On October 25, 2023

Wendy Neal honored by VARA Hall of Fame

Courtesy Okemo

Wendy Woodworth Neal, a coach and director of Okemo’s competition programs (1986 – 2002) and Head of School for Okemo Mountain School (2002-2010) will be inducted into the Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA) Hall of Fame on Oct. 28 at the Lake Morey Inn.

 

 

By Karen D. Lorentz

Wendy Woodworth Neal, a coach and director of Okemo’s competition programs (1986 – 2002) and Head of School for Okemo Mountain School (2002-2010) will be inducted into the Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA) Hall of Fame on Oct. 28 at the Lake Morey Inn.

An accomplished ski racer, Neal became a dedicated coach and teacher and spent over 30 years nurturing young athletes, fostering excellence, and shaping the future of ski racing. In announcing her induction, VARA noted her “dedication to the development of academic and athletic programs,” and called her a pioneer whose contributions to VARA had an impact on the sport of ski racing.

In addition to honoring Neal for inspiring so many youngsters, VARA’s induction also recognizes her for serving on many committees “involving the development of ski racing in Vermont and the nation. She was an influential member of the Eastern Children’s Committee as Chair, was the VARA Children’s Committee Chair, and held a position on the USSA National Children’s and Development Committee. She was instrumental in creating the Can-Am series, an international children’s event that is still going strong today and has become a prestigious competitive event for U14’s.”

Neal also served as interim VARA director and for many years as part of the Eastern Alpine Competition Committee. “Her volunteer roles have greatly impacted the ski racing community,” VARA noted.

Originally from Peabody, Massachusetts, as a youngster Neal ski raced out of the Lynn Snowchasers Ski Club. She raced throughout high school at Killington where she was part of an elite group of competitors that included Vermont skiers Bob, Lindy, and Marilyn Cochran, Dia Elliman, and Rick and Suzy Chaffee. 

In 1970, Neal began her collegiate racing career at Johnson State College. A CAN AM level racer, she was on the top-rated women’s Eastern college ski team for four years (before NCAA had women’s events) and competed in Slalom, Giant Slalom, and cross country. She was also a member of Team USA for the International FIS U games in Lake Placid, New York in 1971.

Neal graduated from Johnson State with a major in health, recreation, and physical education and taught physical education for a year before transitioning to coaching for five years at Pat’s Peak in New Hampshire. There her students included Pam Fletcher, who became an Olympic skier, and Julie Woodworth, her sister who went on to the U.S. Ski Team. As part of a coaching team at Pats Peak, she helped start the Pats Peak Academy where she became the head J3/4 coach and worked with many youngsters who headed to Vermont programs and went on to prominence in the sport. 

Neal moved on to the Stratton Mountain School where she taught biology and coached Junior I and II racers for seven years. During this time, she married John Neal, a racer, Okemo coach, and son of one of the early Okemo directors. She took time off when their children Abigail and Pearson were born and returned to coaching in 1985, becoming director of Okemo’s racing program starting with the 1986-87 season. She was one of only a few women to head a major racing program at a U.S. ski area at that time.  

In 1988, the growing program left the purview of the ski school to become its own department. The duties of the new and expanded Okemo Competitions Department included: coordinating and running all the races; oversight and coaching for all the development and Junior teams, local schools’ race instruction, and NASTAR program; and supplying coaching for the Black River High School Ski Team and later the Okemo Mountain School. Under Neal’s direction, Okemo’s competitions program grew and expanded to include freestyle and snowboarding competitors. 

Neal also was a founder of the Okemo Mountain School (OMS), a winter tutorial and competition training program that began in 1991-92. In 1993 Neal was recognized for her contributions to ski racing with induction into the Johnson State College Hall of Fame.

She left the Okemo program in 2002 to work at OMS as head of school and continued to coach. She was instrumental in the expansion of the school and its programs, adding academic leadership to her roles as a mentor, coach, and visionary for racing. In 2010, she left OMS and became the youth manager for the New York Ski Racing Association. In 2013, Neal fulfilled another passion, returning to Ludlow to become owner-chef of Stemwinder restaurant.

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