Name: Katie Brooks Age: 60 Lives in: Dorset Occupation: Owner, Vermont Wood Pellet Company Family: Husband, Chris; Sons, Austen and Oliver Primary sports: Skiing, uphill endurance racing.
Katie Brooks admits she often gets lapped in the Northeast Rando Race Series, but she doesn’t let that bother her. A former press secretary at the White House and an owner of Vermont Pellet Company, she gets a runner’s high from skinning to the top of the mountain and a reminder of her racing past as she skis down. Brooks hopes to pass on her love of the sport to other women and girls as a regional coordinator for the She Jumps program.
VS: How did you get into randonnee racing?
KB: I belong to the Dorset Hiking Club and we go out hiking every Sunday. I used to get frustrated in the winter when I was on snowshoes. I could get to the top as fast as the people on skins and skis, but they would speed past me on the way down. John and Marilyn Hand introduced me to the gear ten years ago. I’ve been doing all the races in the Northeast Rando Race Series ever since, though two years ago I broke a rib when my dog decided to jump in front of me and last year I broke three ribs when I tripped during my turn to bring beer to ski patrol.
VS: What do you love about it?
KB: I think it’s the same feeling that people who run get. You just get in a pace that is really hard for the first ten minutes but once you get going it’s fun and it feels so good to get to the summit. Most of my competitors are runners and they can beat me on the uphill, but they have really skinny skis so I can generally outski them. I’m not in it for speed, but for the exercise and the thrill I get from racing. There is also a great sense of camaraderie. When the other racers pass me they say, “good job, good job.”
VS: Is there any special training?
KB: For me, training means hiking peaks all summer and fall. Ascending alone is magical. The woods are alive and always changing as I pass by the big stands, the low brush, the forest beds, always changing color and form. I can hear the wind and the birds and the sounds I make gliding with skis or stepping with boots on rock, ice, and fresh snow. I make note of the smells and the coolness as I get close to the top. The balsam and pine smells are especially welcoming.
VS: Have you seen the sport grow?
KB: Over the past three years I’ll look at the roster of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association and there are so many more people. I used to win first place for women in all the races because there were no other women, but now there are women moving to New England from out West and they do things like all-night mountaineering races and they’re really fast. I’ve learned a lot from them.
VS: How do you keep from overheating in a rando race?
KB: Just about everyone wears Lycra suits but I stick to wool layers and a wind jacket for the way down. Wool wicks really well. I carry an extra pair of glove liners because the wind can be so cold that sometimes you need to put on dry gloves midway up the mountain. I wear down mittens for the downhill, but the runs aren’t that long. By the time the cold gets to you, it’s already time to skin up.
VS: Do you have any favorite places to skin and ski?
KB: I skin Bromley every day because I’m a volunteer patroller there. Bromley is one of the few mountains left with no restrictions on skinning, but even without that, I think it’s the best mountain around. I grew up skiing at Magic and I still enjoy going there. I run a glades clinic there every year on the St. Patrick’s Day weekend and I love the trails there.
VS: Tell us about She Jumps and how you got involved.
KB: It’s a 10-year-old program that started in the West by extreme skier Lynsey Dyer and a group of elite women skiers. They wanted to form a non-profit to help girls reach their potential. I was invited to a night ski event at Berkshire East and I helped some girls learn to skin uphill. It was a really fun night and they asked me to be an ambassador. Since then, we’ve added ambassadors in Sugarbush and Burlington, as well as in New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts.
Each of us is responsible for four annual events which raise money for a Northeast Wild Skills weekend for girls 8 to 18. The weekends involve multiple sports like rock climbing and mountain biking, as well as compass skills. All the girls get a T-shirt and a tutu.
Two of the events I’ve led are a hike up Equinox Mountain and a snowshoe to the top of Bromley Mountain for chocolate decadence.
This year we had a ski day at Stowe on December 9 and one at Sugarbush on January 20 which was co-sponsored by K2 and coincided with International Women’s Ski Day.
VS: How are you involved with the Green Mountain Club?
KB: I do a lot of hiking on the Long Trail but I’m also on the Guide Committee and I lead a number of hikes with the Manchester section and get to tell people about the observation tower we want to build at Bromley. I just got certified with Mountain Travel and Rescue One. We did a 48-hour camping trip on Mt. Greylock and Ragged Mountain, learning GPS and compass skills and how to conduct a search. Our group can be called by towns or police and fire departments to help them in cases of a lost child, a wandering person with Alzheimer’s or even a mass casualty situation.
VS: You’ve had a pretty interesting work history. Can you tell us about that?
KB: I started out at CBS Radio Network News in New York City, in sales. When I moved to Vermont I handed out MTV swag at WEQX and was hired there full time. My worst job was press secretary for Barbara Bush in 1979 in Washington. I got fired for insisting that she choose an issue to be passionate about and for failing to get her needlepoint work published in women’s magazines. My best job was getting promoted by her husband to be his director of audio services for his first Presidential campaign.
In 1993 I bought a Rutland radio station that was off the air. I made a lowball offer and became the first female radio station owner in the northeast. In 2008, when oil prices were so high, the sales for wood pellets rose 600 percent and there was a scarcity so I thought that would be a good line of work. My husband, Chris, and I started our own mill in the Rutland Airport Industrial Park. It was a really huge effort, and after three years, the Vermont Wood Pellet Company became profitable. We’re now building another plant in Gilman. When I see an opportunity, I go for it. And I retired two years ago.
VS: Do you have any advice for older athletes?
KB: Don’t overdo it. Take two days off a week at least to let your body rest. Too many runners destroy their knees because they can’t stop running. I learned the hard way and got arthritis in my thumbs from pulling the poles going uphill.