compete on shorter more benign courses, Masters are on World Cup-style runs like North American at Stratton, FIS Race at Pats Peak, Chief at Okemo and Sunapee’s Lynx.
“Everyone is competitive, but for the most part it stays on the hill,” Price said. “Most people start for the ski racing and stay for the camaraderie.”
She gets amped at the start of a downhill race, focusing her energy on the task before plummeting down at speeds of more than 50 mph in long johns, tight GS suit and helmet.
“You better channel all that energy into focus or you are going to be in trouble,” she said. “It can be 17 below, but you get so charged up you don’t even feel the cold after crossing the finish line for 10 minutes.”
Though racers are grouped by age in divisions, there are those with bigger targets on their minds.
“I compete against skiers both older and younger,” McCollom said. “You quickly find your niche and your barometers, those five or six men or women. Sometimes it’s more about how you do against your barometers then within your age division.”
At 33, Lisa Marien of Richmond, Vt., is on the young side for Masters racing. She first skied at age 3, raced from ages 6-19 and attended Waterville Valley Academy before deciding on playing softball and ice hockey in college.
Now a group home manager for the physically and developmental disabled, she’s also an Essex High School ski coach. Her fellow coach, a Masters racer, introduced her about six seasons ago.
She’s excelled. Marien was last season’s overall GS and super-G women’s champ and has been GS champion for two of the last four years.
“The appeal of Masters is that there is always another race,” she said. “You meet people from all over, all different ages who share this one thing in common.”
Marien finds many of the veteran skiers inspirational.
“They put on a GS suit and strap on those big, heavy race skis,” she says. “Some of those courses can get gnarly, and they’re out there racing.”
When the season ends, many relationships don’t. Racers bike and hike. Marien was part of a mountain bike team last summer that did a couple of 12-hour races. All were Masters racers.
“Friendships that are formed go beyond the ski season,” she said. “I hope to be doing this for the rest of my life.”
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)