Ski racing has lost another good one. In the hills of Vermont, long-time Ski Racing contributor Bill McCollom passed away unexpectedly on June 28 from a heart condition.
A legend in New England ski racing, Bill was a jack-of-all-trades in the sport: a competitor, coach, official, author and journalist, and lover of all things to do with skiing. But more than those labels, he was known for his kindness and caring, his often self-deprecating humor, a booming laugh, and his love of others.
“We’ve all heard the saying about ‘big shoes to fill’ when someone leaves a role,” said long-time friend, fellow competitor, and colleague Fred Dieffenbach. “In Bill’s case, his shoes will never be filled. Others will eventually do the things that Bill did, but it will never be the same.”
Bill grew up in Woodstock, Vermont, in the late 1940s and 1950s, and learned to ski at age six. His mother, Connie, was active in the Woodstock Ski Runners, and young Bill spent his winters riding the rope tows and Poma lifts at Suicide Six. Soon, he was competing in Mid Vermont Council races. He made the Mid Vermont Team and was competitive with peers Harry Ryan and Rick Chaffee, who would go on to compete in the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble.
From Woodstock, Bill attended Holderness School in New Hampshire, graduating in 1964, then Middlebury College (class of 1968), where he achieved All-American status on the Panther ski team. Bill even competed in a World Cup race while in college—a fact he confessed in a Ski Racing column titled, “Downhill, the Sanity Defense” (January 30, 2012). It was the first year of the World Cup and the first World Cup held in North America—a three-race series that started with a downhill at Cannon Mountain on March 10, 1967. Given an opportunity to race the downhill, Bill enthusiastically took to the starting line. A few minutes later, he thanked his “lucky stars for life and limb at the finish.”
With a life-long love of ski racing, Bill carried his momentum to the Masters circuit, where some of his fellow competitors swore he never missed a New England Masters race. He was also a board member of the organization for several years and worked hard on the race schedule—to ensure that everyone had fun.
“On the hill, Bill was a great competitor and one heck of a ski racer,” read a NEMSR post on Facebook. “He always had a smile on his face at the start gate, and you could tell he loved soaking in the environment of every race.”
Bill was also a very effective coach. After graduating from Middlebury, he coached the Harvard Crimson for a year (possibly longer). Then in 1971, the Vermont Ski Racing Association (VARA) was founded, and Bill served on its board, becoming executive director in 1980. During this time, he also began his professional writing career, submitting weekly race reports to the Stowe Reporter.
In 1974, Bill helped found the Killington Mountain School, where he was academic coordinator and ran the ski-racing program through the late 1970s—and ski raced himself, suiting up every Wednesday for the Killington ski bum races. He returned to KMS in 1987 and was headmaster for the next decade, working with Betty Hughes, director of academics at the time, and others to build the school into a real community.
“He was so engaged with the students, very kind, very mindful,” remembered Hughes. “He cared about the students as people.”
Even after he left KMS in 1997, Bill still remained engaged, showing up for many of the school’s events year after year.
In 1998, Bill began a 15-year career writing for Ski Racing, penning a column called “The Finish Line.” From 1998 through May 2013, he created over 300 columns. In his final one, he wrote: “What could be better than total immersion in a sport that I loved … and having the journalistic freedom to express all my crazy thoughts that would generally get me fired and then arrested.” A year later, he compiled his favorite columns into a book, The View From the Finish Line.
“As a former competitor, coach and educator, he brought unsurpassed knowledge of the sport of ski racing to his role there, along with writing talent and a terrific sense of humor,” said Tim Etchells, long-time editor-in-chief of Ski Racing. “He was beloved by the magazine’s staff and its readers. Those readers quickly learned Bill was one of them, a ski racing junkie devoted to the welfare of the sport’s extended family, from junior skiers to his beloved competitors in USSA masters racing.”
In 2007, Bill was lured back to coaching after learning that Woodstock Union High School might cancel the season if a coach wasn’t found.
“In a moment of nostalgia-induced, temporary insanity, I raised my hand,” he wrote in “Fast Times at Woodstock High,” a column published in Ski Racing on March 14, 2007.
He was head coach through the 2015 season, then worked as assistant coach for the next five years (with Dieffenbach as head coach). With his charm, sense of fun, and a dose of competitiveness, Bill helped lead the Woodstock Wasps to five state titles (boys and girls in 2007 and 2015, boys in 2008). But he did not just cheer for the Woodstock racers. He helped every ski racer on the hill, from the fastest racer to the slowest, with an encouraging smile and “go get ‘em” enthusiasm.
“He will be sorely missed by the WUHS ski team,” commented Sarah Rasmussen, parent of a Woodstock racer. “He was one of the most encouraging coaches I have ever encountered.”
As proof of his impact on skiing and ski racing, Bill’s trophy shelf was full of awards. He was a recipient of the Jack Tobin Award in 2009 for his outstanding contributions to Eastern Masters racing, inducted into the Vermont Alpine Racing Association Hall of Fame in 2011, and was honored with the 2014 Paul Robbins Journalism Award, presented by the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum, where he was a long-time board member.
But Bill will be remembered most for the impact he had on everyone: his family and friends, fellow competitors, student-athletes, and anyone he encountered on the hill and off. He’s the kind of guy who asked “How’s it going?” and actually cared about the answer.
“It’s difficult to state succinctly the impact Bill had on people, but I think the following statement from a current Woodstock athlete might come close,” said Dieffenbach.
“I loved Bill and will always remember the great things he taught me,” said Woodstock Union High School ski racer Hannah Reed. “He always knew how to make me feel better on and off the hill and helped me out a lot! May he rest In peace.”