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A working vacation – with no pay

NWS Volunteers SM 11-29-06

BEAVER CREEK – On Tuesday, Frances Adam was high on the Birds of Prey race course shoveling and raking snow as a giant snowstorm pummeled the mountain.This was her idea of a vacation.The Falkirk, Scotland, native comes to the Vail Valley every year to volunteer for the Birds of Prey World Cup race. She is one of about 500 volunteers who are needed to prepare the course, drive shuttles and do other tasks.Many come from other states just to volunteer, without getting paid a dime. A few of them, like Adam, come from abroad.”My friends say, ‘Why are you working on these races when you can just go on holiday?'” Adam said.Her reason – as with many other volunteers – is the camaraderie with fellow volunteers at the race. For instance, she’ll get to know the 25 people on her volunteer team, she said. She’ll also get to know the 25 people on her husband’s team.”If it’s a package holiday, you probably know only five people,” he said. “It’s all about people.”

Adam and her husband, Billy, first came to Eagle County to volunteer for the 1999 World Championships at Vail and Beaver Creek. They’ve continued to come every year to the World Cup race at Beaver Creek.Adam, 65, is a retired physical education teacher, and she’s been skiing almost her whole life at ski hills in Scotland. The Adams’ home mountain is Cairngorm Mountain. Because their daughter grew up as a ski racer, they already were experienced with the work required to run a race.Frances and Billy will work 10 days at the race this year. They’ll stay in Vail for a few weeks after the race to ski.Frances will help out with course maintenance and gate judging, and Billy will work on timing and course upkeep. After finishing work Monday evening, Frances was set to be at the start gate at 7 a.m. Tuesday.This is the second year of volunteering at the Birds of Prey for Don Artico of Chautauqua, N.Y. He also volunteered at the Salt Lake City and Torino Winter Olympics. He’ll be in Eagle County for eight days volunteering for the Birds of Prey.

“It’s a lot of work out there, but we have a good time at it,” he said.He also got into racing because of his children – his daughters were ski racers.Owen Carney is leading a group of volunteers from Whistler in British Columbia. The crew, called the Whistler Weasel Workers, will be in charge of the Olympic ski race course when Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics in 2010. They’re trying to pick up some pointers from Beaver Creek.”We’re here to learn and look at what they’re doing and how it’s different from what we do,” he said.Carney is shadowing the race chief this week, while other members of his group have separate jobs on the course.Andrew Fickling came to volunteer from London. His brother, Nick, who lives in Eagle-Vail, told Andrew it would be a good idea to come over the Atlantic to volunteer.

Volunteers get a ski pass, a jacket and only have to work for four days. That all sounded good until his brother described the nature of the work: skiing down an icy, steep face at high speeds to prepare the race course.”There’s no such thing as a free jacket,” said Fickling, who works as an events producer in England.But working on the course has given Fickling confidence on skis, he said.”You learn you’re capable of doing a lot more than you think you can,” Fickling said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO