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Young skiers, families rally for Bill Koch Festival

RIPTON — More than 1,000 cross-country skiing enthusiasts from throughout New England will converge on Ripton this coming February as part of the 2011 TD Bank Bill Koch Festival.
The two-day event (Feb. 25-26), featuring a variety of activities for young cross-country skiers and their families, is expected to provide a very welcome spark to the winter economy in Addison County. Organizers anticipate filling every hotel room in the Middlebury area while providing a stream of potential shoppers and diners.
“We have been visiting businesses as we can to notify them and encourage their sponsorship,” said Christiana Hodges, a co-organizer of the 2011 TD Bank Bill Koch Festival, to be held at the Rikert Ski Touring Center on Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus in Ripton.
This will be the first time in around 25 years that an Addison County venue will host the annual Bill Koch Festival. The event — and indeed the New England Bill Koch League — is named after Brattleboro native Bill Koch, the United States’ first world-class cross-country skier. He was the first American to win an Olympic medal in Nordic skiing, earning the silver in the 30 km in the 1976 Olympics and finished sixth in the 15 km event at those same games.
The stated mission of the New England Bill Koch League (NEBKL) is “to introduce young people to the lifelong sport of cross-country skiing with all of its recreational, social, fitness and competitive opportunities.” That is done primarily through a cross-country ski program for boys and girls ages 6 through 13 years old (kindergarten to 8th grade).
Children in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts can participate in the NEBKL, through individual clubs. The Frost Mountain Nordic Bill Koch League, consisting of around 90 members, successfully applied for the opportunity to host the 2011 festival.
“We put in a bid to host the event and they picked us,” said Hodges. The local group had to show, among other things, that it had enough lodging and a suitable venue to handle the anticipated swell of more than 400 young competitors and their families.
Once here, the festival will feature:
• A festival parade and opening ceremony.
• A series of individual and relay races, ranging from 2 km to 4 km.
• A Frost Cabin Forest Animal Cruise. This will be a non-competitive ski for skiers and their families.
• An awards ceremony and banquet at the Middlebury Union High School gym.
• Ski jumping demonstrations.
• The Vermont Sugarmakers’ Association mobile sugarhouse.
Local volunteers and parents of skiers will work hard to make sure the festival goes smoothly.
The Bill Koch Festival will be teaming up with Addison County Transit Resources to provide public transportation from local hotels to the Rikert Ski Touring Center. The ACTR buses will make trips regularly throughout the festival.
The annual festival has grown by leaps and bounds since it was last held in Addison County — at the Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Center in Goshen. It was around 25 years ago that Blueberry Hill owner Tony Clark received a rather frantic call asking if his facility could host the event, as there was a lack of snow at the scheduled venue in southern Vermont.
Clark agreed, and on went the show. Of course in those days, the festival lasted one day and drew around 120 people, Clark recalled. Since then, the festival has stretched out to two days, with more participants and a greater emphasis on competition, according to Clark.
“Bill’s (Koch’s) philosophy has always been to ‘make sure the kids have fun,’” said Clark, whose children participated in NEBKL events.
Clark praised this year’s organizers for taking on the festival.
“I’m in awe that they’re willing to pull it off,” Clark said.
More information about the 2011 TD Bank Bill Koch Festival can be found at http://bklfestival2011.org/.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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