Downhill Racers

By Kathy Vilim DaGroomes
Photographs By Vince Heptig

With 300 inches of snow a year and the awe-inspiring Northern Rockies as a backdrop, it's no surprise the members of this Montana family have all become ski-racing enthusiasts.

Life Scout Cody Ercanbrack, 14, a member of the 2005 Big Mountain Race Team (BMRT), is a happy-go-lucky guy, according to mom, Lora. However, he's all seriousness when racing with his ski team at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour down Big Mountain, located 60 miles south of the Canadian border in Montana's Northern Rockies.

Zack, Lora, Cody, and Lance Ercanbrack pause for a family photograph at the race hill at Big Mountain Ski Resort, Whitefish, Mont.

With a top elevation of 7,000 feet and a vertical drop of 2,500 feet, Big Mountain is—well—BIG.

"It is very dangerous going down," Cody observes, "because, if you mess up, you could severely injure yourself."

In meeting the Ercanbrack family, it's obvious that Cody; his brother, Zachery, 16; mom, Lora; and dad, Lance, are far more than recreational skiers.

Eagle Scout Zack was selected as a member of the 2003 and 2004 Northern Division Junior Olympic ski teams based on his accumulated World Cup points. He has hit speeds of 60 m.p.h. in training and downhill-skiing competitions.

Dr. Lance Ercanbrack is a surgeon, Eagle Scout, and assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1970 (chartered to the LDS Libby Ward, Sandpoint, Idaho, Stake) in Libby, Mont. He started skiing at age 3 in Idaho, and by 4, he had broken his leg on the slopes. That, however, was only a brief interruption of his lifelong passion for the sport.

A 'No. 1' sports pastime

While Lance was a college student, his skiing proficiency enabled him to join the ski patrol at Kelly Canyon, Idaho. That was how he got to know Lora, a fellow student who was training to be a nurse.

"When Lance was on patrol, he was allowed to bring another person, so that was our dating system," Lora explained.

As a result, Lora's skiing ability grew over the years. Now, she says, "I can definitely maneuver my way through just about anything."

From the edge of the racecourse, Lance and Lora urge on son Zack during a 2004 Big Mountain Race Team practice.

Even though Lora teaches at the local junior college and Lance is chief of staff at Libby's St. John's Lutheran Hospital, the entire family has always found time for its No. 1 sports pastime—skiing—whether on water in the summer or snow in the winter.

The boys' interest in competitive ski racing began during a memorable snow-skiing vacation, in 1996 at Grand Targhee, Wyo. The Ercanbracks met some neighbors whose son was a member of an Idaho-based ski team. Zack and Cody, 8 and 5 at the time, watched the boy compete and afterward told their parents they wanted to do the same.

The family's course was set.

During the next seven years, from 1997 to 2004, the Ercanbracks regularly drove Zack and/or Cody to weekly ski lessons and/or team practices, a trip that averaged two hours from their home.

The boys had a private coach in their first years of learning to ski competitively. They also joined junior ski teams, first at Soldier Mountain, Idaho (close to where the family then lived), and then Blacktail Mountain Ski Area in Montana. In 2002, Zack and Cody moved from the smaller Blacktail Mountain team to the larger one at Big Mountain, 30 miles west of Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

Alpine (downhill) skiers on the Big Mountain Race Team (BMRT) begin intense physical conditioning in October. Weekend practices and training start in late November and include slaloms (timed races over zigzag routes with gates) and downhill races (runs against time straight down the mountain).

The competitive season, with races often out of town, usually lasts from January through March.

Beyond giving financial, emotional, and chauffeuring support to their sons, Lance and Lora have been able to support the race team at Big Mountain through the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation (FVSEF).

The foundation is a group of people who hold fund-raisers to keep the BMRT going—whether by hiring coaches, paying for needed equipment, or acquiring vans to take the team to races at other venues.

Lance and Lora also contribute their time for things like course repair—smoothing racecourses with large metal racks—and gate keeping during practices.

Enthusiasm for 'all things skiing'

For the last several years, Zack has carried his family's enthusiasm for "all things skiing" into an at-home ski waxing, sharpening, and repair business called "Zax Wax." Lora, past Cubmaster of Pack 4970 of Libby and currently on Troop 1970's committee, remembers how Zack got the idea for the business while working on the Communications merit badge. He needed to teach someone a skill, and he chose ski waxing.

Skiing skillfully at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour earned Zack a place on the 2003 and 2004 Northern Division Junior Olympic teams.

"So Lance and I said, 'If you can explain it, why don't you start your own business?'" Lora recalls.

Zack's skills at keeping his own three pairs of competition skis waxed, sharpened, and in good repair soon helped him build an appreciative customer base.

Scouting's role in Zack's business start-up isn't surprising, because Scouting—currently in the Montana Council—has been the Ercanbracks' other family "constant" for many years.

"I've been in Scouting ever since I was young," says Lance, recently Scoutmaster of Troop 1970. "My father was an Eagle Scout and taught those [Scouting] principles; the Scout Oath and Scout Law are wonderful guidelines on what it is to be a good human being.

"We would go up in the mountains hiking or hunting," he adds, "and all the outdoor skills that we relied on were based on what we had learned from Scouting."

Like Scouting, skiing and the family's involvement with junior ski racing have brought togetherness to the Ercanbracks.

"It's something we have all done together that has brought us closer," says Lora. "We understand what each other is doing—what the whole sport is about. We can all participate.

"It's something that we all have a good time at. We laugh together; we get to eat together; we have the best conversations in our long drives. "We support each other."

Associate Editor Kathy Vilim DaGroomes also wrote "Honoring 'A Scouter's Scouter'" in this issue.

Top of Page

January - February 2005 Table of Contents

Copyright © 2005 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.