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‘The Peay' Extreme Team? Faculty trio continue annual ski-trip tradition

By Dennie B. Burke
Executive Director, Public Relations and Marketing

The first time I ever got on skis in Colorado, my brother was with me; he was a beginner as well. He went down the slope at breakneck speed. The ski patrol told him he had to slow down, and he said, ‘I wish I could.

This story, recounted by Dr. Dewey Browder, chair of the Austin Peay State University Department of History and Philosophy, is the kind of repartee shared each winter when he and two of his colleagues gather around the fireplace after a long day on the slopes.
By Dennie B. Burke
Executive Director, Public Relations and Marketing

“The first time I ever got on skis in Colorado, my brother was with me; he was a beginner as well. He went down the slope at breakneck speed. The ski patrol told him he had to slow down, and he said, ‘I wish I could.'”

This story, recounted by Dr. Dewey Browder, chair of the Austin Peay State University Department of History and Philosophy, is the kind of repartee shared each winter when he and two of his colleagues gather around the fireplace after a long day on the slopes.

Again this January, Browder, Dr. Al Bekus, professor emeritus of English, Dr. John Foote, professor of chemistry, and their spouses will spend a few days skiing in Snowshoe, W. Va.
Although all have enjoyed the sport for decades, the trip has become a tradition in recent years.

Located about 250 miles outside Washington, D.C., Snowshoe offers 57 slopes and trails, a 1,500-foot vertical drop and a long run of 1.5 miles. The three couples stay in a three-bedroom condo directly on the slopes. “We literally ski in and ski out of the condo,” says Browder.

Among the group, it seems Bekus is the most “extreme” sportsman, given his affinity for heli skiing, meaning he is dropped from a helicopter onto the top of a mountain that's often too daunting to scale. From there, he skis to the base.

Bekus started skiing at 40 and heli skiing at 50late in life for both. Years ago while skiing in Keystone, Colo., Bekus met a U.S. Olympic ski team member who guided heli skiers in New Zealand. For several summers, Bekus joined them. About 18 years ago, he learned about the Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), a heli skiing operation in British Columbia. Since then, he's skied with CMH several weeks a year. Although Bekus is a heli sking veteran, all heli skiersusually eight to 10 skiers each trip, plus a guidemust participate in a half day of safety training prior to each heli skiing adventure.

Even skiing at a resort is not for the feint of heart. Once while skiing at Crested Butte, Colo., Bekus' nephew wanted to disregard a sign that said a slope was closed, but Bekus over-rode the man's youthful daring. When they reached the bottom of the hill, two body bagscontaining bodies of skiers who elected to disregard the “No skiing” signwere being loaded in a coroner's van.

“There's a good rule to remember when you ski,” says Bekus. “‘If you can't see over it, don't ski over it.'”

Even when you can see where you're going, dangers lurk in the deep white snow. Bekus has broken his wrist while skiingthe first day of a ski trip. Determined not to be sidelined, he asked a skier with a handicap how to adjust to skiing with one arm. Afterwards, despite the cast on his arm, he never missed a single day on the slopes.

Besides breaking his wrist, Bekus has been in a minor avalanche. “If an avalanche happens, it's going to take you,” he says. “Just go with it.”

On another heli-skiing trip, Bekus got lost. Initially, he was skiing with his group, as is taught. But skiers tend to get separated as they zoom around trees and boulders, as some finesse steep runs while others ski less aggressively.

In this instance, Bekus skied too far afield and ended up alone. Within minutes, the helicopter that had dropped the group on top of the mountain circled over him and radioed his location to a rescue team. “You should not panic,” he says. “Stay where you are; someone will come for you. I learned a valuable lesson: Never go heli skiing without a two-way radio.”

Despite such cautionary tales, Bekus is addicted to heli skiing. “I ski about 100,000 vertical feet each week, depending on the weather, snow conditions and my legs,” he says. “I should reach 3 million vertical feet of heli skiing in the next couple of trips.”

He intends to attain that goal before he turns 70. “Skiing in knee-deep and thigh-deep powder is the magic that brings me back year after year,” Bekus says. “It's like gliding in space, floating in air. Invigorating beyond description. I'll keep doing it until I can't do it anymore.”

According to these men, a person is never too old to ski. When Browder's daughter-in-law started skiing in Italy, her ski instructor was 83. “The trick is to stay in shape and, of course, avoid bad spills to protect your bones,” says Browder.

Perhaps Foote missed that lesson. Years before he began skiing with Browder and Bekus, Foote broke his left arm in a skiing accident in Snow Mass, Colo. “I'd been skiing the big slopes all day, and it was time to go in. As we were leaving, I took a short run on a ‘bunny' slope--that's where I fell and broke my arm,” he says disgustedly.

A few years later while skiing at Paoli Peaks, Ind., Foote took another nasty fall, twisting his knee badly. Refusing to say “uncle,” he continued skiing throughout the trip. Now he admits that the injured knee has impaired his ability to ski at the same skill as his friends.

The three may not have the same level of ski expertise, but they share an equally robust sense of humor. Their jibes are those of brothers. And they love to tell stories on each other.

Speaking to Foote, Browder says, “John, do you remember when you got us lost on the slopes?”

“I did not,” Foote says with a weak smile.

Browder continues despite the denial. “Before John called it a day, he gave Al and me directions on how to get to the closest lift back to our condo. At the end of the day, Al and I followed the directions our ‘navigator' had given us. We ended up walking two miles home in our heavy ski boots, carrying our skis and poles. I'm just thankful our boots were warm.”

Foote, who can dish it right back, sees a means of conversational diversion. “Speaking of ski boots, you ought to see Dewey's!” Foote says. “They are straight out of ‘Star Wars.' They're really an embarrassment to me.”

Without pause, Browder says, “Forget boots. John doesn't even own skis. He rents them.”

Before Foote can reply, Bekus says, “Oh, that reminds me: John, I bought a new set of skis, so you can have my old ones. They're still really good ones.”

“I accept,” says Foote. “I'll pick them up tonight.”

It's obvious all three men have stories they love to recountwhen they started skiing, how they've progressed, their personal victories and defeats on the slopes.

Browder began skiing while living in Colorado, but his passion for the sport grew greatly while he and his family were living in Germany and Italy. “Helga and I were stationed with the Army in Vincenza, Italy, in 1987 when our son, Mickey, was assigned to the same command.

“Mickey and his wife, Greta, wanted to take up skiing, so the three of us started taking regular Saturday ski trips into the Italian Alps.”

According to Browder, skiing in America is more orderly. “In Italy, everyone flocks to the front of the lift line. You have to elbow your way to hold your place. The first time my daughter-in-law stood in line to catch the tow bar up, an Italian guy in a toboggan crashed through the line, sending one woman to the hospital. The Italians get pretty wild on the slopes.”

Later when Browder was on the faculty at West Point, he had easy access to a ski slope built on academy grounds by German POWs during World War II. “It sure was convenient. I could go skiing during my lunch hour and, since the slope was illuminated, again in the evening before settling in to grade papers for the night.”

This year, while at Snowshoe, Browder is looking forward again to taking on the Knot Bumper, which he describes as a “short, cliff-like drop you can't see over.”

Is it scary? “It does take some courage,” he says, “especially the first time you jump it.”
Although the men teach at APSU, their disciplines vary: chemistry, English, history. Of the trio, one might be called a conservative, one is an avowed liberal and the other, somewhere in between. So what do they have in common other than APSU and skiing? All are intelligent, opinionated and outspokenwhich could make for interesting fireside discussions.

Is any topic off limits for the sake of peace? “No,” says Browder. “We talk about everythingalthough not so much about politics.

“Plus, I have a special herbal schnapps from Germany. Light it and it burns like a blowtorch. You blow it out and then inhale the fumes before slugging it down. It clears the sinuses for sure.”

Outside, the snow may be blowing in a blinding straight line, but warm schnapps and warmer friendships are known to quell impending storms inside the cozy condo.