A Ski Racing Family’s Weekend at Killington World Cup

It was a nice summer morning on June 28th when I saw the news hit twitter. Killington would host the first World Cup ski race in the East in 25 years! I dashed a quick note off to Amy, knowing that we’d make this happen if we could. The Killington World Cup race would be a relatively short drive for us, between 5 and 6 hours, and the chance for the kids to see some of the icons of their sport? Well, that would not be something to miss.

The Beginning of Our Ski Racing

We started the kids on skis when they were 8 and 5 years old. I wasn’t far behind, with Amy having taught me how to ski as an adult at Bristol Mountain in the winter of ‘99. I’d always been a cross-country skier. I quickly embraced this new gravity-fed, adrenaline-fueled pastime. I had some awkward moments getting started. One palpable memory is a few years later at Greek Peak. I crashed while skiing at night. Amy had already skied to the lift, and I was out of sight around a bend. I kid you not: it took me 15 minutes to put my skis back on, due to the pitch of the slope. She thought I’d died.

We enrolled the kids in ski lessons through Greek Peak’s ski school. They sold lessons as 3-packs, and they were an incredible bargain. In short order, each of my children went from not skiing at all to making it down the mountain in one piece. The instructors were wonderful with them! Xander, my youngest, was in a racer chaser for a few weeks. I felt like Santa driving his sleigh when we went down the hill together. We put the racer chaser into a garage sale pile a few short weeks later. Xander truly figured out how to turn on his own when Amy had him follow her down the bunny hill: she was skiing backwards in nice, curving arcs, and he followed her tracks. She’s such a talented lady!

We enrolled the kids in Greek Peak Ski Club for the 2009-2010 season. One of Elizabeth’s friends was going, too, and we thought it’d be a great way for the kids to amp up their skiing game. I remember when Amy suggested we get into ski racing. I remember feeling overwhelmed with everything: equipment, training and racing time, money, and knowing how to wax and sharpen skis. We dove in headfirst and managed just fine. Even the waxing and sharpening skis (a skill which I continue to hone, pardon the pun). The people in this community make it fun. Greg Brown at Greek Peak was the first to welcome us, and he turned out to be a constant source of positivity throughout our time there.

I wanted to welcome the Dawson family to the Greek Peak Ski Club and the ranks of ski racers. Elizabeth and Xander should find this to be a very fun and exciting time in their ski lives. If nothing else, skiing all day will not only improve their skiing but send them home tired after each training day. My kids were usually asleep before leaving the parking lot when they were at this age. I think you’ll find that the gatebuster/forerunners have a lot of fun and great times with their group. The coaches at this level stress fun and skiing more than racing. However, they do manage to take several runs through the NASTAR course on Cristy’s Run each Saturday. I know the introduction to ski racing can be a little confusing and overwhelming at times, so please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. – Greg Brown

Fast forward 8 years, and we’ve raced four seasons at Greek Peak and are in our fourth at Bristol Mountain. Bristol is just a slightly longer drive for us in an opposite direction, and we started skiing there in the 2013-2014 season. We moved to Bristol for a variety of reasons, most notably for a change of pace after Greek Peak was sold, and Bristol’s penchant for artfully making tons of snow and maintaining two high-speed quad lifts. All of that considered, an extra 15 minutes in the car just made sense.

We’ve learned so much as adults, too. While the kids are off with their coaches and fellow racers, we’ve enjoyed time skiing together. It has made us better skiers. We’ve learned many race jobs, and as a consequence, appreciate watching ski racing more. Between the two of us, we’ve been race administrators, gate judges, starters, hand timers, start and finish referees, course maintenance, bib collectors and all manner of jobs in between. It takes a village, and then some, to run a proper ski race!

Time for Tickets

I was ready at my computer when Killington opened ticket sales at 8 a.m. on July 5, 2016. I snapped up 2 days of grandstand seating and a weekend of preferred parking. We watch a lot of World Cup skiing on NBC Sports Live, and the grandstand seating seemed like a good idea. At $40 per person for the weekend, Killington was doing a great job making this race financially accessible. There would be no charge for standing at the base of Superstar, the race hill for this event. The parking, at $20 per day, also seemed a no-brainer, since preferred parking must be preferable to something else! I also got us into the Hampton Inn in Rutland, VT for a very reasonable rate. I thought perhaps they weren’t aware of the chaos about to descend on the small Vermont town, and hadn’t yet adjusted their rates.

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We had an uneventful drive, but were pretty hungry by the time we approached the New York/Vermont border. We set a course for Druthers Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs, reasoning that Rutland would be a mob scene with the spectators in town. The wait at Druthers was insane, though, so we soldiered on to Rutland, making another dinner plan on the way. We drove straight to the Hop’n Moose Brewing Company where the wait was only ten minutes or so. We enjoyed a quick dinner before heading to bed.

Killington World Cup Women’s GS Race: November 26

I was inspired to write down our experiences with this weekend after reading Bill McCollum’s SkiRacing.com feature “View from the Mosh Pit at the Killington World Cup”. Bill retired from Killington Mountain School in 1998 after producing three Olympians, more than 34 D1 collegiate skiers and 13 U.S. Ski Team members during his tenure. Sure enough, in Bill’s article’s feature image (which I’ve used for this article as well), we’re front and center in the grandstand at skier’s left on Day One (zoom in for the full view).

We waffled about whether to bring our ski equipment so we could ski and spectate. True, Killington had been making a ton of snow, but they’d been making it on the race hill and had just a few other runs open. In the end, we decided to make it easy and removed skiing from the equation. We’re really glad we did, since after we arrived and saw the throngs, we could not have imagined adding in a few runs for what would have been a few extra hundred dollars.

As we drove in, we passed tons of people waiting for shuttles, walking, and parking in lots clearly farther from the venue. Attendants waved us onward as they saw our parking pass. We were so grateful for when we pulled into a parking spot near the entrance to the K1 Gondola area. What a deal! We were literally minutes from the entrance. A short walk through security and we were in. We had our lanyards on for access to the grandstands, so we found our seats shortly after negotiating a massive crowd slowly making its way to the base of the race hill.

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While we waited for the first run to start, we took it all in. It felt to us like a theatrical production. You had your stage, with the finish chute and places for the “audience.” You had a jumbo television with high-quality graphics and live shots of the audience being broadcast all over the world. There were roving interviewers plying crowd members with questions like, “What do you think of World Cup in Vermont?” You had the “King of Spring” walking around in underwear and not much else. Thousands of people did “the wave” during commercial breaks. We enjoyed listening to announcers who were incredibly confident in their trade. A deejay who traveled with the World Cup circuit enveloped us all with rhythms that fit perfectly with the high octane of the occasion. And yes, there was a guy with a t-shirt cannon, and enthusiastic recipients of fodder shot from said cannon. The only thing that seemed not pre-ordained was how the athletes would fare as they ran through the course.

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After a short delay in the start, we started to see athletes racing in this historic event. It was amazing. You’d see these women in the start building on the television, as they were just out of sight over the top of the hill. Shortly into their run, they’d crest the hill in synchronicity with their digital counterpart, yet from a different angle. There were so many entertaining ways to watch, and the first run seemed to go by so quickly.

And it was cold.

Lunch break in the car

Lunch break in the car

We were prepared clothing-wise, but were really grateful to have brought lunch and a place to eat it. We reasoned that with the crowds, the food options would be overwhelmed, and warm seating options even more so. So, we returned to our car during the lunch break, fired it up, and sat in the warmth to enjoy our lunch and talk about the day.

We were slightly concerned about the second run starting on time, due to the fog rolling in. When we got back to inside, we headed to the grandstand at skier’s right, closer to the television. We brought a huge blanket to sit on, which made the seats much more comfortable.

The second run is a flip 30 only, which means that instead of running the entire field of 60+ racers once more, they run only the fastest 30 from the first run. They run them in reverse, so the fastest racer from the first run goes last in the second run. This makes for a VERY exciting time, since all things being equal, you’d expect the run times to get increasingly faster. The announcers and the crowd got totally into it, and the combination of sport and theatrics made for a very entertaining afternoon. The video below starts off with Mikaela Shiffrin’s GS run from the first day, and also captures Mikaela Shiffrin and Resi Stiegler’s SL run from the second day. Spectacular fun.

Autograph Session

One of the highlights of the schedule was the US Ski Team autograph signing. The queue for the 4-5 p.m. session started promptly after the conclusion of run 2. We got to the line at 2:15 p.m., and waited in close quarters while listening to O.A.R. entertaining crowds off to the left. It was a really uncomfortable wait. We began to suspect impending chaos when security came out and looked suspiciously at the scene. We were waiting in a mass, narrow near the stairs and fanning out at all angles creating a funnel.

When they opened the doors to let us in, we four tried to stay close to each other as we all shuffled forward for our turn at the stairs. I was separated from Amy and the kids in the squeeze play. They were up ahead somewhere when the line suddenly stopped. We texted each other: Amy and Elizabeth were together inside, Xander was behind them in inside, but out of sight from them, and I was still outside. Several minutes later, they announced to us outside that it would be unlikely that we’d be able to get in. There were too many people inside already. I thought, “At least the kids got in.”

The line inside was barely moving. I could tell by the texting inside (gotta love group texting) that Amy and the kids were worried they wouldn’t get signatures. Security came out at 4:45 and told us that there’d be no more signing, that they were at capacity. The police were on hand to deal with unruly people, and there was some ugly language but not bad enough for a trip to the local sheriff’s office. I patiently waited outside for the rest of my family to come out. Xander was one of the last people in the building, and one of the last to get a signature. The athletes were really accommodating, posing for selfies with the kids and taking time to talk with them. I’m not sure what Killington will do differently next time to accommodate more people, but this didn’t work at all.

To add insult to injury, Mikaela Shiffrin inexplicably arrived 20 minutes late to the session, and then with 20 minutes left in the session, left to “prepare” for the next day. I’m all for making accommodations for people at the pinnacle of their sport, but I feel she had a duty to her fans to stay the whole time. The rest of the women’s US ski team racing Killington that day stayed the whole time, and the kids really appreciated that. Had she not been injured and raced today, I was sure Lindsey Vonn would have stayed the whole time. The kids each left with an autographed poster and with Resi Stiegler’s signature on their helmets. Thank you, to each skier who stayed and made this part of the day enjoyable for the kids.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed wine and some appetizers we bought from the grocery store next door (grapes, cheese, crackers, salami, hummus). Sometimes, that’s the best kind of dinner! Skiing, or spectating skiing for that matter, really makes us tired. We hit the bed a bit earlier than normal and prepared for another fun day at Killington.

Doing the "wave" while waiting for the start on Day 2

Doing the “wave” while waiting for the start on Day 2

Killington World Cup Women’s SL Race: November 27

For Sunday’s slalom race, we repeated our routine from Saturday. We made the short drive from our hotel in Rutland and enjoyed the same preferred parking at Killington. After the quick security check, we made a beeline for seats in the far grandstand. We enjoyed lunch (and warmth) in the car between the runs. Just like Saturday, we immensely enjoyed ourselves. The disciplines are so different and fun to watch in their own ways. If it was possible, the crowd was even louder at the end of the second run. Mikaela Shiffrin won the race and clinched her 21st World Cup slalom victory and 22nd World Cup overall win.

Smiles on day 2

Smiles on day 2

 

Driving Home

After the conclusion of the second run, we waited a bit in the grandstand for the crowds to thin. On Saturday, there was huge glut of fans trying to negotiate a narrow passage between the finish area and the K1 base lodge, and it took forever. Today, however, we were quite cold. We ventured into the departing crowd after a few minutes. The close proximity of people helped to warm us up a bit. After the awards ceremony was over, things began to move, and we were driving westbound in no time.

I had scheduled a business trip Monday and Tuesday in New York City, so had reserved a bus seat from Albany. Amy and the kids dropped me off at the bus terminal in Albany and continued their drive home. The bus experience was a debacle all by itself, and warrants a separate story if ever. In my mind, it was made far less stressful by the memories of a weekend with family at a really fun race venue, witnessing some of the best skiers in the world at Killington World Cup.


Header Photo Credit: Ski Racing Magazine Inc.

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