The start of this year’s Bill Koch League was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, coordinator Naima Green persevered and had the popular program up and running by early February. Of course, COVID-19 guidelines required considerable changes from the way the program has been run for more than a decade.
The Sunday afternoon activity is part of a national program for young skiers named for Vermonter Bill Koch, the first American Nordic skier to win both an Olympic medal (1976) and the overall World Cup (1982) The local program is run under the auspices of the Onion River Nordic Club. Green points out that the Montpelier Recreation Department also supports the program and provides administrative assistance with registration, although it is now closed for the season. Two more sessions of the BKL will happen on March 6 and 14.
With 35 kids participating, this year has seen more parental involvement than in years past. “Whereas in previous years the parents may have dropped off their kids, apart from our oldest group of skiers, parents must be present to help their kids out if they need anything — a dropped mitten, a troublesome binding, a hug!” Green explains.
In addition to masking, finding sufficient parking space and maintaining physical distancing provoked other challenges. “It’s been different this year because of COVID, and we’ve had to make some changes to the regular routine,” Green notes. “An example is splitting the groups up by venue so that there aren’t too many folks gathering at the same parking/starting location. We’ll have one group ski the Sparrow Farm fields, the other in Sherwood Forest, and a third group close to the Morse Farm Sugarworks on County Road. Wearing masks and trying our best to remain physically distant!”
The Feb. 28 Bill Koch League event at the Capitol City Golf Course, formerly the Elks Club, with ORNC groomed trails, might have brought back memories for some who are now of grandparent vintage. The location was reminiscent of the community’s first BKL in the late 1980s, when Eve and Paul Carnahan along with John Lazenby founded the local program. Grooming was then largely limited to skied-in tracks and side-stepping to pack a path on the steeper downhills.
Those young skiers grew up to participate on the Nordic teams at both Montpelier High School and U-32. About ten years ago Dan Voisin and Brian Carlson, along with other members of ORNC, re-energized the local BKL, including creating a summer program for junior skiers interested in training for ski racing. Pre-pandemic, BKL has had as many as 80 young skiers participating during the winter season.
Although racing is an option for young skiers, the focus is having fun — learning and refining technique is almost coincidental. The approach works well.
Ed. Note: This story was updated with additional information about Bill Koch and the group’s founding from John Lazenby.