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A sun-drenched Red Parka Pub Challenge

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 23, 2010 09:30 AM

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It's 63 degrees and I'm standing on a sun-drenched comp slope at Attitash in Bartlett, N.H., amidst a hundred or so cooler-toting others. We're watching some of the region's best amateur ski racers flash by in snow that is increasingly turning to mush, when the race announcer seems to be directly taunting me.

 

"On a day like this, how could you not have already had a frosty one?"

 

I'm one of a handful on Spillway that hasn't enjoyed one. If you count the kids, I'm probably one of three.

 

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The weather brought perfect spectator conditions for last Friday's 37th Annual Red Parka Pub Challenge, even if it impacted the race course much differently, transforming a portion of the dual grand slalom course into a gully that caused for some adjustment from skiers. That sparked some panic amongst the skiers who had to face such treacherous terrain.

 

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OK, that's a lie. After all, while the racers were genuinely serious about the level of competition they brought to the race, all you really need to know about the laid-back atmosphere the Challenge breeds is that even the starting gate attendant gave the ready signal with brew in hand much of the afternoon. The racers, like myself, had to wait.

 

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Well, that's actually another lie, for this had to be the first ski competition I've ever attended where the runner-ups stopped at "the bump" a pro-style jump midway down the course, to share a beer with the crowd before moving onward to finish the race. For those who want to decry that sort of behavior in the same vein as Bode Miller skiing with a wee bit of a hangover, the whole experience at the Challenge seems to have a message for you: Chill out.

 

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The Red Parka Pub (one of our favorite ski town bars, you know) Challenge was started (at now-defunct Tyrol Ski Area before moving to Black Mountain and Attitash, where it has been held annually since the late-70's) by the steakhouse's late patriarch Dewey Mark – and spearheaded today by his daughter and Pub co-owner Terry O'Brien - as a way to fund junior high ski programs. It is believed to be the oldest dual-style GS race in the country.

 

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The Eastern Slope Ski Club Junior Programs  have bred some of the region's best skiers, including Friday's winner in the men's "A" Division, Ben Drummond, and ladies' division, Heather Drummond, and recent Olympian and Conway native Leanne Smith, who became the 2010 downhill national champion last month in Aspen, Colo.

 

In essence, the Red Parka Pub Challenge has lent itself to aid thousands of kids over the years with the opportunity to learn to ski, something that didn't exist in the Mount Washington Valley until the advent of the competition.

 

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On a day like Friday, when race conditions were far from perfect, it really didn't matter, since the atmosphere was indeed ideal. Just remind me to pack a can or two next time I'm observing from the sidelines.  

 

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Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.

Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.

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