SARANAC LAKE, NY (Oct. 5) – There are two significant road signs along the winding highway leading from Lake Champlain to the Adirondack Mountains.
The first is stark green and marks Fletcher Farm road in Vermontville, population 853. It reads “Home of Billy Demong, Olympic gold and silver champion.” Roughly 10 miles later is another welcoming travelers to Saranac Lake. This one plainly states “Home of the 1996 State Champion Cross Country Team.”
Demong referenced the second when addressing a group of hundreds Monday at the village owned Dewey Mountain Ski Center, half were piled into a blue and white tent, the others spilling across the lawn. Waist high children made loops of the tent and adjacent playground as proud parents looked on. His mother Helen and father Leo among them.
It was there that Demong and fellow biathlon Olympians Tim Burke trained for that 1996 Saranac Lake High School title.
Demong was home, supporting a fundraising campaign to replace a boxy jobsite trailer and antiquated log cabin that currently serves as the Dewey Mountain base lodge.
“Much of my life on and off snow was spent on this mountain,” said Demong as Congressman Bill Owens and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey looked on. Fellow Olympians and U.S. Ski Team members Andy Newell(Shaftbury,VT) and Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO) sat a few seats away.
“I grew up not only training here several nights a week for skiing, but also running here in the fall for cross country. I know everyone drives by that state cross country champions sign – it’s still there right,” he joked. “Well, we did a large amount of our running here too. This is definitely a centerpiece of this community and the idea of us rejuvenating this venue is something I’ve been dreaming about.”
Founded in sync with the 1980 Olympic Winter Games held in nearby Lake Placid, Dewey Mountain is one of two winter hubs for the Saranac Lake community. The other is Mt. Pisgah, which Olympic bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) and Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) helped support an effort to build a new T-Bar during the U.S. Alpine Championships held in Lake Placid. With a humble 15 kilometers, it’s not an Olympic venue, but it was enough to inspire Demong and Burke.
“This isn’t a hometown crowd as much as it is a reunion, especially all the parents I see with kids who grew up with me and skiied with me. My career definitely started here,” he said. “Saranac Lakes’ own contingent of the Bill Koch Youth Ski League has spawned so many successful athletes over the years and I want to make sure that continues.”
In addition to an area wide campaign driven by the local Rotary Club, Demong’s favorite caffeine stop, Adirondack Bean-To Coffee, is pitching in with a limited “Hammer Down” roast inspired by Demong. A portion of every one pound bag sold will go directly to Dewey Mountain.
“I can honestly say that I never envisioned my picture on a bag of coffee, but that’s the kind of support you get from small communities like this,” said Demong. “The name actually comes from the Alpine Team. Weibrecht and all those speed guys are always yelling ‘hammer down’ in the start. Well, it’s time to put the hammer down on this project.”
As soon as the formal program ended Demong stepped away from the tent. The playground immediately emptied as a new generation approached their hero for an autograph. Not far behind stood their parents holding bags of coffee and looking for the same thing.
For more information on Dewey Mountain, check out www.deweyskicenter.com.