It’s that time of the season when the most hardcore skiers start looking at their numbers, as in how many days they’ve hit the slopes since fall.
Downhill Dave doesn’t do that.
But he’s close to the top of the leader board at Wachusett Mountain anyway year after year, skiing nearly every day with his long beard, vintage 1976 Lange ski boots, pink hat and jacket formerly owned by the late Ralph Moberly, the hard-skiing Worcester bar and nightclub owner.
Don’t count, just ski
Meet Dave Burwick. At 71, he doesn’t count his days on the hill; he just racks them up.
He only tried to total up his days when I asked him, estimating them at about 65 so far this season (he usually gets about 100). He freely acknowledges that his buddy Everyday Eddy Beaulieu of Tewksbury has more days, but at 79, Beaulieu also has had a bit more time.
Burwick, a longtime executive at Worcester’s NAI Glickman Kovago Jacobs commercial real estate company, works out of his home in Millbury and sneaks out to Wachusett for an hour or a couple of hours nearly every day.
Wachusett regulars know Downhill Dave’s style — smooth and flowing on the descent.
Many of us also know how Burwick and his smile and laugh brightens our days when we see him. He’s an integral part of the community of skiers and snowboarders that makes our local ski area special.
Burwick is a spiritually uplifting guy who sees skiing as a means of self-expression. He sees the good in everyone even though he’s suffered more than his share of heartbreak with the death from cancer of his wife, Robin, three years ago, and the deaths of his three brothers.
“I’m thankful to be part of the Wachusett family and thankful to the Crowleys, people don’t realize what they do,” he said referring to the three siblings who own and run the ski area. “And people also don’t (appreciate) the teenagers who work in the parking lot and get there at 5:30 in the morning on a zero-degree day.”
It’s been Burwick’s custom for years to hand out candy bars to the parking lot workers and others as tokens of his appreciation.
“It’s really important for me to share that,” he said. “The people in the parking lot, the Crowleys, the snowmakers, everybody there. I’m just so thankful for what they do and give me the opportunity to ski all the time.”
Burwick has had plenty of practice on the slopes in his six-decade ski career. While he didn’t come from a skiing family, he strapped on skis for the first time at age 11 when a neighbor family in his native Worcester took him with him to Cannon Mountain in and Mittersill in Franconia, New Hampshire.
He took a lesson in the morning at the ski area, and it was the only ski lesson he’d have in his life.
Burwick soon started going to Wachusett as much as he could, riding the T-bar the mountain had in those days before the late Ralph Crowley Sr., father of Jeff Crowley, Carolyn Stimpson and David Crowley, who own the ski area now, acquired the lease to the place and began building into the modern area it is today.
After college, Burwick drove out west for 13 years for a long tour of the Colorado mountains.
For a long time, Burwick’s inseparable skiing partner was the legendary Moberly, an accomplished skier who owned Ralph’s Diner and other bars in the city. They’d ski Vermont’s Mount Snow and Stratton, where Moberly owned a ski house. He had a habit of giving all his skiing friends pink ski hats.
Skiing with mementos of friends
“At first I said, ‘I’m not wearing a pink ski hat,’ but I started to, and then you don’t notice what’s on your head,” he said. “I’ve been wearing it for 35 years.”
Like many of us Wachusett skiers and riders, Burwick was a longtime friend and customer of Mark Welch, the longtime mainstay ski and boot salesman of Strand’s Ski Shop in Worcester who died a year ago at age 51.
After Welch died, his family offered up his ski gear to Mark’s flock. Burwick jumped on it and bought a pair of Welch’s prized Swiss-made Stockli skis, a high-end set of bombproof boards that will likely last Burwick another 10 years.
“It’s an honor to have his skis,” Burwick said.
Burwick’s effervescent presence on the slopes and in the Coppertop Lounge in the base lodge is uplifting, said Stimpson Crowley, vice president of mountain services and president of the MTNSide Ski and Ride Shop and the recipient of a candy bar from Burwick for many years.
“The way he acts and treats people is infectious,” she said. “He treats people like he wants to be treated, like we all want to be treated.”
By the way, if people want to know the real meaning of the big “WTF” inscribed on Burwick’s big plastic, over-the-ears headphones he wears while skiing to listen to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen on his old iPod, it stands for … “Wachusett, that’s fun.”
In the meantime, according to official Wachusett records, Burwick had 675 runs to his credit as of Monday. Everyday Eddie has 1,034.
Downhill Dave, if you’re reading this, get out there. You have work to do.
Skiing the deep freeze
When I left for Killington late last Friday afternoon, the thermometer was approaching zero here in Worcester. I watched the temperature drop steadily to 19 degrees below zero as I reached my central Vermont destination at an altitude of 2,000 feet.
As my old ski friend John Bateman, father of former three time Massachusetts state ski race champion Rachel Bateman, and I approached the mountain about 9:30 a.m. Saturday, it had warmed to 15 degrees below.
But after we booted up in the capacious new K-1 base lodge and ride the gondola to Killington Peak, it was 25 below on top with winds gusting to 30 mph.
Layer up and hold on
The key to skiing in this weather is, of course, many windproof layers plus leave no skin exposed, keep hands and feet warm and go in frequently.
In my case, I’ve been skiing in Hotronic heated socks this season, and they work really well. To reinforce my heavy gloves, I zipped in some charcoal hand warmers and added a pair of wool liners. They worked.
Then add a balaclava or something under your helmet, and you’re good.
What didn’t turn out so well is I dumbly took off my goggles during the first gondola ride, and they instantly froze and fogged, forcing me to clamber into the Peak Lodge to defrost them with the men’s room hand dryer. It happened again, and I had to do the same thing.
Riding the protected bubble
The skiing was nothing less than exhilarating, racing top-to-bottom nonstoppers off the gondola and Snowdon Six Express bubble, with me trying to keep the fast-skiing Bateman in my sights. The bubble is great, but it still leaves your boots exposed to the frigid air.
We took nine runs and went in two or three times. Because only 1½ lifts and one lodge were open (the gondola ran only intermittently), the lodge was packed with people warming up, and the lines looked a bit long, but moved quickly for about 8-minute waits.
The snow was so dry it was grippy, but as the sun shone, it sped up and became amazingly fast, on a wind-scoured surface. Highline was nastily steep and hard, and we finally started to dig our edges into it.
Bateman did Superstar once while I defrosted goggles and reported sheer ice suitable for a World Cup race. Imagine that because that’s exactly where Killington holds its annual women’s World Cup slalom and giant slalom races.
For a full report on skiing “the Beast,” I’ll need to go back. That’s because when Bateman and I returned to Killington’s Bear Mountain lodge at 7:30 the next morning, the lifts were down for a couple of hours (it turned out only for 1½ hours).
But after we learned that adjacent Pico Peak wouldn’t open until 9:30, I peeled off and headed south about a half-hour drive to Okemo, and Bateman went home to wait.
A different world
Okemo is the well-mannered and well-groomed counter-balance to Killington’s rough-and-ready culture and terrain.
I pulled into the Jackson Village parking lot at the Ludlow, Vermont ski resort and quickly found a spot within easy walking distance of the elegant base complex of inn, restaurants, condos and base lodge.
I don’t know of a more laid-back place to boot up in New England ski country than the comfortable Round House lodge at Jackson Gore, the sub-area served by a high-speed quad and six-pack.
The Jackson Gore pod is a great place to stay and ski and largely avoid the crowds that tend to build up on weekends on the main mountain. The Solitude lift and sub-area is another nice refuge, as is the South Face area, though one of the lifts there is a slow quad.
Vortex a blast
As I dropped into Vortex at Jackson Gore for my first run, I immediately noticed the exceptional grooming for which Okemo is famous and also the consistent pitch on this underrated, long black diamond run.
In just about three hours, I was able to swing across the mountain, riding several bubbled lifts, including the new mid-mountain, orange-bubbled Evergreen Summit Express quad and a few other ones and get plenty of skiing in by staying ahead of the crowd that had built up.
If you love to ride fast, modern lifts, cruise wide groomers and occasionally discover winding moderately pitched trails, this is the place for you.
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