Salt of Summit County
January 21, 2009
The Salt of Summit County series has profiled people with jobs not anybody could do (or would want to), but that everyone appreciates. A ski race volunteer is, by definition, not a job.
But the work these volunteers do on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort allows the skiing youth in this community to have experiences they wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy.
And, Karen Korfanta points out, the resort does reward volunteers with a ski pass, so technically, she considers them employees.
Korfanta is the manager of the PCMR race department. The resort hosts a ski race nearly every weekend during the winter. A ski pass really isn’t motivation enough to dedicate 10 to 20 days a year standing in the cold for eight hours timing racers. Most caught the "racing bug" after volunteering for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, or are parents of children in the races or members of the Park City Ski Team.
Each race needs about 15 to 20 positions filled.
"We couldn’t hire that many people. Economically it wouldn’t make sense. That’s how this started. I’ve been here 20 years and have always had volunteers," she said.
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June Brazerol is one of them.
She has two children who participate in the races, and have since they were only five, she said. Her job is to make everything perfect for the kids so they feel comfortable, confident and have an enjoyable experience.
Being a race volunteer is rarely a comfortable job, and can be downright un-enjoyable. But she sees a larger purpose in it.
"It can get really cold," she said.
During the youth ski league races it’s difficult to come down off the slope. Some responsibilities make it impossible to take restroom breaks during the day
"I just don’t drink anything because it’s easier," she said "There are races where we’re freezing, and kids are freezing. I’ve taken off my jacket and given it to a child waiting to get in the gate because they’re crying because it’s cold."
But Brazerol said she’ll do what it takes to keep the kids having fun.
"They need to leave with a good experience, that’s what it’s all about," she said.
At the last one she got laryngitis, and once worked with a temperature of 104 degrees. But participating in races changes children’s lives, she said.
"It gives them confidence they can do anything with their life. They know that because they could do this, they can do anything," she said.
Participating in sports helps keep kids out of trouble, not just because practices occupy their time, but because it helps them realize their self-worth, she said.
She’s volunteered during storms with ice balls pelting her face. Sleet and rain have soaked her gloves, but she said she has to stay cheerful and be the force that keeps the kids going.
"Otherwise they’d say, ‘Oh well, too bad, it’s bad weather.’ We’ve got to get them jacked up and excited and they learn to love the sport," she said. "This is for our future, seriously. If we can help out the youth, why not?"
Gary Hecox said he’s showed up on mornings that were 20 below zero and wished he could go home, but there were 100 to 250 children relying on him to do his job.
Without the right number and kind of officials, races can’t happen.
He said one of the toughest parts of volunteering is standing still in poorly insulated ski boots. There’s little one can do to keep feet warm in those conditions.
"But you can be up there freezing to death, all you want is to be done, and to have a kid come up and thank you for volunteering, that’s just super," he said.
His favorite part of the job is seeing the grade-school-aged racers. Just getting around the flags is sometimes the most they can do.
"But they have great enthusiasm for racing even though they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s just super," he said. "The little ones are so enthusiastic."