Chasing the Flow of Skiing with Alison Owen-Bradley

FasterSkierNovember 25, 2005

As a skier, you see the world. Eating reindeer sausages and cloud berries in Finland. Drinking Glug in Norway on New Years. Watching a wild pack of moose trot briskly by on a suburban Alaskan street. Writing helps put in their rightful place the incomplete remembrance of roads taken, breakdowns, misdirections, potholes, and detours of my days on the road chasing snow.

Being around people in sometimes such tight accommodations, you find out insights from the oddest of places. Skiing isn't scripted Hollywood. The races don't happen in La Jolla, California or Laguna Beach. Hugh Hefner hasn't invited me or my teammates over to the Playboy Mansion at the season's end – yet. But as a skier I get to see a real slice of Americana. Of the honest people I've recently met, meeting up with Alison Bradley in Boise, Idaho stands out.

Ski fans might remember her as little Alison Owen. As a Winter Olympian in 1972 and 1980 book marked around her win in the first ever women's World Cup in Telemark, Wisconsin, Alison helped put the United States on the ski world's map. As much as Andy Newell or I might try, Alison did it brilliantly before us.

“I always felt really lucky to get into sports when I did,” begins Alison. “Women's sports were just getting going as I grew up in Wenatchee (Washington) in the '60s. I could have easily missed out on the whole thing. Before then, there wasn't skiing for girls. A few Alaska ski clubs let girls let come out, but they weren't allowed to race. I lucked out. Herb Thomas started the Wenatchee ski program. My dad, brothers, sister and I were always running around in the mountains. I first got into alpine but once I tried cross-country I knew I found my real love. Hiking, climbing, running in the mountains — cross-country just suited me.”

“The Wenatchee Valley had this tight group of people with a solid knowledge about skiing, from how to buy skis to training us. Skiing, that's just how I grew up. Training for nordic skiing, that's what I did after school. I then went backpacking on weekends. I contribute this to my dad more than where I grew up. Alcoa Aluminum asked him countless times to transfer to Pittsburgh or wherever to move up in the company. He wouldn't do it because he wanted to live in a community where we could ski and be in the mountains. He gave up so much in his own career so that we could stay and ski and live the mountain life in the Cascades. Having a ski team was a natural progression. My neighborhood was my ski team.

“Instead of going to the mall, my neighborhood friends would get together and go ski training. Five girls from a two-block section of East Wenatchee were all on the US Ski Team together! We never took skiing very serious from a traditional standpoint. We just trained a lot. We just pushed each other on the ski trails for the simple reason that it was just a lot more enjoyable than hanging out with another group of girls after school at the mall.”

In approaching sports from a new perspective, Alison took skiing to new heights. “In endurance sports the bottom line is, 'How fast are you?' This is the point, says Alison. “I still see this missing today. Skiing's about balance, quickness, timing, using your strength well, however much you have. It's not how tough you are. It's not how strong you are. It's how dog gone fast you are. Speed is elusive. To get faster is a trick. You can get stronger, you can get in better shape, but the point is to go faster from point to point. Keeping speed as the bottom line cannot be missed. This is what ski training should be after. Too often, we miss this. Only working on the masculine, be-more-aggressive, use-more-power, aspects of skiing are not the answers to skiing your best. I've always thought, and felt with my own skiing, that I skied better when really keying into the easier, lighter, softer qualities of speed.”

Alison still remembers her Wenatchee roots, especially when the valley rallied behind her before the 1972 Sapporo Olympics. “In sports you need people to care. We need communities that support cross country skiing. You need people to care. You need it. When I went to Sapporo in '72 the strength I got from the Wenatchee Valley supporting me was intense. It was incredible. This spurred me on.

“The town did this huge fundraising thing, getting my mom over for the Olympics. I didn't know she'd be there. That was so special. Wenatchee and the whole valley there were really behind what I was doing. Ron Steele (from the same community) made the jump team. When we came back Ron and I grand marshaled the Apple Blossom Parade. Wenatchee had Alison Owen day. Big banners were put up all around town. I really felt support from the Wenatchee Valley. People saw cross country skiing as something really cool.

“I gave my best, didn't come in last, so Sapporo was okay. It was a start. I left with a feeling of being excited about racing and a community behind me. This will forever be one of my fondest memories.”

Makes tingles run down your spine, doesn't it?


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