This past summer, August 1st found me driving up a dirt road to an address in Hartland, Vermont, that defied my GPS! I had turned around on my first attempt when the road got so narrow that meeting an oncoming car would require some negotiation. However on the second attempt I kept going further until we came across cars parked everywhere – along the road and filling the pastures which had handwritten signs saying to park there.
I found a place to park that hopefully wouldn’t block traffic. My wife and I walked a quarter mile up a treed driveway, past cars with license plates from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and of course, Vermont. The driveway ended in a meadow with spectacular views of the surrounding hills and a few hundred people around an event tent. We were all there to celebrate the life of Bill McCollom.
Bill McCollom was a Vermonter, a Retro-Skier, a ski racer, a coach, a teacher, a writer, and a friend. Bill passed away back in June of 2020, but due to the pandemic the celebration of his life had to wait over a year.
Bill’s parents moved to Woodstock when he was seven years old. He quickly adapted to his Vermont surroundings and learned to ski on the rope tow at Suicide Six. As his skiing proficiency grew he was drawn to ski racing, something he would do for the rest of his life! At Middlebury College Bill gained All American status on the ski team.
Bill was an educator, first in New Hampshire before returning to Vermont to be the Academic Coordinator for what would become Killington Mountain School. He would later serve as its Head of School from 1987-1998.
And Bill was a writer. He was a ski racing columnist for the Stowe Reporter which led to a long stint as a writer and editor for Ski Racing magazine.
Bill was a ski racer and coach right up to his death. He was a proud member of the New England Masters and a fixture on the circuit. In 2007 when Woodstock High School needed a ski coach, Bill stepped in, leading them to 5 state titles. He continued as a volunteer assistant coach through the season before his death.
I got to know Bill since both of us were on the Board of Directors of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. We found we had quite a bit in common. We were the same age, 1964 high school grads, and 1968 college grads. I throw that last one in since it was popular to prolong college in those days due to the Vietnam War. Skiing was a major influence in our lives. Granted Bill was a racer and I never raced seriously. We both became ski writers. We both published books the same year!
One other tie between Bill and I was that his first job was as a teacher in my old high school, Kennett High School in Conway, New Hampshire! That meant we knew some people in common such as my old English teacher, Bob Fisher. Mr. Fisher warned me before I graduated that I’d be lucky to avoid “bonehead English” when I got to college. He rolls over in his grave every time I write a column!
Local Masters’ racer Bob Burley who raced against Bill and coached with him at Killington summarized Bill’s life best, “Bill left every person, race and trail better for his presence.”
The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum is honoring Bill by renaming their Community Award the ”Bill McCollom Community Award”. The award recognizes a group or organization within the skiing and riding community that is making a significant and unique contribution to further Vermont’s place in skiing and snowboarding history. The first presentation of the renamed award will be this weekend at the World Cup event being held at Killington.
The recipient of the award will be Cochran’s Ski Area. Their mission is “to provide area youth and families with affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons and race training, in the Cochran tradition.” This seems totally consistent with Bill McCollom and the way he lived his life. His dedication to skiing, youth, and education is embodied in Cochran’s Ski Area.