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On a warm autumn morning in 1977, I was sitting in my office, finishing my first cup of coffee, when the phone rang. It was Candi Sperry, something of a foul-weather friend from Massachusetts. I rarely see Candi in summer, but when the days grow gray and cold and I take to the ski slopes of New England, she often joins me. She had just returned from a preseason show where she had picked up a couple of entry blanks for a ski marathon to be held Dec. 16-17 at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Twenty-four hours of continuous skiing, proceeds to go to Easter Seals. Her question: Should we enter?
We talked it over for a while, I hemmed, she hawed. It would be nice to report that support of a charity spurred us on, but charity wasn't the motivating factor. We figured that skiing for 24 hours might cost Blue Cross more than we would donate to Easter Seals. Ultimately, what made us decide to try it was the challenge, a chance to do something neither of us had ever done before.
This weird event began in Minnesota in 1976, where Chris Vaness and Rick Napurski set the world record for skiing continuously for 50 hours and 17 minutes. That got their names in the Guinness Book of World Records. The next year a couple of Easterners went after the record at Bretton Woods and one of them, Mark Filtranti, grabbed it by skiing 51 hours, two minutes. Then, in December, Bretton Woods and Easter Seals decided to turn the stunt into a competition.
The rules seemed straightforward. Beginning at 9 a.m., the competitors were to ski down and be chairlifted back up the same slope continuously for 24 hours. They would be allowed five-minute breaks each hour to warm the toes and eat a snack. After 24 hours, the Easter Seals part of the event would be over. Sponsoring organizations and individuals that had pledged money-per-hour would then pay up. Any ambitious athlete wishing to shoot for Filtranti's record was free to continue; no charge for extra lift tickets.
On the eve of the competition Candi and I drove to Bretton Woods, near Mount Washington in the northeastern part of the state, and prepared for a good night's sleep. But first a friend who worked at the resort bought us a beer at a local tavern. And then another. And another. The crowd in the little pub was feisty, the ambience very European, very Scandinavian. Ingemar Stenmark trained like this, we kept telling ourselves.
We got to bed too late, and, not surprisingly, awoke too late to eat our scheduled carbohydrate-laden Aunt Jemima breakfast. We grabbed a couple of granola bars on our way out the door.
Minutes later 50 of us gathered at the slope, and after three gang starts for the television cameras, the skiathon was underway. Twenty-four hours later eight of us would still be on the slopes; fifty-two hours later the number would be two.
Many classic sporting types were on hand as participants or spectators. They included:
The Old Champ—Filtranti, a spectator, was checking skiers to make sure breaks didn't exceed five minutes per hour. I thought this was a conflict of interest, considering we were after his record, but Filtranti was a genuinely helpful fellow dispensing a number of useful tips to keep us going. "It's all mental." "Remember, five minutes at the end of one hour and five at the beginning of the next gives you a 10-minute break." "Ski right down, your rest comes on the chairlift."
The New Champs—A couple of teenagers from Massachusetts dethroned Filtranti by skiing for 52 hours. (Pat Purcell and John McGlynn now hold the record, 81 hours and 12 minutes.) When it was all over neither Chris Poulsen nor David Bono looked like the clich�d competitor who says he could easily do it all over again. Their first request upon finishing: Would the bar break its rules and serve a kid a beer?