BY Becky Munsterer
The first time I saw U.S. Ski Team racer Caroline Lalive's Chevy commercial, I turned to mush. The reenactment of her father driving her to races and supporting her through thick and thin played out like a Hallmark card on my TV screen. I felt foolish for crying at a truck ad, but it resonated with an emotional aspect of a female racer's life: her relationship with her dad.
I know that not every racer's mentor is her father. Ski moms, ski coaches and plain old ski heroes also inspire young women to push themselves to ski fast. However, the truth is that ski-racing dads are a breed apart, supporting their little girls in a sport that other fathers might frown upon. Ski dads allow their daughters to wear skin-tight suits and send them ripping down ice-covered slopes to see how fast they can go without crashing.
Years ago, my own father built a ropetow in our backyard in New Jersey after the local ski area closed. In his mind, this hill would allow my younger sister and me to train in the morning before we boarded the school bus with smiles on our faces. In reality, he dragged us out of bed at 6 a.m., encouraging us as we complained between runs about being cold. He had one thing right, however: We did hop on the bus with smiles on our faces, talking in stage whispers about skiing on our own mountain.
My dad expanded Mt. Munsterer into a family obsession. Autumns were spent cutting brush on our ski hill. Springs were spent rolling up the ropetow. The "Mighty Mount Munsterer Annual Slalom Cup" was our reward every January when friends and family competed to be the fastest racer in the neighborhood. The rules were simple: 1) No cross-blocking the bamboo gates; 2) no arguing with the hand-timer, a.k.a. Mom. It was a far reach from an FIS race, but competition was fierce. Afterward, the kids would sled down the ruts while Dad and his friends drank beer and ate homemade ziti at our house¿which now seems to be a better celebration of Father's Day than any sugary greeting card I'll send him next month.
I raced in the Eastern Junior Olympics and the Eastern FIS circuit throughout high school in the mid-Nineties, competing at tiny ski areas only ski dads could love. During this time, my father had a routine that regulated his weekends, like other ski dads have today. On a typical race weekend, a ski dad wakes up his daughter at 5 a.m. and drives her three hours to a cold mountain while she sleeps in the car. He feeds her granola bars and sneaks a chocolate kiss into her pocket for "extra energy" in the start gate¿even though her coach disapproves. He doesn't buy a ticket because of the money spent on her entry fee, so he hikes up the mountain carrying the "good-luck cowbell" his wife has asked him to ring for their daughter. He makes small talk with fur-covered parents who flew in from the Swiss Alps to see little Marta race. He secretly hopes his little girl will kick Marta's butt, but ends up consoling his weeping daughter after she hooks a tip in the second run. He sleeps in a Motel 6 after dinner so he can bring her to the GS race the next day.
A few years later, he sees his little girl grow from a helmet-drooping 9-year-old to a J1 racer who takes off for long weekends with a coach named Lars. She has a wax technician, trainer and nutritionist, and she spends race night in a condo with her team watching videotapes of racing techniques. She has hundreds of strangers cheering her on with cowbells.
However one thing has not changed...her dad still puts a Hershey's Kiss in her pocket for "extra energy." She pops it in while her coach isn't looking, and heads to the start with a smile. She now has another reason to kick some Swiss booty.