On March 16, 2022

Chasing Vertical: Part 6

A skiing love story with Sara Zelle Namkung

By Brooke Geery

The Killington app leaderboard community has grown ever tighter as the season has progressed, and so when the announcement for the top vertical feet in February hit social media, some of the fixtures on top of the list were confused.

“Who is Sara N.?” they wondered when the winner was announced.

That’s because Sara Zelle Namkung, 40, of Killington goes by the handle “High on the Hill.” Plus, her total of 488,907 vertical feet for the month was technically 4th in the overall standings. But the rules state that each app user can only win once and since the top three had already scored, Namkung won the monthly prize from the resort.

By Brooke Geery

It a was pleasant surprise, she said. “Honestly, I wasn’t trying to win, but I am super thankful for the Yeti!” she laughed.

Namkung is usually laughing, that is, if she’s not singing. The mom of two spent her youth performing as a musical theater actor. She played “Annie” on an international tour at age 9, and at 11 lived and performed on a cruise ship for 8 months. In 1998, she played Leisl in the “The Sound of Music” on Broadway, hanging up her hat after graduating from Harvard with an English degree in 2003.

“Now I belt out pop songs to myself on the hill and sing off key,” she said. “In hindsight, singing whatever I want on the chairlift is more fun than getting paid to do the same performance every single night.”

Namkung has figured out how to focus her life on fun, and currently has perfect attendance at Killington for the season. Most days, she can be found lapping with her husband, Young Namkung, who is also on the app leaderboard as “Ski at Home Dad.” Their sons, ages 11 and 14, are avid skiers, too (of course.)

Namkung is originally from Connecticut and learned to ski at 5 though lessons at Butternut Basin in the Berkshires, instantly falling in love.

“I remember flying down a trail called Dipsy and just never wanting to stop,” she said.

Even a broken leg a year later didn’t dissuade her.

“I broke my leg skiing at 6 years old at Mount Snow. I was so proud of the fact that I broke it while skiing. My mom made me a t-shirt that said, ‘I broke my leg skiing at Mount Snow, Vermont.’ I kept it and wore that shirt out to the Pickle Barrel happy hour one night a few years ago. It was a great conversation starter.”

Though musicals kept her off the hill for her teen years, the lapse wouldn’t last forever, and she first discovered Killington shortly after college thanks to her husband — then a potential suitor.

“We both worked on the trading floor of an investment bank, Bear Stearns,” she recalled. “Our first date was a Friday. He sat down to this fancy dinner and said, ‘We have to make this quick because I’m driving up to Killington later.’ I was more intrigued than offended,” she remembered. “Two weekends later he introduced me to Killington for the first time. I actually hadn’t been on skis since the age of 9, but my confidence was of Olympic proportions. After ‘ripping’ down Great Northern with a grin I said, ‘See! I’m a great skier!’ Looking concerned, Young replied, ‘You are a terrible skier.’ We laughed and then I just kept skiing.”

Their first date turned into many more, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hallmark someday buys the rights to what is truly an epic love story on the slopes.

“The best thing about skiing with Sara are her positive vibes,” Young Namkung said. “Even when it’s r#*%!?  or the day after a hard freeze, she takes to the hill with excitement and eagerly looks for what the mountain has to throw at her.  She coined a saying last season: ‘No bad weather, just bad gear and a bad attitude’.”

Of course, her skills have improved since their first date, thanks to lots of laps on Bear Mountain, in particular.

“I skied a lot of Bear Cub and Bearly that first year while Young lapped Outer Limits. I’d wait at the Bear chairlift watching these skiers just crush it on Outer Limits. I thought they were teenagers, so much energy, then they’d pass me in the lift line and I realized they were all way older than me. So I had hope. And I just kept trying.”

These days, she can negotiate any trail, keep up with any guy, and often skis with Olympian Hannah Soar. She also did a stint as a Mountain Ambassador, an experience she would recommend to anyone considering it.

“Sharing the experience of Killington with newcomers is an absolute joy. Everyone comes here to have a good time and, obviously, Killington is an enormous resort. The Beast of the East! Its sheer size and six base areas can be overwhelming. It’s easy and satisfying to answer simple questions that make a big impact on someone’s day,” she said. “The ambassadors themselves are a unique community. We all come from different life experiences and all bond over our shared love of Killington. I especially recommend it to people who are new to the community, you will make lasting friendships.”

As spring warms up, Namkung plans to ski the bumps as much as possible and is encouraging her husband to go for the vertical title in April, a goal she’s sure he can achieve.

“We love bump skiing and have been working on our stamina all season!”

But, she said as far as the overall title is concerned, she hopes to see it go to Larry Levack, who’s now nearing 3,000,000 vertical feet in his mission to honor Scott Howard.

“We are definitely rooting for Larry this season! My husband and I always stop and say ‘hi’ when we see him on the mountain. One day when he mentioned he forgot his lunch in his car we gave him some trail mix so he could keep going. A few days later he thanked us and told us that bit of trail mix helped keep him going. Best part of this app is learning stories like Larry’s that are so incredibly inspiring. The app has connected us with the community, that’s my favorite part.”

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