Nadine Price dreamed about ski racing while growing up.
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,” said the lawyer with a solo commercial real estate practice living in Pittsfield, Vt.
They are also doctors, plumbers, teachers, electricians, students, the retired, and others. Some never had raced before joining, while others had skied on college and academy teams.
“They take it very seriously, but it is very serious fun,” said Price.
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 occasionally downhill, with the national championships at Okemo in Ludlow, Vt., 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, which includes a lift ticket. Want to try? A temporary license is $25.
They also can spend money on gear, travel, and training. Clinics are run year-round in spots such as 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,” said Eastern chairman Bill McCollom, 67, of Barnard, Vt.
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, in which skiers tend to compete on shorter, more benign courses, Masters are on World Cup-style runs such as 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,” said Price. “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 more than 50 miles per hour 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 than within your age division.”
Racing is not without peril. There are crashes and injuries. But there are also motivational tales. Price remembers the late Chestnut Hill attorney George Caner Jr., who raced into his late 80s before dying from leukemia in June. The lifelong skier spent some 20 years in Masters racing and credited ski racing for helping him do battle against the disease.
“There was a race where he crashed right before the finish,” said Price. “He crawled to make sure he got a time.”
At 33, Lisa Marien of Richmond, Vt., is on the young side for Masters racing. She grew up near Wachusett Mountain in Princeton and first skied at age 3. She raced from ages 6 to19 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.
“My partner says it feeds the beast and without it I’m miserable,” she said. “I’m very competitive. I go out to win and have fun but it’s most fun when I’m in the top group.”
Between coaching and racing, she’s on snow five days a week and at the gym daily. Her winter is about ski racing, at first overwhelming, but then it flies by.
“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.”
Some well-known skiers have passed through the Masters gates. Tyler Palmer of North Conway, N.H., a 1972 Olympian, was a national champion several times. College racers from schools such as Middlebury, the University of New Hampshire, and Syracuse have taken part, as well as those on and near the fringes of the national team. So have 10th Mountain Division veterans.
“A lot of people have dropped in and dropped out over the years,” said McCollom. “It doesn’t matter as much who you were, it is who you are and how you approach it. Age is a great leveler of ability.”
Many races are named after ski luminaries and legends. The Bunny Bertram Memorial at Suicide Six recognizes Wallace “Bunny” Bertram, who owned the Pomfret, Vt., ski hill for a quarter century. Cannon’s Hochgebirge Challenge is the nation’s oldest ski club race. The Sise Cup, which goes to the top male and female New England Masters racer, is named after the “Father of Masters Ski Racing” Al Sise, who grew up in Medford, attended Harvard, and became an MIT professor with a penchant for skiing and the outdoors.
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.”
Do they give her advice?
“Mostly tips on how to preserve my marriage and still be a Masters racer,” she quipped.
Then again, others have met and married through Masters.
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.”