Hunt and Harry vs. the Volcano
April 7, 2009
As the parents of very talented ski racers who compete all over the world, Hunt Williams and Harry Caston are pretty used to traveling and the all of the headaches that come with it.
But when they got the call two weeks ago that their flights to the U.S, Alpine Championships had been cancelled, they were shocked by the reason.
There was a live volcano going off not too far from the site of the nationals at Alyeska Resort.
"You just get used to dealing with weather, but this came completely out of the blue," Caston said.
Mt. Redoubt had been threatening to spew since the beginning of the year, and March 22, it finally did. The nationals were scheduled for the last weekend in March making the timing of the two way too close for comfort.
Both Caston and Williams were planning to travel to the event to watch their daughters compete. They had been enlisted by The Park Record to photograph and write at the event.
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Caston’s daughter, Rose, a speed racer, managed to make it to Alaska before the eruption. Training had been scheduled for the speed events a week prior to competition, so all of those skiers made it in safely. Williams’s daughter, Kate, was not so lucky. A technical skier, she had planned to arrive at the competition after the downhill races with her dad, but a call from Delta Airlines saying the fight had been cancelled derailed their plans.
"Kate’s the one who got shortchanged the most," said Hunt. "We were thinking [waiting] would be great."
For the next two days, they rescheduled flight after flight, only to have them cancelled. They tried different routes and different airlines, but nothing worked. Hunt talked to a number of parents including Sue McJames, mother of Megan, and found that even the kids that made it encountered some weather problems as they tried to land in Alaska. the weekend, they were resigned to the fact that they were not traveling north and began to look at other options. Some FIS races were scheduled at Park City Mountain Resort, so Kate opted to compete in those instead.
Hunt said that he felt awful for his 19-year-old daughter, who had planned on competing in her last junior race in Alaska, but Kate was a bit more optimistic about the situation.
"In talking with the kids that made it up there, they said it snowed a hundred inches," Kate said. "I was glad I stayed here and raced in Park City. There was just too much Mother Nature stuff going on."
Kate said that ski racing has always been about having fun for her, so she was just happy to have a race to be a part of and even managed to take second at the Park City event.
"I’ve just had a big passion for skiing, whether it’s racing or skiing with my friends," Kate said.
Caston, who had also booked with Delta, said he launched an all-out campaign to find a way up to get there. He looked at connecting flights in cities all over the West and even debated driving from Seattle before he realized how far it was from Alaska.
"We were desperate," he said
All three said that they didn’t hear a whole lot about the volcano until their original flight was cancelled. Hunt said there wasn’t nearly enough publicity about the severity of the volcano and was shocked when he learned more. Caston said the most he knew was what the airlines told him, but both were glad that Delta made safety the priority.
"If I get in a plane and it blows up, that would be my last biggest mistake," Caston said.
Caston said he hadn’t spoken to Rose, who is 16, much before the competition, but did have to tell her that they would not be there to cheer her on.
For those that did make, it, it was a weekend hosted by Mother Nature. Non-stop snowstorms cancelled a handful of races and caused an avalanche, and the ash in the air from the volcano made it dangerous for the skiers to breathe. Coaches were wearing masks and the start of the downhill race was moved to lower on the mountain. The competitors spent a lot of time in doors, biding their time until the conditions subsided enough to hold a race.
"It really disrupted the U.S. nationals pretty severely," Hunt said.
Hunt and Caston were also a little disappointed for themselves. Hunt had planned on writing a number of articles and Caston, who does photography as a hobby, was looking forward to photographing professionally.
"I didn’t get to do anything," lamented Hunt.
Last year, Caston had taken a picture of his son, Marcus, on the podium at junior nationals and was disappointed he could do the same for Rose.
I wanted to be able to take that picture," Caston said. "I missed that moment."