Skiing The Good Life
Retirement. The golden years. Sunny Florida winter mornings spent reading the obits and sports pages, and lazy afternoons lulled away by playing checkers and shuffleboard. Sound good? For some folks, maybe, but it's not what everyone wants.
Take, for instance, the example of Ed Westervelt of North Conway. Not that he's ready to be put out to pasture anyway, but for Ed, early retirement from the New England Telephone Company this past November has opened up a whole new way of life and a second career. Yep, Ed is now what he's always aspired to be: a ski bum.
A youthful and ever-cheerful 58 years young, Ed is the oldest, and newest, member of the Mt. Cranmore Ski Patrol. The new guy in the patrol shack is old enough to be the father of some of his patrol colleagues, but Ed has had no trouble fitting in.
That's because Ed is new only to patrolling, not to the mountain. Active in the Eastern Slope Ski Club Junior Program and in the formation of the Cranmore Ski Educational Foundation, the Kearsarge Road resident has been working in the timing shack at races at Mt. Cranmore since the early I970s. "I knew most everyone by their first name when I started patrolling in December, and everyone else I've gotten to know in the days since. And let me tell you, this is a great bunch of people. I'm having a ball! I mean that. I've never done anything like this before," Ed laughed.
A tollman for Ma Bell in his native Asbury Park, N.J., Ed asked for a transfer in 1967, anxious to raise his three children in a good community atmosphere. When an opening for a tollman occurred in Conway, Ed and his wife, Carol, accepted the offer and moved to Mt. Washington Valley, even though neither one of them had ever visited the region. None of the Westervelts skied when they first moved to the Valley, but that soon changed.
"Our daughter, Cathy, came home from school one day and asked Carol and I if she could join something called the 'Junior Program,' which we had never heard of before. Once we found out what a great program it was, we said, 'Sure,' and Cath got a pair of skis and soon she was teaching her brothers," Ed recalled.
Ed's neighbor, Linda Call, loaned him a pair of skis, and soon he was out in the back yard, 'schussing' down a little slope. Then he and Carol took the big plunge, buying a pair of skis from a local hardware store in 1970. Lessons at the Hannes Schneider Ski School followed, and by then, Ed was hooked. "I never thought I'd get out of Otto Tschol's stem turn class. I think I was in that for two years. I also skied a lot with Dick Call of Albany and with [Cranmore instructor] John McDonald," Ed related.
Like many Mt, Washington Valley parents, once the Westervelts' three children became involved in the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Junior Program, so did Carol and Ed. They both served the club in a variety of ways, with Carol serving as president and Ed as vice president, but never simultaneously. It was Ed, together with Paul Gagnon, who devised the format for the club's annual used equipment ski sale, Ed noted.
The sale, which is held annually to raise funds for the club [it raised approximately $7000 this year alone, its highest ever] previously was nothing more than an equipment swap. Skiers could sell their equipment, but the club received no profits from the transactions. Then, taking a cue from a ski sale in Portland, Maine, in the mid-1970s, Ed proposed a new format to Connie Briggs, the club's longtime Junior Program coordinator.
"We contacted the local shops, and we devised a plan where the club would receive 10 percent from all sales at the ski sale and we also instituted a 25 cent registration fee. We made $500 for the club that year," Ed proudly related. "Over the years, it's blossomed from there."
Ed and fellow Mt. Washington Valley ski enthusiasts founded the Cranmore Ski Educational Foundation in 1974 to serve the needs of young racers. "Before the program; if you were a top racer, you had to wing it on your own, really. But businesses in the Valley—particularly Carroll Reed's—would loan kids equipment and wouldn't ask for any payment until the end of the year, and they really always supported young skiers. The foundation was formed by parents to help out those racers." Ed said.
Using his expertise with the phone company, Ed took care of timing in the race shack, while Carol registered racers and recorded results. Their son, Mark, meanwhile, raced, and their other children, Cathy and Teddy, helped as gatekeepers. "For ever so long, Carol would register kids in the morning and give them their race bibs, and I'd time them. We saw a lot of sunrises together, driving kids to races. But you know, we were always glad we did it, because that program was great for the kids, and it taught them a lot of self discipline. And if you know me, if it's good for the kids, then fine., I'm for it. When you talk about the Eastern Slope Ski Club," Ed added, "you're talking of people who really donate their time and resources for the benefit of the kids."
That sense of community involvement has made the Westervelts one of the more popular and active couples in the Valley. Carol until recently served as administrator of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, and now works for a local newspaper, while Ed has been ever ready to help out with community causes.
When New England Telephone offered Ed the option of transferring to Laconia this past fall or taking early retirement, Ed went for the latter. "New technology, fiberoptics, meant that my job of maintaining the system wouldn't be as needed, and they were consolidating that service in the Laconia office. I didn't feel like driving 110 miles each day in my own car to get to work, so, after 36 years with the company, I opted for early retirement," Ed said.
As part of their job requirements, telephone tollmen must be certified for CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) and first aid. Combining those qualifications with his love for skiing, Ed set out last fall in search of the job he had always wanted: that of a ski patroller at his home mountain, Mt. Cranmore.
"I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I decided to become a ski patroller," Ed said. Meeting with Cranmore officials Kevin Donovan, Randy (Freddie "Go-Nuts") Jones and David 'Duck" Skolfield, Ed was told no part-time help was needed for the patrol. "I'm not talking about weekend help—I'm available full time." Ed told them. He was hired, and he's been hav-ing the time of his life ever since.
"He's fit in perfectly with us. We like to create an atmosphere of family, and Ed has become part of it. He's doing a helluva job," said Skolfield, the former director of the Cranmore Ski Patrol and now the area's director of risk management.
Skolfield noted that ski patrollers have to not only be good skiers, they must also be good judges of character. Part policemen, part medics, they serve as ambassadors for a ski area, deftly handling situations that arise out on the ski slopes. Ed's congenial manner serves him well in that capacity.
"I haven't had to yank anyone's lift ticket yet, and you usually don't have to: You just talk to people and tell them to slow down, and they say they're sorry and that's the end of it. The big part of the job is being out there, helping out people and showing your concern. You help beginners find an easier route down the mountain, and try to get them to relax to have fun with skiing," Ed said.
When trouble does arise, the ski patrollers are quick to the rescue. It's all business then, and Ed and his fellow patrollers see to it that proper medical care is administered. Equipped with two-way radios, they are ever ready to respond to an accident.
Up at 6 a.m., and on the job by 7:30 weekdays, and up at 5 a.m. weekends to be at work by 6:30, Ed leaves the mountain after doing the end-of-the-day sweep of the trails at 4 p.m. The work is physically demanding, Ed notes, but somehow, it doesn't seem like work.
"It's hard work. It's much more physical than what I've been doing for the past 23 years. I've already taken a notch off my belt. But I can't tell you how much fun I'm having. It's what I've always wanted to do," he laughed. Added his wife, Carol, "I couldn't be happier for him. He really loves it, and I think it's wonderful that he's doing it."