Moose Season

On May 25, 2017, in Uncategorized, by admin

Last night was a three-moose homebound commute.  I was on my way back from Manchester Airport around 10pm, and I encountered more moose in five minutes than most Americans will see in their entire lifetimes.  Ignoring the inherent dangers of driving late at night around critters who weigh more than, and are considerably taller than, most horses, I personally consider this one of the benefits of Waterville Valley life.  Last night’s moose were all spotted in plenty of time, well off the road and minding their own moosey business.  I tell you all this to remind you that it is most definitely moose season, and to beg you to be careful on the roads — for your sake as well as that of our local moose population.  I also tell you this, because living in close quarters with moose can allow you a peek at one of North America’s most majestic creatures.

My job necessitates frequent OOV (Out of Valley) travel, which unfortunately often puts me on the road in the wee hours.  Late one spring night a couple years ago, I was scurrying home about 2am, paying my customary level of attention as I came up Route 49.  When I hit the 50 zone, I accelerated, but quickly saw a bull standing on the white line and slowed way down to avoid him (don’t trust moose — they’re not afraid, they behave erratically, and man, they can move quick when they want to).  I even rolled the window down and talked to him as I passed by.  I thought, great, moose sighting done, we’re good to go.  I accelerated back up to speed.

A mile later, as I headed up Hardy Hill, I had to lay on the brakes for a cow and calf hanging out on the shoulder.  Great, I thought… two sightings in a night.  Clearly done, time to go.  I zipped back up to speed, tired and enervated.  I was still going 50 when I came onto the last straight before Drake’s Brook and started to relax.

That, of course, was when I saw the very large bull dead ahead, walking up the northbound lane.  I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop a couple feet from the south end of a northbound moose.  He was nearly a new hood ornament.

There are probably a couple things we can learn from my near misses.  First, Waterville Valley has its own distinctive Moose Alley — the zone immediately following the start of the 50-mile-per-hour sign reliably produces sightings — and real danger, especially in the hours around sunset and sunrise. Don’t get complacent, though, as you can and will see moose anywhere on Route 49 from the old William Tell all the way to Town Square.

Second, even if you’re paying attention, moose are hard to see at night.  Their fur is dark, dull brown and blends perfectly with forest, and they are so tall that their eyes are typically above the line of your headlights. I often see their cream-colored socks before I see anything else.  Use your high beams and scan both sides of the road like your life depended on it — and especially at twilight and dawn, remember, 50 is the speed limit, not the minimum.  Slow down and buy yourself some time to react.

Reaction time is definitely a factor.  Another late night last fall, I was barreling home from the airport, once again at some ungodly interval after 2am, when sensible people, and probably even sensible moose, are already long in bed.  I was hurrying a bit, trying to stay ahead the last of the caffeine that was rapidly fleeing my system, and I was pushing where I knew I probably shouldn’t.  I had just entered the 50 mile per hour zone and was speeding up when I saw him: a fully grown bull, sporting a broad spread of antlers, perhaps 100 feet ahead and standing in the middle of the up-bound lane.  I hit the brakes hard and steered — but at a bit over 50 miles per hour, 100 feet goes by very quickly.  I was still moving at a good clip when I slid by his flank, missing him by a few precious feet.

Not all moose encounters are so fraught; one of my very best memories is of a moose my family came to know fairly well.  First, allow me to introduce my late mother-in-law, Phyllis.  Phyllis was a pretty spectacular lady on the whole, but she had a way of letting you know if she thought you’d done something dumb.  She also had a thing about moose, or specifically, never having seen a moose, after several trips to Waterville Valley with us on weekends, and an Alaskan cruise excursion virtually guaranteed to produce moose; hers didn’t.  After we moved full-time to Waterville Valley, she subtly let me know I had messed up in a significant way, dragging her daughter and grandchildren so far off the grid.  And her dissatisfaction with the moose situation came to a head during a week-long visit, when several carefully timed drives had failed to produce anything bigger or more exotic than a fox.  We had a fine family meal together at the Coyote, and she groused over dinner, “I don’t even think moose exist.”  When we left, I said to our kids, then tweens, “What do you say we go find a moose for Grandma?”

I had an ace up my sleeve.  All summer, we’d seen a cow hanging out in the small bog to the right side of the Tripoli Road as you headed up to the mountain.  We’d seen her so often that the kids had taken to calling her Charlotte.  To my great relief, Charlotte was there, keeping her appointed rounds.  Phyllis was so thrilled she squeezed my wife Nancy’s hand until it was blue.  We sat quietly and watched Charlotte dine, then eased away up to the perfect darkness of Lot 7 at the mountain to see if we could see a shooting star.  Once again, luck was on our side, and we saw several in rapid succession.  Later, Phyllis quietly let me know she now understood what drew us here.  And she’d finally seen her moose.

 

And then there were three…

On May 7, 2017, in Uncategorized, by admin

The considerably diminished Waterville Valley Foundation Board of Directors met this morning, dodging showers to enjoy the hospitality at the Waterville Valley Golf Course.  Treasurer Mike Furgal, Vice President Bill Powell and I sat down at at round table in the pleasant screened deck of the Clubhouse and talked about old and new business.  We considered our contributions over the past couple of years — continued support of the things that make Waterville Valley unique, including perennial favorite Shakespeare in the Valley, the rejuvenated Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports program, a new spring rite, the Casting for Kirby fishing derby, and something we’re particularly proud of, scholarships for area children to join the fabulous JETS ski program.  We also supported the forthcoming documentary film about Waterville Valley legends H.A. and Margret Rey and are looking forward to its coming debut. This combination of culture, history, and athletics with a unique mountain twist remains our sweet-spot, and we hope you’re pleased with the choices we’ve made.

Over the course of the last couple of years, we’ve gone from a robust, sometimes contentious, but always thoughtful group of eight down to the three of us, by attrition and retirement and the inevitable move-aways that accompany the rhythms of life in the mountains.  The last departure from our team was Secretary (and sharp legal mind) Pat Sullivan, who moved with his wife Deb and daughter Kaitlin to be closer to Kaitlin’s high school and Pat’s job, upon son Jack’s high school graduation in 2016.  With all the comings and goings, to be frank, the WVF board has been quiet… too quiet.

As we thought about it together over coffee, we realized that there might have been something else afoot, subliminal but just as important.  Like the rest of the town and the region, I think at some level, we were waiting for something to happen.  Change that we all felt in the wind a few years back seemed stalled, no closer, some days even farther away.  We kept the lights on and supported good things, but to a person, we were hoping for something new and bigger, that would also suggest new challenges for the Foundation, too.

Well, with the advent of Green Peak this winter — I think we all feel like the levee is finally breaking, and positive change is coming to the valley once again.  I hope you had a chance to ski the new terrain this winter.  We got lucky and had a great snow year, and that was enough to allow us to sample the goods, and they were good indeed: interesting lines with pleasant surprises around each bend and a nice step up from Valley Run for novices — with plenty to keep experts entertained, too.

If you’ve talked with one of us about interest in the Waterville Valley Foundation board, you’re likely going to be hearing from us soon (you might just, even if you haven’t expressed interest; we’re funny like that).  We need some new energy and ideas, and want to make sure we’re representing the interests of all of those who love the Valley.  And we have some good ideas of our own, too.  

As I walked Mike back to his car, I noticed a somewhat faded and tattered Waterville Valley LOVE sticker in the back window.  Love can be like that — whether love of a person, a place, or an idea — time and weather can wear at it, but if it’s true love, it somehow sticks with you, and can be refreshed anew by the currents of spring and the hope that possibility brings.

 

Love, Duty and Loss

On July 19, 2015, in Uncategorized, by admin

When I look back over the past few years of writing about life in the Valley when the spirit has moved me, I realize that far too many entries are related to the loss of a fixture in the firmament of our community life.  I suspect that’s because, for most of us, life here is mostly to be lived, and we tend to stop to comment on it only when a particular event must be marked.

Last week, Waterville Valley was once again saddened by the loss of one of our own, when John McKinnon passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. John and his wife, Deb, and their two children, Eliza and Ian, have been a part of our lives practically forever.  Their family is a constant, volunteering and offering their support selflessly in just about every capacity.

I first met John and the McKinnon clan through the Waterville Valley Elementary School when we moved here as typically clueless mountain emigres.  Eliza and Ian were Big Kids, and John and Deb were welcoming parents who immediately made us feel at home.  It’s impossible to remember an event or a cause that John and Deb didn’t volunteer at or support in some way.

One way or another, though we were only casual friends, John McKinnon managed to play a role in the very best and very hardest moments of my life.

When generous friends scored a coveted evening at Chef Franz Dubach’s home and invited our tight circle for a once-in-a-lifetime night out, we enlisted John and his brainchild Waterville Valley Taxi to get us home safely.  If I stop to think about it for even a moment, I realize that there is no reason in the world John needed give up his own Saturday night and put up with a bunch of tipsy, giggling adults (or, for that matter, to allow me to sit in the folding chair he’d thoughtfully provided in the cargo area of his Honda Odyssey because we exceeded the capacity of his erstwhile cab).  John didn’t operate a taxi company because it was a high-profit business.  He did it out of a sense of duty, knowing that far too many of his friends ended up behind the wheel after a night out, when they shouldn’t be driving.

A few years later, when my father power-dived into severe dementia, I reached out to John to help me settle his affairs.  John listened solemnly to our somewhat complicated family situation, then provided me with thoughtful and just advice.  He made sure that all our affairs were in properly in order and, in retrospect, he barely charged me for his time.  He helped me feel in control of a situation that had spiraled so fast it still takes my breath away.  He had that capacity: to listen carefully, smile almost sadly, then to calmly lay out your options.  He’d give you the whole range, but he also had a way of making sure you knew what was the right choice, too.

I can honestly say, in a half century and counting on this planet, I’ve known very few families so attuned to the needs of others as the McKinnons.  John (and, of course, Deb and their children) have always embodied the spirit of noblesse oblige to me.  Whatever they’ve accomplished, earned, or were given in life, they’ve more than given back.  John McKinnon — father, husband, friend, talented multi sport athlete, attorney, and community leader — will be greatly missed.  I know I speak for all members of our community when I offer Deb, Eliza, and Ian our deepest sympathies.

 

Nine years ago this summer, my family and I took a leap of faith, following our hearts to live full-time in the White Mountains — but feeling somewhere deep down inside that we might be hurtling off the edge of comfortable and well-known suburbia and into the wilderness where modern services were concerned.

Where we lived on Boston’s South Shore, we were two minutes from good takeout pizza and a Starbucks, five minutes from a Super Stop and Shop (and not just any Stop and Shop, but one that actually sold wine and beer), and fifteen minutes from a new, upscale shopping plaza that had, of all things, an REI and a Whole Foods.  We’re not necessarily aggressive consumers, but there was a degree of comfort in the convenience we found all around us.

More to the point: we were fifteen minutes from the medical practice we’d grown up with as a young family, twenty minutes from a decent full-service hospital, and half an hour (if traffic was in your favor) from many of the best medical institutions in the world.  We didn’t spend too much time thinking about it, as we’re generally healthy people, but somewhere in the back of your mind, you knew.

Our path to residency in Waterville Valley followed the predictable arc that most mountain emigres cite:  when our kids were little we’d all but stopped skiing and enjoying life outdoors, especially in the winter.  I realized I was starting to fantasize about warmer climates to an unhealthy degree, and Nancy and I sprang into action. Bundled against the cold, our 4- and 2-year olds lapped the almost-flat J-Bar at Pat’s Peak between my legs and and pealed with delight. Two seasons and half a dozen sessions of mom-and-dad skiing, we took a leap and scheduled the kids’ for a day in Waterville Valley Resort’s excellent “Kids’ Kamp” program.  A good time was had by all, and we came back the next weekend.  All thoughts of warmer climates receded, and by the end of that summer, we had purchased a small condo in the Valley and begun the slow-but-certain process of falling in love with a place and finding it harder and harder to go home to the flatlands after each weekend.

Within two years, we sold our Boston area home and moved to the mountains full-time.  Even as we closed the door on our old home, though, I think both Nancy and I wondered exactly what we were signing up for in terms of daily living.  I’d gone to Plymouth State College in the early 1980s, when Speare Hospital was much smaller and was generally considered an option of last resort; Plymouth had one small, benighted P&C grocery store with high prices and produce that looked tired as it was put out “fresh”.  My friends would drive ten miles to Ashland to bring back enough fast-food to last a couple days, because we didn’t even have a McDonald’s.

I’m happy to say, in this one case, 30 years is a long time, and living in the mountains no longer means stepping back a decade or more in terms of services, provided you’re patient, reasonably good at planning, and even moderately resourceful.  Here’s what we’ve found in our time here.

The local medical scene is respectable or better

When I was in college, the western White Mountains were a classic underserved area in medical terms.  All that has changed considerably, and is still changing for the better.  On several occasions — the typical mishaps of family life — we have availed ourselves of Speare Memorial’s urgent care and emergency services, and have always been satisfied with the care we’ve received, the professionalism of the staff, and the facilities in general.  Bigger hospitals with more beds and specialists are available an hour away in Concord or Hanover, but we’ve never felt compelled to make the trip.

In terms of routine care and health maintenance, we’ve been perfectly satisfied with the care offered by Midstate Health Center, Plymouth Pediatrics, and Main Street Dental.  The level of professionalism and personal care has easily been equal to or better than what we found in the Greater Boston area.  For more esoteric specialities, you do find yourself traveling farther afield — Concord, Manchester, or Hanover — but for most routine healthcare, you’ll feel like you’re in good hands.

We’re also fortunate to have a number of specialists in sports-related medicine… chances are if you’re contemplating a move to the mountains, you’re inclined to be active outside, and, as I often say, if you play the games of the mountains, sooner or later you’re going to get hurt.  My family has come to rely on the expert care of Todd Mosenthal (chiropractic and sports medicine) and Melinda Johnston (a PhD-level physical therapist), and just lately on the Alpine Clinic (world-class orthopedic services).  I hope you don’t end up with aches and pains from your playtime, but if you do, you’ll be well cared for.

Keeping the pantry stocked

During my college years, you wouldn’t necessarily starve living in the White Mountains, but your range of choices and quality was necessarily very limited. I shopped whenever I was at home visiting my parents in Concord, and just about everyone I knew drove to Concord at least every couple of weeks to stock up. You’re still not surrounded by gourmet options, but things are much, much better now.

For your grocery needs, Hannafords is a good option, and their variety has improved even in the last few years.  Chase Street Market on Plymouth’s Main Street has a small but delightful selection of higher-end gourmet goods.  And, while I am no particular fan, Walmart on the Tenney Mountain Highway has just about everything you’ll need, if not necessarily everything you’d ever want.  For better prices and more shopping options, including a decent Market Basket and outlet mall, Tilton is only 50 minutes away (and — really — how many times have you spent half an hour in the car going across town in your suburb?).

When you live half an hour from the closest “real” store, you do get good at keeping shopping lists — and Amazon Prime, with an almost infinite variety of goods and two-day free shipping, is your best friend.

Nights you don’t want to cook for yourself

Admittedly, given the geographic distribution of the White Mountain region, you’re not going to wake up thinking you’re in Manhattan from a restaurant perspective… but we’re fortunate to have a number of very good restaurants within a reasonable drive.

You’re no doubt familiar with The Coyote Grill in Waterville Valley — still one of the best in the region for creative American cuisine and a consistent go-to where you’ll always feel welcome.  You probably have already tried The Blue Moon Cafe in Town Square, but if you haven’t, their concise menu has a surprising number of stand-outs, and the cozy atmosphere is hard to beat.

If you’re ready to go a little farther afield, Plymouth offers The Six-Burner Bistro, a comfortably converted older home with small dining rooms, pleasant service, and consistently good fare.  Lincoln offers a crazy quilt of dining options, but the very best in our experience is the Gypsy Cafe on the Kancamagus Highway (Rt 112) as you head toward Loon (just, don’t head toward Loon to ski, please).  The area has a number of Alex Rey’s popular Common Man offerings, but the very best in my opinion is Lake House in Meredith.

And in the morning, if you’re like me and can’t abide Dunkin Donuts coffee, we’re lucky to have Mad River Coffee Roasters in Campton (they recently moved to their new location on Six Flags Road; their coffee is also served at the Blue Moon and up at the mountain), and Cafe Monte Alto at Chase Street Market in Plymouth.

Life’s many necessary services

Humans don’t survive on bread and healthcare alone.  There are a ton of services we take for granted living in suburbia that the sane adult has to at least factor into any decision to move to a more remote region.  Fortunately, the White Mountains have come a long way in this regard, too.

In Waterville Valley, we’re exceptionally lucky to have a top-notch Public Safety department, highly trained both in community “policing” (with an extraordinarily empathetic touch) and emergency medical procedures.   Should you decide to spend a lot more time in the Valley, you will find Chris Hodges, Dave Noyes, Jeff Dropkin, Sgt. Katz, Andy Vermeersch, Joe LaCasse and the rest of the public safety team are highly professional and truly here for the people.

In our near-decade in the region, we’ve been lucky to find a lot of other professionals who make our lives easier and more comfortable, too.  The list is long, but here are a few standouts (and I share these somewhat reluctantly, because I like being able to schedule an appointment easily; all these folks have earned our respect and appreciation, though):

Thomas Roberts on Main Street in Plymouth is a professionally-run barber and hair salon with great service.

KTM Auto in Plymouth is a small, locally run, decidedly scruffy little auto repair shop.  They’re also scrupulously honest and genuinely friendly.

The Auto Spa on the Tenney Mountain Highway offers $10 hand-washes and full detail services.  Another honest, fair provider.

J Guinta Construction stands out for their careful attention to detail in snow-removal services (the local plowing business has been in tumult for the last couple seasons, but we were very happy with these guys last winter).

And, of course, if you’re planning to spend more time in the Valley, you’ll need the services of a reputable real estate agent.  Here, too, we’re really lucky to have Waterville Valley Realty and Roper Realty.  Since we first got involved with Waterville Valley real estate, we’ve called Kate Wheeler our broker (and friend), but I can honestly say I like and trust every agent we’ve ever interacted with at either agency.

And with that, I apologize for the brain-dump; I’ve been thinking lately, though, about all the people and agencies who’ve made our life here in Waterville Valley richer and more comfortable.  If you’re contemplating taking the plunge on a part- or full-time basis, I wanted to share our experiences.

After nearly nine years, we really have no regrets about making the move.  I can tell you, though, that the ebbs and flows of careers can surprise you even from a distance. That is a story for another day, though, and in the mean time, I will say that it’s a good thing you can be in Manchester Airport in 90 minutes, or in Burlington or Boston in two and a half hours.

 

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If you’re still with me after all that, chances are Waterville Valley holds a special place in your heart.  Consider the foregoing something of a screening device for the next couple points.

I write this occasional blog about Waterville Valley living under the auspices of the Waterville Valley Foundation.  Throughout our 25-plus year history, the Waterville Valley Foundation has sought to support the things that make Waterville Valley unique.  If you have an idea that you think deserves WVF support, I invite you to send us an email at info@watervillevalleyfoundation.org.  We’re always looking for a few good projects to support — but keep in mind that our charter is strictly within the Waterville Valley region, and that our preference is to support cultural, athletic and educational opportunities in Waterville Valley proper.

Further, if you’re truly passionate about the Valley and you’d like to be considered for our Board of Directors, we have several openings and would like to hear from you.  We meet approximately quarterly for several hours (plus time put into special projects as they come along), and would love to find several new, enthusiast board members who’re interested in bringing their energy to new projects that lend distinction to life in the Valley.  Fire us off an email to info@watervillevalleyfoundation.org.

 

 

Trails

On December 13, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin

Waterville Valley is defined by the rugged topography of the surrounding mountains and dense forests, but it is the trails that wind through the mountains that make the place as we know it possible.  In the beginning, the trails brought a few hearty settlers along the banks of the Mad River to a relatively flat and fertile plain in a sheltered vale.  Soon after, the same trails were widened to support stage traffic, and the early tourists found their way up from Campton to relief from the sweltering cities of the industrial revolution.  Later still, the stage track widened and allowed open touring cars with wooden-spoked wheels to come for a week or more in the summer.

By the late 1800s, outdoor enthusiasts, using the old Waterville Inn as a base of operations, had begun laying out one of the earliest hiking trail networks in the country.  Climbing in hobnailed boots and woolen jackets and surprisingly voluminous skirts, these early trampers found sensational views and a sense of solitude and rejuvenation on the trails of Waterville.  A core group of hikers returned each summer, and soon formed the Waterville Valley Athletic and Improvement Association.  A hundred years later, the WVAIA still does a fine job maintaining and improving the local hiking trails.

The 1930s and the Great Depression saw the Civilian Conservation Corps descend upon the Valley, cutting a first one, then a second ski trail on the flanks of Mount Tecumseh.  The second Mount Tecumseh Trail was popular with the sturdy skiers of the day, who hiked up and skied down for several runs a day.  The trail also hosted popular walk-up races each winter.

In the early 1960s, when Olympian Tom Corcoran was contemplating constructing a destination ski area in the White Mountains, he and ski trail designer Sel Hannah concluded that the long sloping ridge of Tecumseh’s White Peak were the perfect pitch for both racing and recreation.  Crews of French Canadian loggers cut the modern trails in 1965, incorporating the 1937 CCC trail in what we now know as Old Tecumseh.  Waterville Valley’s combination of classic New England trails and broad slopes, including the steeps of Sunnyside, soon made the area among the most popular in the East.

Today, Waterville Valley remains the jumping-off point for an abundance of hikes including five Four Thousand Footers, and for all kinds of winter recreation including nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking.  We’re all anxiously awaiting the first new trails at the Waterville Valley Resort in decades, due in 2015 with the Green Peak Expansion.  In an era of interstate highways and transoceanic flights, it’s somehow comforting that trails are still very much what define Waterville Valley.

In this spirit, the Waterville Valley Foundation is pleased to announce that, with your support, we’ve continued to invest in Waterville Valley’s trails.  We’re very proud of the fact that the first phase of the restoration of Greeley Ponds Trail was completed this fall.  In partnership with the Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation, the WVF was able to fund important work to revive this venerable trail after it was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.  The Greeley Ponds Trail, closed to the public for three years, is now open as far as the old Knights Bridge, and you can continue on up the trail’s new route along the Timber Camp Trail.  Work to reconnect with the Ponds was well underway this fall, and we’re looking forward to the trail’s full return in 2015.

In 2014, the Waterville Valley Foundation was thrilled to partner with Waterville Valley Realty and the newly formed Pemi Valley branch of the New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA) to create over a mile of intermediate-level singletrack trails on the north end of the valley floor.  The Riverside Trails offer tight, twisty fun within easy reach of Town Square.  The trail, which repurposes land once occupied by the Waterville town dump, yields new surprises every time you ride it — the iron hoop of an old wagon wheel, patent medicine bottles, and pottery shards have worked their way to the surface. The trail loops tightly through a stand of trees on the floodplain behind the High Country condo complex.  It’s just technical and rolly enough to provide a great workout without a lot of climbing (where climbing is typically the bane of every Waterville Valley mountain biker’s existence).  You can also pull to the side of the trail along the Mad River for a few minutes of solitude or a quick picnic.

The new trails are accessible from the Mike’s Dream cross country trail.  At the south end, you ride down from Osceola Road on Mike’s Dream and watch for the trail entrances right and left.  From the north end, enter Mike’s Dream just before the West Branch bridge below the Waterville Valley Academy and Osceola Library, and watch for the trail entrance on the right.

See you on the trails!

 

 

My Adaptive Ski Lessons (or Chasing Chris)

On January 23, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin

A few weeks back, I had my chakras totally realigned around the very concept of “disability”. In our society, the word carries at times a stigma; at very least, it tempts us to use euphemisms like “differently able”. At its worst, the very word sets limits. My personal realignment came in the most pleasant, and exhausting, of ways. I spent the day skiing with my friend Chris Devlin-Young.

I’ve known Chris for several years. We met through Shakespeare in the Valley (the Waterville Valley Foundation is a proud supporter of SITV programs), where Chris is the house manager and driving force behind the theater company’s sets each season. At first I knew Chris as the quiet but friendly guy in the wheelchair who manned the ticket booth each evening. Later, as I got more involved in the theater, I spent pleasant days with him working on set construction, or striking the sets at the end of the season. We built a friendship based on him being the brains and me being the legs of the operation — though Chris actually gets around very well on his crutches. It was during one of these set-construction days that I learned about the “real” Chris.

Chris the quiet-but-friendly house manager, Chris the guy in the wheelchair, is also Chris the world-champion Paralympic downhill skier. He is Chris the six-time Olympian. And he is Chris, the survivor of a Coast Guard plane crash in the early 1980s that changed the course of his life irrevocably. In the months after his crash, Chris spent a lot of time in a dark place. Fortunately, a friend suggested he try skiing as part of his rehabilitation. He tried it. He was hooked.

In the three decades since, Chris has become one of the top Paralympic skiers in the world. He expects to be proudly representing the United States once again at Sochi Paralympic Games in March. If Chris takes just one more medal, he will tie another New Hampshire Olympian’s record — but Bode Miller isn’t about to let Chris catch up without a fight. The two have a friendly rivalry, and the Sochi Games will be a great test.

But back to my chakra-realignment, as the lessons came fast and furious.

Lesson #1: Olympic Caliber Equipment
The first was getting to know Chris’ specialized racing equipment. Chris’ monoski is to the teaching skis WVAS uses as a Formula One race car is to your average Toyota Camry. His custom-built machine is a weapons-grade alloy frame that Chris co-designed with the manufacturer, incorporating a gas strut shock absorber and carefully calculated geometry. On the bottom, a metallic “foot” clicks into a specially modified, 30-DIN racing binding on his ski — the day I skied with him, he was on a 165cm race-stock slalom ski. The top of the machine attaches to his “bucket” — a custom-molded black plastic seat with a tight fairing that clamps down over Chris’ legs. The fairing is dimpled like a golf ball (I asked him if he thought it made a difference; he smiled and said his competition has been pretty sure it has for the last couple seasons). Chris clamps into his machine just about like you and I buckle into our ski-boots — and he turns his ski very much like you and I turn ours, though in his case the driving force comes from his incredibly strong torso. Chris skis with outriggers, but they are primarily for balance and turn initiation — just like you and I use our poles.

Lesson #2: Disability doesn’t play into it
Once he was clamped into his machine, Chris took off from the landing by the main entrance to the lodge, pushing himself backwards up the hill with his outriggers, faster than I could walk carrying my skis. I offered — needlessly — to give him a boost but he laughed and said it was a good warmup. Then he proceeded to beat me to the chair.

Working through the lift line, I wasn’t sure if I would need to do anything when it came time to board. Once again, “disability” never played into it. We skied to the loading point, Chris bumped his weight off the shock in one precisely-timed press, and we were off up the mountain.

Lesson #3: This guy is seriously fast
Sliding off at the top, we decided to take our first run down Upper Bobby’s. As the “local” and regular Waterville skier, I figured I should take the lead at first. Now, you should know this about me: I ski fairly fast. It’s not pretty, but I get down the hill. I love going fast, and I am not used to skiing with people who are a lot faster than me, because most people have more common sense than I do. Imagine my surprise, then, when I flared out to the left at the bottom of Upper Bobby’s, and had nearly come to a quick stop, when I looked over my shoulder to see Chris about ten feet away and charging at full speed. Fortunately, he is possessed of the amazing reflexes of a professional athlete and managed to miss me by precious inches. As he laughed and said, “No blood, no foul”.

Now that we’d established who the lead dog was, we settled into a pattern of fast fall-line turns and me chasing Chris, trying to keep him in sight. He’s used to long days of training, so just hanging out and free-skiing with friends was a treat, he said… but Chris’ “just hanging out” looks a lot like other people’s personal best. We carved up Whitecaps. We shot the Chute. We roared down Gema. Everything he did, the “disabled” guy made look easy. He was a delight to watch — rapid-fire, perfectly carved turns, edge to edge so quickly that your eyes could barely keep up and your mind began to boggle.

YouTube Video: Chasing Chris

Lesson #4: Olympic-class generosity
After a few fast runs, we made our way over to Valley Run to join a Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports lesson. We were lucky enough to ski with Griffin, who was delighted to meet Chris and get his autograph, then proceeded to lead us and his instructors down Valley Run in a long, sinuous parade, practicing his hockey stops and smiling broadly at his new friend. Griffin’s lead instructor confided that Griffin had been cold and tired and ready go to in – but when Chris joined him, he found a burst of energy. Halfway down Valley Run, Chris asked me if Griffin was always so cheerful. I had to admit I’d never seen him without a smile on his freckled face – but I had also never seen him so happy and proud. He was skiing with a world champion that he would see on TV in few weeks. I also realized to myself that Griffin and Chris share a common trait: disability isn’t a factor for either of them.

Later, over lunch, Chris joined the Adaptive table in the base lodge and spent some time with Jill. Jill suffered a spinal injury while skiing a few years ago, and has been confined to a wheelchair since. She is determined to get back to an active life, and has come to Waterville Valley for two years running. On this day, she had graduated to a higher-performance HOK bi-ski, and she was at once tired and encouraged that she was making progress. Jill and Chris paired off for a quiet conversation about training and conditioning and, I suspect, the freedom that skiing brings them both.

Lesson #5: I can’t keep up with Olympic athletes
I helped Chris get his gear to his van and we shook hands and I wished him well. In a couple short months, he would log another 20,000 miles in the air, and compete in multiple world-class events during the run-up to Sochi. He was off-handed about it all, but I couldn’t help feel at once humbled and proud that I had gotten to ski with someone so literally heroic.

He drove off down the hill, and I limped back into the building. I knew where every muscle in my body was, as they were all reporting in loudly. Turns out that middle-aged recreational skiers aren’t necessarily sufficiently in condition to run at wide-open-throttle in pursuit of world-champion athletes all day. No doubt this one shouldn’t have come as any surprise, but… there you go.

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Want to support adaptive skiing at Waterville Valley Resort? I hope you’ll consider joining the fun at the first annual Diamonds & Denim Gala at the Waterville Valley Conference Center on Saturday, January 25th. The evening begins with cocktails and a silent auction at 5pm, followed by dinner and a live auction with the inimitable Tom Gross at 7pm.

 

Blogger Reflux: Happy, tired children

On January 19, 2014, in Uncategorized, by admin

I hope you’ll pardon me for dipping back into the archives for once, but if it’s any comfort, I feel even more strongly than ever about the mission of Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports. Next Saturday night, January 25th, I hope you’ll consider joining the fun at the first annual Diamonds & Denim Gala at the Waterville Valley Conference Center. The evening begins with cocktails and a silent auction at 5pm, followed by dinner and a live auction with the inimitable Tom Gross. All proceeds go to support WVAS programs. Read on to see why I think it matters so much:

Over the last few years, I have admired the efforts of both the students and the staff of the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports program. If you ski at Waterville Valley, you’ve certainly seen them, too: instructors in royal blue coats flanking — coaching, sometimes coaxing, often hurrying to keep up with — their students all over the mountain.

Adaptive clients run the gamut from young children on the autism spectrum, to young adults with cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome, to wounded warriors finding their way back from a war zone and reconnecting with life, though all too often a life profoundly changed. The volunteer instructors of Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports are carefully trained in techniques to support and coach people with all forms of special needs. The program is very fortunate to have the guidance of nationally recognized adaptive snow sports expert Kathy Chandler, and the gentle, calm — but amazingly effective — day-to-day management of operations director Cindy Powell. It is also incredibly lucky to have a body of stalwart volunteers who give freely of their time, energy, and devotion year after year, making the program possible.

As a parent of two “normal” teens, I can tell you few things are more satisfying than having happy, tired children. This theme resonates in so many conversations with the parents and loved ones of Adaptive clients as well. Through the program, their loved ones find a special kind of engagement that makes their hearts — and quite often, the students themselves — sing. When their days on the snow are done, they are tired but happy, deeply satisfied, and ready to take on the challenges of their lives refreshed.

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What defines people with special needs is not their special needs, but rather that they are people: people with hopes, fears and dreams, and an undiminished capacity for enjoying life. Whether physically, developmentally, or emotionally challenged, Adaptive clients all find something special on the mountain; freedom, joy, independence, accomplishment, friendship.

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This year’s Adaptive auction is themed “Diamonds & Denim” — so bring out your bling and join us at the Waterville Valley Conference Center starting at 5pm on January 25th, for cocktails and a silent auction, followed by a festive dinner and a live auction. Register online here: Diamonds & Denim Online Registration Page All proceeds go to support the WVAS programs throughout the year.

 

Bruce Saenger, by any estimation one of Waterville Valley’s leading citizens, passed away suddenly this week after a brief illness.  If you’ve been around Waterville Valley for any length of time, Bruce has certainly touched your life in any one of a number of ways.  His passing will leave a hole in our civic life that may well prove impossible to fill.  It also leaves the kind of void that only a gentle man who is truly the friend of everyone he meets can create.

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Bruce was a nationally renowned figure in his profession – he patiently explained to me on more than one occasion what he did, but to be honest, it was way above my head – of regulatory compliance for continuing education for professionals.  He quite literally wrote the book, or books, that defined his field.  Saenger Consulting has held an anchor spot in Town Square for many years, and this quiet little company has been one of our town’s steadiest employers.  Saenger Consulting has also generously supported just about any cause in the region you can think of.

Bruce was an extraordinarily intelligent man, and someone I personally looked up to for something that is all too hard to find these days – real wisdom.  A few years back, we had an important vote coming up in our town meeting, and I knew that Bruce held a different view that I did on the issue.  I stopped by his office and he kindly spent half an hour discussing the matter, laying out his point of view in clear, thoughtful terms, and helping me understand his vision for the future of Waterville Valley, which was based on logic and numbers and sustainability.  He made a lot of sense, and I appreciated the time and care he took – and the fact that he treated me as an equal and listened respectfully to my point of view, too.

Bruce Saenger served for many years as our Town Moderator, managing our town meeting and school board hearings with a combination of gentle discipline and great good humor.  He managed to bring us all back to the matter at hand, keeping chaos in check with the kind of leadership that is also all too rare. As someone who chairs a lot of meetings in my professional life, I admired Bruce for his abilities as a moderator, and I will miss him greatly in years to come.

Bruce Saenger was a calm, gentle man who always had a twinkle in his eye and a half-smile on his face.  On more than one occasion, he pinch-hit for Santa Claus when Santa himself was unable to make local commitments.  The costume beard couldn’t hide the delight in Bruce’s face at the wonder in each child’s eyes.  I never asked him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if filling in for the real Santa topped Bruce’s list of duties.  He was that kind of guy.

I join with the entire board of directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation in expressing our heart-felt condolences to Bruce’s wife, Cheryl.  Cheryl was a long-time Waterville Valley Foundation board member, who, like Bruce, could always be counted on for a clear, calm, and intelligent point of view.  We deeply appreciate everything Cheryl and Bruce have done for the Foundation over the years.

Thanks for everything, Bruce.  We’re going to miss you awfully.

 

 

Back from the brink, thanks to you

On November 3, 2013, in Uncategorized, by admin

In late August 2011, the remnants of Hurricane Irene — still a strong tropical storm — stomped their way through Waterville Valley, causing historic damage all throughout the Mad River watershed. The floodwaters chewed away parts of Route 49, nearly isolating the town, damaged and destroyed bridges on the roads and forest trails, and threatened homes along the river’s edge. The raging waters also destroyed long stretches of a popular hiking route, the Greeley Ponds Trail.

The storm’s power took out key bridges and eroded five-foot deep trenches where the river spilled its banks and ran along the trail instead. The Forest Service was forced to close the segment of the trail from where Knightsbridge had spanned the first major river crossing all the way to the Ponds. The trail has been closed for two years.

When the Board of Directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation considered the devastation Irene left in her wake, we decided that to pledge our support to the restoration of this popular trail. We committed $10,000 immediately, and pledged another $10,000 from our 2012 annual campaign. Our offer was matched by the National Forest Foundation and the Forest Service. The Forest Service has worked hard to patch together funding from a variety of other sources — challenging at best given the political climate in Washington — and, thanks in large part to your generosity, we’re well on our way to a restored and renewed Greeley Ponds Trail.

Yesterday, my daughter and I worked our way through the woods (avoiding the currently-closed — also for repairs — Livermore Road) and picked our way — semi-illicitly — along the rejuvenated Greeley Ponds Trail. The transformation is not much short of amazing.

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The trail, still closed, has been graded for the entire distance from the Livermore Road to the junction with the Timber Camp Trail. What had been rocky footing for many years is now smooth (somewhat squishy in places) walking.

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Where the old trail used to be straight for long stretches, skirting the very edge of the river, now several sections have been relocated dozens to hundreds of feet farther toward the bluff, along slightly higher land.

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A few critical feet of elevation could make all the difference in a future flood. An added benefit: the relocated sections meander pleasantly, adding interest to the walk.

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In places, you can see the old trail a few feet off to the right as you head out. In other places, the new trail follows the higher contours closer to the bluff. When the relocated section rejoins the historical trail, you can look back along the old path and see the scarred old way.

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The rerouted trail will now follow the Timber Camp Trail up the ridge, before cutting off on the defunct Greeley Brook Trail to run along the flanks of Osceola. By moving off the valley floor, the new trail no longer runs the risk of washouts in future extreme weather events. Ellie and I were amazed at how quickly the old trail beyond the junction is filling in.

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If you do venture past the Timber Camp junction, in a few hundred feet, you reach the site of the old Knightsbridge. When you look across the river, you can see the old trail — badly eroded and trenched by the storm. Seeing that, you know moving the trail up high was the right choice.

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The reconstruction work on the Greeley Ponds Trail is well on its way — thanks in large part to your support. As my daughter and I walked back along the steadily rushing river, enjoying the cool fall temperatures and peaceful woods, we felt the power of nature all around us. Nature made this beautiful place — and nature continues to shape it every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The reconstruction work that you’ve helped support acknowledges that power in ways the old trail builders never did — and will once again make it possible for us all to enjoy the splendor along the Greeley Ponds Trail.

Thank you, Waterville Valley.

 

So long, Lenny

On August 17, 2013, in Uncategorized, by admin

The Waterville Valley community is greatly saddened by the loss of one of our own. The irrepressible Lenny Emery has passed away after struggling with illness for several months.

If you’re a Waterville Valley regular, you no doubt think of Lenny as the keyboard accompanist to a great many happy evenings with friends. Lenny, an accomplished musician, was always willing to volunteer, providing the sound track to the Waterville Valley Adaptive Rodeo many times, and a host of other charitable events. The sound of Lenny was the sound of lounge music mingling with laughter and good cheer.

Lenny was an incredibly generous man, giving freely of his time, energy, and literally opening his home to guests. He and his constant companion Margaret Turner have been mainstays of the Shakespeare in the Valley program, kindly offering housing to a whole generation of rising young actors. Lenny was always one of the very first to offer help in any situation. His passing will leave a big hole in our community’s support of the arts.

In fine Waterville Valley tradition, Lenny was the core of a crew of fast-skiing friends. He just about always made first chair, and woe be unto you if you thought 7:45 was going to cut it on a powder morning. Lenny would have you beat by a mile, up front shuffling his feet and waiting for the bell.

I join with the boards of directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation and the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports in thanking Lenny for his generous support over the years, and extending our deepest sympathies to Margaret and Lenny’s family. Wherever you are, Lenny, I trust it is first tracks and soft powder. We will miss you very much.