Down East 2013 ©
Anyone who has ever clicked into a set of skis can attest to the challenge of just getting down the hill in one piece. Now try it wearing a full set of firefighter’s bunker gear and hauling a fifty-foot section of fire-hose.
That’s what happens every winter at Sunday River, where up to eighteen fire departments race each other on the giant slalom gates of the Tempest trail, one of the resort’s challenging runs. “The physics involved in managing the hose is pretty dramatic,” remarks Eric Topper, a volunteer with the Newry Fire Department who has participated as a telemark skier in the past two of the event’s twenty-year history. “You want your strongest skier in the back, because the whip effect is pretty strong back there.”
Topper and all the others who take part in this oddball competition (it’s scheduled for March 27 this year) are quick to point out that while the course attire is silly, the goal is not. The Fireman’s Race is part of a weekend-long ski-a-thon that raised $330,000 for Maine Handicapped Skiing last year, largely through these firefighting-skiers’ entry fees, chili cook-offs, and other slopeside fundraisers. “For someone with a disability, the expenses over a lifetime are a million dollars-plus,” says Peter Adams, executive director of Maine Handicapped Skiing.
“We feel it’s really important to reduce that barrier to encourage people to try what we do.” Thanks to events like this one, Maine Handicapped Skiers helps disabled skiers enjoy the mountains without spending a dime, covering everything from lift tickets to assistants and even the use of five-thousand-dollar “sit-skis” that let wheelchair-bound participants zip down even the most challenging mogul run.
That’s a laudable goal, but even Adams admits the annual Fireman’s Race is about fun as much as fundraising. “You get into that silly time of the year where it’s warm enough, there’s still a lot of snow on the ground, and the light is wonderful,” he says. “This is really a celebration of the season.”