Seniors compete in masters’ downhill skiing

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(Host) Picture a ski racer hurling down a slalom course with arms out front, body tucked and skis scraping against icy snow. Did you imagine gray hair under the helmet or arthritic knees over the skis? You could have, because older racers are still competing in the New England Masters’ Racing Program.

VPR’s Nina Keck caught up with some of them at a recent race at Killington.

(Sound of a race course worker on a walkie-talkie.)

(Keck) It looks like a world cup event. There’s a roped off headwall with a challenging race course, lots of guys standing around with walkie-talkies and of course a bunch of buff skiers wearing high-tech helmets and skin tight Lycra racing suits. But unlike any world cup event I’ve seen, these racers seem a whole lot more relaxed.

(Bob Craven) “Hold him back, hold him back. I’m ready, I’m ready, release the beast! You need to be exploding out!”

(Keck) Seventy-one year old Bob Craven, from Franconia New Hampshire, points to his own padded racing suit and laughs.

(Craven) “This is secondhand, it’s third-hand actually. I bought it from a guy who was a masters racer who got it from a former British Olympic skier. So it’s well broken in.” (Laughs.)

(Racer) “You might not do the part, but you sure have to look the part. (Laughs.) Some of these old dudes like to show off their body, they don’t realize that no body’s looking at it!”

(Keck) The skiers come from all over New England and range in age from 21 to 87. Sixty-nine-year old Bob McGrath is from Hanover, New Hampshire:

(McGrath) “We’ve been racing against each other since we were 18. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result and that’s what we do. We think we’re going to win every time we go out.”

(Keck) About 120 skiers turned out for this race and the number with gray hair and some wrinkles is impressive. Sixty-nine-year old Larry Young, a professor at MIT, raced in college. But he says many in their group started competing later in life after they saw their kids race. Young points across the slope at a fellow racer and says, that guy, he was on the Norwegian Olympic team in 1960. But don’t try to interview him, he tells me, he likes to focus before a race.

These skiers are not lightweights. Sure they tease each other, but they carve a mean turn and one woman boasted that she was clocked at 76 miles an hour in last year’s downhill championships.

(Fans, cheering) “Come on Nadine, go! Hup up!! And smile all the way down! Come on, you can do it!”

(Larry Young) “The usual reaction I get is one that I really dislike and it’s, ‘Boy, I hope I can do that at your age.’ And I think, geez, how old do you think I am?”

(Keck) Larry Young’s advice to those who question his sanity is, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

(Young) “There is this sort of surprise that they think skiing is a young man’s sport, especially ski racing is not something that’s carried on later.”

(Keck) Sevety-six-year old Alice Pepper, from Jackson, New Hampshire, has been racing for 25 years. She says she too gets strange looks when people first learn that she races.

(Pepper) “They think it’s rather weird that we’re still doing it.”
(Keck) “Are they envious?”
(Pepper) “I don’t know. Sometimes I think they think we’re crazy to keep pushing yourself like this – people who don’t ski, especially.”

(Keck) Pepper has arthritis in both knees, so she no longer competes in the downhill races. But she loves the giant slalom. The fact that she’s the only one in her age division doesn’t bother her. And the competition will pick up next month she says, at the national championships in Montana.

(Pepper) “There might be as many as four women in my class!” (Laughs.)

(Keck) Seventy-four-year old Jane Cook of Marblehead, Massachusetts, began skiing right after World War II and raced for Middlebury College. The equipment and clothing have changed, she says, but not the feeling.

(Cook) “The thrill of having the hill all to yourself, try to go as fast as you can – that’s the fun of racing. The fun is the camaraderie. We’re all really good friends.”
(Keck) “Do your grandkids like to come and watch grandma race?”
(Cook) “Yeah, they do come sometimes. My granddaughter came last year to Cranmore and she wasn’t too impressed. She said, grandma you went by too fast!” (Laughs.)

(Keck) Cook and hundreds of other racers – some in their nineties – will compete next month at the National Championships in Big Sky, Montana, and later in April at the World Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck

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