By Merisa Sherman
Like so many East Coasters, I grew up ski racing. It was an excuse to ski. The better I got, the more days we could pack onto the weekend. Commitment meant we would practice drills at my home mountain after school midweek. We couldn’t get enough. I raced from childhood through college, traveling around mid-Vermont and later New England, and no matter where we went, this obsession with ski racing was part of every community. For many of us, The East is simply a collection of ski areas.
We might have grown up hearing the stories, but we never saw any great ski racers. There hadn’t been a World Cup race in Vermont for 40 years. Not one. I had posters of Julie Parisien and Diane Roffe hanging in my room, but I never saw them. Growing up, I wondered why our love of ski racing wasn’t enough. World Cup ski racing was a dream, something that happened far away across the world, in Europe or Colorado with fur coats and $5,000 jackets. Our mountains were too small; our speed suits were handed down and held together with duct tape. Vermont and her gritty skiers … we just didn’t fit in.
Until six years ago.
That weekend a miracle happened. Almost 30,000 people from around the East Coast gathered in Killington to prove to the world what we have always known. No one — and I mean no one — loves skiing more than us.
I was shaking that first morning in 2016. Superstar, the trail we live on all spring long, on which I got my 200th day, and the trail my dad claimed was his favorite, was awash in the blues and reds of ski racing. The familiar logos of the mid-Vermont ski areas blended in with the flags of ski racing countries like Sweden, France, Norway and Switzerland. They had actually come.
As a community, we had hoped for 5,000 spectators. My eyes were huge as I watched what we would eventually find out was five times that many. If you lived close enough and had ever ski raced, you showed up. Period. It was surreal as we watched our home mountain claim its place as the epicenter of the ski world. Just. Like. That.
And then the race began and the crowd rose up with a roar that had never been heard before in the United States. We knew that. Everyone in that crowd knew what was happening. We were making history. We were making a statement. We were showing the world how much skiing means to us.
It didn’t matter what country the lady racer hailed from, we respected their commitment and dedication to the same love we ourselves shared. And so we would cheer. We cheered together. We cheered as Vermonters. As East Coasters. As skiers. For the first time, we were able to gather as one and show our love of skiing and ski racing to the world.
As the first racer crossed the finish line, I had tears streaming down my face. I tried to hold them back, and heard the BF ask, “Are you crying?” I started to bristle and then noticed that he was crying, too. I looked around and saw tears in the eyes of almost everyone around me. The moment was understood, the suffering was over and a huge sense of relief and glory filled the air.
We had international ski racing here, at Killington, in Vermont. The place where I have spent more of my life than anywhere else. I grew up here. I trained here. You could literally watch the “White Circus” while taking a run on the old Snowdon Triple. I have literally practiced slalom on Superstar. And now it was a World Cup venue.
I never wanted the weekend to end. I cheered my heart out, literally ran down the Killington Road to work the dinner shift and then partied till last call. Just like everyone else in town. We read every article and watched every video. Remember when the entire state pitched in and sent every single bus and portable toilet to Killington after the unexpected turnout on Saturday? Remember when the lady racers wrote thank you notes when they never had before? Or when our hearts exploded after hearing Mikaela say we were her favorite venue, the best crowd and that she couldn’t wait to come back next year?
And do you remember why? It was because every single person, whether an employee, volunteer or a spectator, brought everything they had to this party. Not because it was our job or our duty but because Killington, because Vermont, because the East Coast simply loves skiing. That weekend, we made this little girl’s dream come true. We showed the world that the spirit of skiing and love of the mountains is alive and well in Vermont, sinter’s original state.
And this weekend, we will show them all over again.