Alps & Meters founder Lou Joseph recalls his early racing days competing with his twin brother and a timely encounter with the Olympic gold medalist who shared a similar set of experiences.
My fraternal twin brother Paul and I were taught to ski by our mother, who had a great passion for the sport. So it was, like many other families, that she would pack us up and cart us to New England ski hills during the week and weekends to enjoy the snow and atmosphere at mountains such as Blue Hills, Nashoba Valley, Attitash, Mount Cranmore, Black Mountain, Wildcat, and others.
In the early days, when my twin brother and I had reached intermediate level, well beyond the “pizza wedge” snow plow but not quite the shin-to-the-front-of-the-boot, edge driving technique of more mature skiers, the two of us enjoyed some traditional slalom racing. Good skiers by our 10-year old standards, Paul and I competed occasionally in what was surely a mild recreational setting but felt like the world stage to the two of us. Competitive as any two twin brothers can be, we banged gates against one another and others to see who was fastest in the hopes of walking away with a daily trophy with the coveted first place engraving.
Looking back, I have fond memories of a mix of fun, pre-race jitters, and post-race highs and lows - all of which were only magnified because of a constant performance comparison to Paul. For my mother, I’m sure our head-to-head racing caused a bit of anxiety as she always wished to congratulate the winner but, most importantly, was there to console and encourage the loser. My mother handled each and every moment with the expert balance magically possessed by all parents in these situations.
However, my mother also sought guidance from friends and tended to commiserate with other parents of twins about how to treat Paul and I when one had a winner or finisher’s medal around their neck while the other did not. When I recently reminisced about this with my mother, she reminded me that in the midst of all of those racing endeavors our family had met slalom race legend Phil Mahre. While I vaguely recall the actual meeting at a promotional event for our local ski shop, the encounter was a kind gesture and had a lasting effect on my mother ever since.
Phil and his fraternal twin brother were the face of U.S. slalom racing during the late ‘70s and early 80s. The men’s slalom race at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo is a story that my mother would find familiar: while Phil and Steve would finish first and second in the slalom, it was Steve who had originally commanded first place only to be edged out by his brother in the final series of runs that day. Thus it was that after meeting Phil, my mother felt compelled to write him a letter with all of the questions a mother of two ski racing twins might ask. A few weeks after the ‘84 Olympics, an envelope showed up in our mailbox containing a letter from the newly-minted Olympic gold medalist.
I'm sorry it's taken so long to get to this, but things do pile up and I just happened to come across this the other day. Once again, my apologies.
When Steven and I were younger, we seemed to be really close on and off the hill. Races were usually between the two of us with third place going to someone else and being 3-5 seconds off the pace. We seemed equal with one winning one week and the other the next. At about the age of 14, I started to dominate but not completely. Throughout our careers we've been close, even though I've been more consistent and had more successes. Your boys have to learn that some people excel quicker than others, but look out down the line.
Also, it's not whether we win or lose, but how much effort we put into what we do. If you try 100% and are not a winner there's not much that can be said. You have to go out and practice and try a bit harder the next time. Tell them to remember that it's not them against the other, but them against the clock, mountain and themselves. You must compete to be better than you were yesterday not place-wise, but time-wise. I hope I've been of some help. I'm sure they'll figure it out sooner or later. It took me at least 15 years to figure out I was my only competition. Everyone else on the hill was there for themselves as well.
While, I can only surmise what type of advice my mother sought in her original outbound letter, by the kind and dedicated effort of Phil Mahre’s response, I can only assume that had experienced in his childhood ski racing career the exact reasons why my mother had penned her inquiry. And so it was, when remembering, laughing, and appreciating our skiing upbringing, my mother found Phil’s letter and the accompanying picture from her archive. A treasure, not only of my early days of skiing with and against my twin brother, but of an interaction between a mother and a gold medal Olympian; two individuals connected by shared set of experiences and who possessed the realization that amidst a set of twin gate-bashing wins and losses, finishes and falls, that the pure passion, camaraderie, and fun of skiing should, and would, always take first place.