By Scott Daniels
Kevin Kopko peers through his goggles at the giant slalom course below. A swath of blue dye threads a zigzag path through 25 pairs of red- and blue-flagged gates on Lower Bushkill, the NASTAR racecourse at Shawnee Mountain Ski Area.
At the starter's signal, Kevin shifts his weight and kicks hard with his ski to hurtle past the electronic timing wand. Carving his turns in the wet March snowfirst right, then left, then right againKevin speeds toward the finish line. In less than 30 seconds29.46 to be exact the race is over, and for the fourth straight year, Kevin Kopko reigns as the fastest skier at the Pocono Mountain Scout Ski Weekend.
This is the 10th year Troop 105 of Stroudsburg, Pa., has teamed up with Shawnee Mountain to offer a weekend of skiing, snowboarding, and testing for the Snow Sports merit badge. It's the troop's major money-earning activity for the year, and they do it at bargain prices. For $55 Scouts receive two days of lift tickets and ski rentals, two breakfasts, an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner, plus a souvenir patch and lodging at Notre Dame High School, the Salvation Army, or a nearby lodge.
"Each of our Scouts works an assigned task during the weekend and earns a 50 percent discount on summer camp fees and any high adventure trip," said Bill Kohlmann, Troop 105's committee chairman. "The proceeds also pay for our troop's weekend ski trip to Bromley, Vt."
On Friday night, carloads of Boy Scouts, leaders, and parents arrive at the high school. Between 6 and 10 o'clock, more than 1,650 people are greeted by Troop 105 Scouts and directed to registration and lodging desks to check in. Phil Howenstine, Shawnee Mountain's rental manager, takes orders for lift tickets and ski rentals.
"Phil and his staff will be up most of the night at the ski area, setting up skis, boots, and bindings so they'll be ready for the Scouts to pick up at 7 tomorrow morning," said Jim Tust, the ski area's administrative manager.
Another Shawnee Mountain employee, ski instructor Joe Marke, sits at a nearby table and signs up Scouts for Snow Sports merit badge testing.
"The boys come to the ski weekend already prepared by reading the merit badge pamphlet," Marke said. On Saturday, a written test covers the requirements common to snowboarding, downhill, and cross-country skiing. Then Marke takes the boys up the mountain to check off the skill requirements.
"We offer merit badge testing twice a year, once in January and again during the Scout ski weekend," he said. "In a slow year we will test 85 boys. In a busy one, we've tested as many as 350."
Marke likes the new approach to the Snow Sports merit badge. "They've increased the amount of safety information and modernized the badge by adding snowboarding. This is a great plus."
Inside the gym, early arrivals stake out real estate against the four walls with their sleeping bags and air mattresses. When the lights go out at 11:30, a total of 450 people will sleep here and in the auditorium. Until then, a half-court game of hoops generates some friendly inter-troop competition while music blares from multiple boom boxes.
Steve Tuccio, Scoutmaster of Troop 141, Belvidere, N.J., said that word of mouth from other units put the ski weekend on his troop's radar. "This is our first time to attend," he explained. "When I threw out the idea at a meeting, I got a lot of wide eyes.
"We brought nine boys, and eight have never skied before. This is an excellent opportunity for the Scouts to try it out in a controlled fashion. It's a different kind of outdoor activity that supports our normal program."
Scoutmaster Jim Dolan of Troop 1634, West Babylon, N.Y., said his unit was another first-time participant. When his Scouts began looking for a ski trip, the Pocono Mountain event won based on outstanding value.
"Most resorts in the area charge a minimum of $65 a day for skiing. For less money here, we get an entire weekend of skiing, including meals and lodging."
Troop 146, from nearby White Township, N.J., has attended 9 of the 10 ski weekends and praises the event's organizers.
"Troop 105 does a terrific job putting on this event with the staff at Shawnee Mountain," said Scouter John Tully. "They tailor the entire weekend to meet the Scouts' needs, from slalom races to merit badge work and Scout-oriented ski lessons for beginners."
Tully says the event has also paid some surprising dividends. "A couple of our boys, who skied here years ago for the first time, are now Shawnee Mountain staff members."
Rain showers and temperatures in the mid-40s on Saturday reminds Scouts that spring is barely two weeks away.
But that doesn't phase 14-year-old Rob Rooney of Troop 202 in Philadelphia. He puts a positive spin on the weather. "A lot of people aren't happy about the rain, but it doesn't bother me. I'm going to get wet anyhow; I'm going to fall."
The precipitation can't put the skids on skiing for a class of first-timers, either. They spend an hour-long lesson with Shawnee Mountain instructors learning two of skiing's most important skills: getting on and off the chairlift and using the wedge ski formation to slow down and stop.
Enthusiasm remains high that night when the skiers return to Notre Dame High School for dinner. Members of Troop 105 serve unlimited amounts of high-carb ziti and sauce, meatballs, and chocolate-chip cookies to scores of hungry Scouts.
Between bites, Josh Ashcraft, an Eagle Scout in Troop 261, Ocean City, Md., shares his excitement after snowboarding for the first time. "I started out on the green [beginner] trails and then moved over to the blues. After about my fifth run, I even started making some jumps. It was great. I stayed out as late as possible, all through the rain."
At the awards ceremony Sunday afternoon, Eagle Scout Kevin Kopko of Troop 113, Trappe, Pa., steps forward to receive his trophy for the giant slalom race. Kevin's younger brother, Casey, also wins a first-place trophy for racers 13 to 14 years old. Troop 876 of Midlothian, Va., accepts the trophy for fielding the fastest team of skiers on the mountain, and the troop's Richie Conroy is the top racer among 11- to 12-year-olds.
As the Scouts pack up their skis and boots and prepare to head home, the buzz surrounding next year's races is already building. Will the Kopko brothers extend their winning streak, or can the Troop 876 skiers from Virginia climb to the top? To find out, many people have circled the dates March 10-11, 2001, for a return trip to the Pocono Mountain Scout Ski Weekend.
Scott Daniels is the executive editor of Scouting magazine. [For information about the 2001 Scout Ski Weekend, contact Rose McHugh, firstname.lastname@example.org, RR7, Box 7520, Stroudsburg, PA 18360, (570) 420-9985.]
Race Trophies Skate With Near-Disaster
With an activity as large as Troop 105's Pocono Mountain Scout Ski Weekend, the devil is truly in the details. Just ask assistant Scoutmaster John Moore. He's the only troop leader still around from the time when the ski weekend began in 1990. Each year it's been his job to design the event's souvenir patch and order trophies for winners of Sunday's NASTAR races.
"I'd been dealing with the same trophy factory for nine years," he said. And although his contact at the company was new, "I placed the same order as always, with the exception of a change in color."
The shipment of trophies arrived at Moore's house in several boxes on Friday, a week before the visiting Scouts were due in East Stroudsburg, Pa. Five days later, on Wednesday, Moore opened the boxes and discovered 31 magnificent trophies topped with a graceful, golden figure skater clad in a leotard.
"You can imagine my surprise and near-panic," Moore said. It was only days before the trophies would be awarded, and this wasn't even close to resembling a tightly tucked downhill racer with ski poles trailing.
A quick call to the factory prompted an overnight shipment of the correct trophy figures. But the trophies' fate was still on thin ice.
When Moore tried to replace the figure skaters with the downhill skiers, he found a different diameter screw rod was required. Another call to the factory produced a second overnight shipment, and two days before the awards ceremony, the trophies were complete.
Despite the foul-up, Moore says he plans to use the same company again this year, but "I'll probably make the order a bit earlier, and I'll be sure to open them upon arrival."
Snowboarders Prompt Change in Merit Badge
The introduction of the Snow Sports merit badge in January 1999 is a good example of how Boy Scouts can effect changes in the BSA advancement program.
"For several years, we had received letters from boys all across the country asking, 'Why isn't there a merit badge for snowboarding?'" said Don McChesney, director of the Boy Scout Division at the BSA national office. "We shared these letters with members of the national advancement committee, and they took serious note of it."
After talking with groups of Scoutmasters and Scouts, the committee recommended changing the name of the Skiing merit badge, which allowed boys to demonstrate proficiency in either downhill or cross-country skiing, to Snow Sports, with snowboarding added as a third option for earning the badge.
Professional snowboarders Brandon Bills and Mark Edlund, along with Lane Clegg, a member of the National Snowboard Demonstration Team, provided suggestions to the BSA on the snowboarding requirements. Some examples: Ask Scouts to demonstrate an ollie, a nose-end grab, and a wheelie, as well as perform skidded, carved, and jump turns, stops, and riding fakie (switched stance).
In 1999, slightly more than 5,000 boys earned the new badge. When statistics for 2000 are tallied, the number is expected to nearly triple.
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