Dave Watson rips. There’s no other way to say it. He carves such deep turns, he could lick the snow if he wanted to. If you hesitate even for a second when you’re skiing with Watson, he’s already 100 feet ahead of you, and you’re left eating his wake.
But the problem with people who rip is that when they fall — and at those speeds, fall they will — they fall hard. All you can do is wince and cover your eyes as they somersault down the hill. Such was the case with Watson on a recent bluebird morning at Pico Mountain, Killington’s smaller, less crowded cousin.
Watson, a 36-year-old lifelong skier and Pico regular, agreed to take me on a few of his favorite trails at the homey resort. Conditions couldn’t have been better. The soft snow glinted under the blazing sun and visibility seemed endless from the summit. All the big whitecaps — Camel’s Hump, Mt. Mansfield, Mt. Washington — could be seen in the distance.
For our first run, Watson and another Pico regular, Julia Hutchinson, took me up the Summit Express Quad so we could hit Upper KA, a favorite of the pair. The black-diamond trail begins as a steep, narrow pitch, hemmed in by snow-draped evergreens. Before the intersection with Easy Street, a breezy cruiser, Upper KA features three sharp, blind turns that can be tough to navigate at speed.
My tour guides, both expert skiers, didn’t feel the need to take it easy on this tricky run — what fun would that be? Instead, they bombed down the chute and were gone. When they came into view again, Watson was slicing sweeping esses into the trail. Then he caught an edge.
In an instant, Watson and his mono-ski — a sit-down version of skis for people who don’t have the use of their legs — were sailing headfirst into the slope. Plumes of snow sprayed up on impact and I watched as Watson and his $4000 mono-ski slid down the hill sideways. When he came to rest, he was a little rattled. “Ooh, that one hurt,” he said, brushing snow from his face.
Hutchinson helped right Watson and then we were off, Watson seemingly unfazed by the fall. He was actually pretty happy — earlier that day, he fell five times on that same run. Six years after becoming paralyzed in a car accident, Watson knows to appreciate small victories.
Watson and Hutchinson are part of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport, which runs programs at Pico as well as Bolton Valley and Sugarbush. The nonprofit provides athletic and recreational opportunities for people with mental and physical disabilities. Their adaptive skiing program is one of their most popular.
Hutchinson, a cheerful, rosy-cheeked paraeducator from Randolph, has been volunteering with the program since she was 11. Watson, a beefy, bearded fellow who works in event production, came to VASS last year after a few bad experiences with other adaptive ski programs. Basically, they wouldn’t let him rip.
Now Watson makes the three-hour drive to Pico nearly every weekend to ski with VASS volunteer instructors. It’s the instructors, he said, who make the difference. That much is obvious as the pair banter back and forth on the lift after our first run. They tease each other like awkward middle schoolers. “I might not fall if I had a better instructor,” Watson ribbed. “You’re all about your excuses today,” Hutchinson jabbed back.
I soon find out why this is. Over the last year, Watson and 28-year-old Hutchinson have become quite chummy. So chummy, in fact, that I catch them in a quick smooch at the top of the Golden Express Quad while I’m strapping on my snowboard. It’s not protocol for VASS volunteers to date clients, but these two are cute as hell and, personality-wise, they seem well matched. Plus, they’re both killer skiers.
After a few more runs on Forty-Niner, Upper KA and the never-ending Pike, I was still unable to keep up with Watson or Hutchinson. It was all I could do to keep them in my sight. Seven down, 13 to go.