Stop by my office when you're in Park City," pleads Bill Skinner. "It's on the third floor. In the hallway. Next to the elevator and the men's bathroom."
Skinner, the animated, 45-year-old director of the U.S. Ski Association's Masters adult race program, isn't kidding. His cubicle is an odd afterthought at the U.S. Ski Team's headquarters, a converted storage closet packed with schedules, posters, race equipment, medals, newspaper clippings and passion. Don't mistake quantity of space for quality of work. "The trains run on time around here," Skinner promises.
This fast-talking New Jersey native is the Pied Piper of serious adult ski racing in the U.S., a level of competition just above Nastar. In an office of one, Skinner oversees 12 regional divisions of Masters racing, 2,000 competitors from age 21 to 90 and more than 160 races at 75 resorts. He spends his days cajoling volunteers, pursuing sponsors (he's still searching for a big national backer), reworking schedules and generally spreading the word on the benefits of adult racing.
This season he's more excited than ever because the downhill and super G at his showcase event, the 2001 U.S. Masters National Championships, will be run on the 2002 Olympic downhill course at Snowbasin, Utah. That means that anybody with the heart and commitment can sign up to race Masters, qualify for the nationals and compete on the same hill that will host Maier, Kjus, Fleischer and Street in 2002.
"Wouldn't it be great to say 'been there, done that' while sipping a beer and watching Hermann Maier race the Olympic downhill on TV?" asks Skinner, who has won a handful of Masters national titles himself. Skinner's fellow Masters competitors agree, among them Bernie Ortman, an Alaskan fishing and hunting guide who spends his winters in Montana. Tim "Swampy" Lamarche, chief of racing at Snowbasin, recruited Ortman to forerun the Olympic course two seasons ago. "We were running the U.S. nationals here," Swampy recalls, "and we couldn't find anyone to forerun. Bernie just showed up, towing a Harley on his way somewhere, full beard and a funny look in his eye. He had a Masters license, which took care of insurance concerns, so we figured he'd do. He was pretty much our crash-test dummy."
The 45-year-old Ortman, who was national Masters downhill champion in his age class in 1999, was more than happy to oblige. But now he's ready to race legit in the Masters nationals. "After all," he says, "if I ever grow up I can tell my kids I raced the Olympic downhill."
Don't get too far ahead of yourself, recreational racers. While Masters competitors range from ex-pros to recent converts to the gates, competing in downhill at this level takes talent¿and guts. Skinner is a superb slalom and GS skier, but he grew up on a small hill in New Jersey and never had much experience with the long boards¿until this season. "God have mercy on me," says the Pied Piper as he trains for Snowbasin.
Rosie Moschel, a 49-year-old Salt Lake legal secretary and perennial Masters downhill champion, passes along this sage advice: "Just keep going faster, faster...until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."
The Snowbasin Masters super G and downhill events are March 26-30.