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Racers finally see snow on slopes Skiers have had no practice time

The word from the World Cup ski circuits has been dire. Due to a lack of snow, there have been races postponed and seasons delayed. New York racers aren't sympathetic. As the old men in that Monty Python skit would say, "luxury."

The Western New York racing season was scheduled to hit full stride about a week before the arrival of winter weather. So not many races have been lost, just the time to train for them.

"It's like if you were a track team and your first day of practice was a meet," said Paul Connelly, head of the race program at Buffalo Ski Club, on Wednesday, the fourth day the facility has been open this year.

"It puts stress and pressure on the athletes and coaches," Connelly added. "I know our first race last week our kids were tentative. Not being on snow gave our kids some self doubt in the confidence category. You've got to do it freeskiing before you can do it in gates."

This pressure led Rich Rumfola, coach of the JIII racers (ages 13-14) at Kissing Bridge, to take some drastic action. He held a scheduled practice after rain shut the area down.

The difference between racing in the younger age groups and at the JIII level is the courses are harder, steeper and longer. He believed he had to put his kids through at least one practice for their own safety.

"I know I had races coming, so going home was not an option," he said, even though the conditions were "miserable."

Management let him use two slopes that had been open, but no lifts were running. So for six hours, Rumfola had them hiking up and skiing down, part of the time through a 10-gate course he set up on Coal Chute.

It was the first time running gates for Evan Korn of Orchard Park. The first time he saw a race course, last weekend at Labrador and Toggenburg, Korn had to go down it. He finished all four runs.

Connie Webster of the New York State Ski Racing Association said the lack of snow has been a problem region wide.

"Whiteface has struggled as much as Western New York," she said. "Holiday Valley had the best snow in the state for a while; that shows you the state of the state.

"Our kids have not had ample time on the snow. . . . A lot of our little guys who got new skis had not skied on them until they left the starting gate."

She said ski areas are bending over backwards to help racers. Connelly said Holiday Valley has been especially helpful, opening its slopes to his team for two days.

"They have been fantastic. We are so appreciative for what they did," Connelly said.

The biggest losers have been the freestyle and cross-country skiers as not enough snow has fallen for either to compete.

Byrncliff, the cross-country resort in Varysburg, has been open for only eight days.

Perhaps no one has felt the lack of snow more than Andy Minier, a member of the U.S. Telemark team who is still competing at the elite level at the age of 38.

Minier, who works with the racers at Kissing Bridge, is going to Germany and Switzerland for the World Cup Finals and the World Championships in late March.

He has been forced to do most of his training in the gym, which is strengthening and preserving his body.

"Hopefully, being forced to slow down I'll be stronger at the end of the year, not as beat up. Usually by March I have a hard time walking down stairs without using the railing," he said.

He finally did some gate training last weekend and will use Alpine races to hone his technique.

"My wife very much enjoyed the beginning of this season because I was working 9 to 5 and was home for dinner," Minier said. "Now it's a little condensed. I will eat and breathe racing for six weeks now that everyone has snow."

Telemark skiers must pay their own travel and training expenses. So on Feb. 4, the day he is holding his Telemark Festival, his bosses are throwing him a fund-raiser. Details will be posted at kbski.com. There should be a lot of racers there. They can use the practice.

e-mail: fdoyle@buffnews.com

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