Featured, Local News

Interview with Laurie Canterbury and Hairball

Laurie Canterbury and how Hairball came to be

By Karen D. Lorentz
Laurie Canterbury volunteers with the mountain ambassador team at Killington Resort. She was born in Palmer, Mass., and lives on the same small lake where she grew up. She loves the peacefulness and the outdoors and learned to ski at a “three-trail ski hill” in Palmer in her teens.

“Everyone in town would go to ski there,” she said, noting she skied at night for $3 and that her then boyfriend taught her to ski. She joined the high school ski club and recalls her very first ski trip was to Killington where she “fell in love” with the mountain.

After graduating from Palmer High in 1973, she attended Springfield Community College where she studied nursing and graduated with an associate’s degree in 1975. Due to the intensive program and becoming a RN there were several years when she didn’t get to ski much.

She started out in pediatrics and worked in a small hospital in various departments, including the emergency room and maternity ward. Later on, further studies resulted in becoming a Certified Rehabilitation RN.

“I will have 43 years of nursing in May,” Canterbury said, adding that now in a pre-retirement job, she does a lot of teaching while working at a physical rehab hospital.

“We work with people who have had strokes, been seriously injured in auto accidents, or have suffered traumatic brain injuries. We teach people 18 and older how to swallow, eat, talk, walk and do other things. It’s like starting from scratch. Or there may be memory issues and we help them come back. It can be very sad if a young person can’t make a full recovery.”

With alternating weekend shifts, Canterbury and her former husband skied regularly again, and by 1985 they realized that they were skiing more than 20 days a year. “That was the break-even point for getting a season pass,” she explained, saying they chose Killington due to “its terrain variety, no two trails being alike, and long season.”

Q&A with Laurie Canterbury

Mountain Times: When did you become an Ambassador and what led to your doing this volunteer work?
Laurie Canterbury: I began ambassadoring in 1996. I had divorced by then and my best friend’s husband, who had been a ski patrol director at Mt. Tom, was out of a job when it closed, so he joined Otter Ski Patrol. Needing something to do, Marianna and I applied to the Ambassador program. It was much smaller then and we were lucky to get in. There were about 40 of us working under the program director, Janis Albrecht.

MT: With your background, how come you didn’t become a ski patroller?
LC: I get that question a lot. Ski patrol would have been too much like work. It’s nice to work in a recreational environment when you have a demanding job – it’s a change that helps you face challenging work.

MT: What was the ambassador work like 22 years ago?
LC: It was more skiing back then. We didn’t have radios or cellphones, so we didn’t always know what was going on where – like if a lift went down. It was harder to give information to guests back then because we weren’t connected by [two-way] radio or cell communications. So we would ski around and give directions as needed. Or if we found someone who was hurt, we would send three skiers to the bottom of the lift to tell them to call the patrol. Now we use radios, and communications are so much easier.

MT: What do you like about being an Ambassador?
LC: Helping people and the camaraderie among the Ambassadors – all ages and professions. It’s interesting to learn about what they have done in their lives.

Then there’s the people contact, we meet and work with all kinds of people. I try to make eye contact with people and get them to smile. I might give them a compliment from Hairball, like “Nice jacket.” It’s nice to see people enjoy themselves and I like sharing the joy of the sport and Killington. Some days 10 buses come in. When I did that my first year it took away my fear of public speaking. Today I do a lot of teaching in my work and have no problem with that now. It helped me in the job I do now.

MT: How did Hairball come about?
LC: One Thanksgiving – in the late 90s – when there wasn’t much snow on the ground, I was assigned to help out at the Ramshead children’s center as the kids couldn’t go out to ski. I brought a monkey puppet with me to entertain the kids and named him Hairball.

MT: Any fun stories?
LC: Back in ski house days, I came in and heard Hairball crying, “Laurie, help. Laurie, help.” He was hanging from the ceiling fan with a walkie talkie inside him yelling “Laurie, help.” Marianna’s husband Joe, who instigated this, has a good sense of humor. We took one of the old Hairball puppets and made him into a drag queen. She was hot and sang to Grizzly at his 60th birthday party. Hairball sang “Grizzly Baby” coming down the halfpipe (“Santa Baby” tune).

MT: What else do you do as an Ambassador?
LC: My friend Marianna and I do most of the training of new ambassadors. We came up with a training program so everybody knows same thing. I take them for the first day and talk to them about things we do, and we also tour every lodge. I explain things like how important it is to tell guests about frostbite and how to check each other. I use Grizzly’s saying: “Live in the gray, fly under the radar, and be where you are supposed to be on time; and common sense prevails.” It’s about being polite to guests, helpful, and above all service. The second day Marianna takes them out on snow and orients them to the on-mountain duties.

MT: What are the greatest changes you’ve seen at Killington?
LC: In past few years, I find season pass people are so much happier getting back to the old Killington. They brought back some events like the mogul challenge, pond skimming, and the spring celebration now known as Dazed and Defrosted. They’ve gone back to being the old Killington we knew when we were younger.

Hairball: a monkey tale for all ages

By Karen D. Lorentz
Some ski areas have mascots—humans who dress in up in animal outfits and interact with guests. Killington has Hairball.

Unlike most mascots, Hairball talks. He gives lots of high fives and fist bumps, occasionally goes snowboarding, and loves to sit on his mom’s shoulder. But mostly he likes to “monkey” around.

Q&A with Hairbal:

Mountain Times: So, what do you like doing?
Hairball: Well, I like to talk to kids. I greet them at Ramshead where my mom Laurie Canterbury is often stationed as an Ambassador. Those are the people in green jackets who help people. I sit on her shoulder and wave and have fun talking to kids.

Sometimes they’ve seen me on television and recognize me and come up to me. They think I’m a movie star or something. When Grizzly used to do the snow reports on TV, I would hide behind him and wave at the camera man or peek my head over his shoulder, so that’s how the people in TV land saw me.

MT: Sounds like you like to have fun. What else do you like to do?
H: If I see someone crying, I yell over to them and start up a conversation. I ask them if they have been skiing and things like that. Then if they seem to like me I might go up to them and give them a high five or fist bump. They stop crying because they forgot about what was bothering them. I like to see them smile. It makes me feel good to see them feel better.

MT: Do you interact with adults, too?
H: Oh yes. If my mom greets people arriving on a bus, I like to go with her and talk to them. Laurie’s gotten pretty good talking for me with her lips closed. One time a lady asked her if she went to ventriloquist school. That was nice. People remember my voice, too. They say it’s nice and childlike. Maybe that’s why kids like me so much.

When I go inside the lodge and meet kids and ask them if they have any bananas for me, I might lift their helmets to see if they have hidden any bananas there. They giggle.

MT: When were you born and how long have you been “monkeying” around the slopes?
H: You’ll have to ask my mom about that, I want to go say hi to that kid over there in the cool jacket and see if he has any bananas for me.

Photo by Pete Duffy
Killington ambassador Laurie Canterbury, with Hairball.

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