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Eastern ski-racing fans still remember their brush with Alberto Tomba. The Italian playboy, at the height of his wine-women-and-winning career, won a GS on Thursday and nailed a second in slalom on Saturday.
That was March 1991, at Waterville Valley, N.H., and it was the last time the World Cup staged a race in the Eastern U.S.—the last time, until Killington welcomes it back for a women’s GS and slalom this Thanksgiving weekend, when racing fans from America’s major metros can get close enough to the White Circus’s biggest stars to hear the slap of armor on gate.
On the men’s side, it was business as usual in ’91. The U.S. guys hadn’t figured out how to win yet. But with the women, something special happened, and race fans who made the trip to Waterville were richly rewarded.
“Oh my God, it was awesome,” recalls Julie Parisien (now Julie Nuce), who may have been the person least shocked by her win in that Friday’s GS. “That was my career right there. My “It” moment. It was epic.”
The Waterville races were a rare case of home-snow advantage for U.S. athletes. “It was so special to be racing in the East,” says Parisien, who grew up on the slopes of tiny Lost Valley (Auburn, Maine) and attended Vermont’s Burke Academy. “My parents could never see me race because World Cups were always in Europe or out West.”
Parisien was 19 and had just graduated from Burke. The stands were packed with classmates, family, and friends. “There’s a picture I have from that day that means so much to me. I’m in the finish, my hands in the air. I’m facing the audience, and in the audience you can see all these people from my life—classmates, family, my brother, who’s now passed—and everyone’s going crazy. That picture is a history of my life. I’d love to see another athlete have that at Killington, to win in front of people who know you and supported you.”
Times have changed, and now 25 years later there’ll be a World Cup GS on Saturday and a slalom on Sunday, Nov. 26 and 27.
“I hope security’s not crazy and people can walk up the hill and get close,” says Parisien, now a nurse and mother of three living in Augusta, Maine. “That was part of what was so cool about Waterville. The spectators were so close. I basically sprayed them in the finish.”
Parisien’s moment atop the racing world was all too brief. In the 1992 Olympics, she was fifth in the GS. The next day, she won the first run of slalom, then finished fourth, 0.05 seconds out of the medals. Later that year her brother was killed by a hit-and-run drunk. And like a lot of U.S. Team women in that era, Parisien burned out. “Racing just lost its fun.” After a slalom win in 1993 (also on American snow: Park City) she never won again.
Nothing ever came close to that day at Waterville Valley. “That was my career right there,” she says. “I was fourth and fifth in the Olympics, and I won a silver in Worlds, but that was the most awesome moment of my career. It’s the moment I take the most pride in. I set out to win that day, and then I just did it.”
Photo: Julie Parisien, shown here in the 1992 Olympic GS, says getting to race near home meant everything to her and her travel-weary U.S. teammates.
Photo Credit: Steve Powell/Getty Images