Masters downhill ski racing

Lisa Densmore
Posted November 1st, 2000

More challenge, more fun
Never too old to race!
[Masters skier Melissa Patterson of Rutland won her age group at the Masters National Championships at Sugarloaf, Maine last year. Patterson is profiled on page 21. For more on Masters skiing, see the article below. Photo by Brian MacFarland, Mountain Images.]
Imagine what it would be like to
go to Killington for the week-
end, and twice each day, the mountain closed a trail off the Superstar Quad just for you. No one else could ski there for two runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon—only you! And you can go as fast as you dare without risk of the ski patrol pulling your lift ticket.
Now, imagine having this rush every weekend from early January through mid-March at 17 different ski areas throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Ski racers on the New England Masters circuit don’t dream about it, they do it!
New England Masters Skiing, Inc. is a sub-group of the Eastern United States Ski Association (USSA) Masters program, which in turn is part of the national Masters program. It is the largest Masters ski racing program in the United States with about 800 registered members, although the average attendance at a race ranges from about 120 to 180 racers, depending on the location and the event (slalom, giant slalom, Super G).
The series includes both men and women, ranging in age from 21 to over 80. Racers are classified by age groups, which are in five-year increments, except Class 1 which spans ages 21 to 29. The oldest racers go first. But elder does not necessarily equate with slow. Masters racers are an athletic, vibrant crowd. A number of participants have impressive collegiate, National Team, or professional ski racing backgrounds. But most are simply gung-ho skiers, bored by the same runs on the same slopes. Regardless of their past, they are all challenged by the full-length World-Cup-style courses  and warmed by the camaraderie found at the weekly Masters ski races.
“I discovered real courses at Masters events. How wonderful!” says Wendy Hill, who started Masters racing 13 years ago and who is currently the top-ranked woman in the United States in Class 9 (ages 65-69). “It’s very important for the challenge, the thrills, the friendships. And it’s probably the only thing that I do that is just for me,” she explains.
Hill’s son, Bob, is also an avid Masters racer, who usually comes to races with his wife and two kids. It is not uncommon for two or three generations from one family to attend Masters events together. It’s a chance to sample a number of ski areas and catch up with old friends. In fact, most Masters racers will tell anyone who asks that one of the biggest reasons for participating is the friendship.
Melissa Patterson is one such racer.
During the week, Melissa is a schoolteacher. She made her Masters debut last winter after meeting Margaret and Andy Zucotti, an avid Masters racing couple. And what a debut! A former member of the University of Vermont ski team, Patterson won the overall SISE Cup, the trophy named for Al Sise, a skiing pioneer from Norwich, VT who founded Masters ski racing in New England (and the country) shortly after World War II. The SISE Cup is awarded annually to the top male and female Masters racer in New England, based on accum-mulated results during the winter. The names on the trophy read like a “who’s who” in ski racing.
A sense of skiing history runs deep among Masters skiers. In fact, among the 20+ races on the schedule each winter, a number are “trophy races,” named for ski legends, war heroes, and other luminaries, including the Bunny Bertram Memorial at Suicide Six, the Widener Memorial at Waterville Valley, the Gibson Cup at Mt. Cranmore, and the Janeway Cup at Stratton.
The season culminates with the Eastern Championships, which will be held this year at Mt. Snow, VT, and then the U.S. Alpine Masters Championships, this year at Sun Valley, ID. For those with more free time and an urge to travel, there are also international Masters events, primarily in Europe, with one event (4 races) scheduled in North America each winter. This winter, the International Masters World Championships will be in the United States, in Park City, UT. Eligibility is based more on premeditation than prowess in the gates, but the competition is always impressive at these big events.
While Masters racing is considered the pinnacle of adult ski racing, virtually anyone is eligible to participate. Entry fees are typically $35.00 to $45.00 per weekend, due a week in advance, and include a lift ticket. If you want to give it a try without committing, you can pay $15.00 for a temporary membership, good for one weekend of ski racing. Once addicted, it’s easy to continue—become a member of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association ($70.00 per year), and join New England Masters Skiing ($25.00).
For more information, contact Gary Colwell, Executive Director of New England Masters Skiing, at 802-496-2754, or visit

Lisa Densmore

A award-winning writer and photographer Lisa Densmore has spent much of her life outdoors in Vermont. She is the author of seven books, including Best Hikes with Dogs: New Hampshire & Vermont (The Mountaineers Books) and Hiking the Green Mountains (FalconGuides). A long-time contributor to Vermont Sports, her words and photos have also appeared in many publications including, Vermont Life, Vermont Magazine, Stratton Magazine, Okemo Magazine, Woodstock Magazine and Best of Burlington.