2-14-20 Basch-Saloon Series Irving and Cunningham

Art Cunningham (left) and Tom Irving. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)

They preach the gospel of NASTAR.

Tom Irving and Art Cunnigham would like more mountains, skiers and riders to take part in the recreational racing opportunity.

“It’s part of the where-do-I-ski today choice for a lot of people,” said Irving on a snowy Monday morning in the base lodge at Bretton Woods after the two had taken their runs in the Ted Gilbert Memorial Saloon Series. “It’s not very expensive to start a program and is a very exciting addition to a day of skiing.”

“And it’s fun,” added Cunningham.

Plus, it keeps the two ski-and-kayak buddies active.

The two met in January 2009 during a Bridgton, Maine, night ski-racing league (Shawnee Peak) when Irving, of Eaton, was introduced to the team captain, Cunningham.

“I guess he needed a project and took me under his wing,” said Irving. “Over the past decade he has coached, encouraged and helped me improve my racing skills.”

Irving’s the Conway planning director and uses his vacation time to ski. He started skiing about 50 years ago at Camp Fortune in Canada’s Gatineau Hills northwest of Ottawa, home base for Olympic and World Cup skier Betsy Clifford.

In his teens, he skied New Brunswick’s hills. Twice he’s skied Whistler. He took a 10-year break from skiing in the 1990s and picked it up again when he moved to New Hampshire. The Canadian’s easy to spot in his yellow and red maple leaf-emblazoned GS suit.

“Tom and I have been racing together for a few years now, and it’s been a blast watching him get better and more than hold his own at any races he goes to,” Cunningham said. “He’s always ready to go and keeps me pushing to try to give him a run for his money.”

Cunningham, 74, retired from a Raymond, Maine, manufacturing plant, started skiing in Nordic-friendly Rumford in the late 1950s as a ski jumper and cross-country racer. In his late 40s, he fell in love with alpine NASTAR racing. He lives in Standish, Maine.

Both ski on the Cannonballs team in the 115-person league. They also ski Masters races on occasion.

The eight-week Monday series is a race league for adults age 21 and up. One of two race leagues at Bretton Woods, the other is the Friday night Fireball Series.

According to events manager Veronica Fernandez, Ted Gilbert was the father of assistant marketing director Jenn Huntoon. A liquor rep, Gilbert was a big supporter of the series for many years and thus a natural match for a beer league series.

The Saloon Series has its origins in the Innkeeper Series that was held at Bretton Woods on Mondays and Tuesdays, typically days when the hospitality industry had time to enjoy the slopes after working weekends.

“It was tradition for them to then host a gathering for their fellow entrepreneurs after skiing,” said Fernandez. “This contributed to a deeper sense of community amongst local area businesses.”

That tradition is alive and well with the Saloon Series.

“Most of our racers are not professional and have no background in ski racing,” said Fernandez. “We do have a handful who have raced professionally in the past but most are just here to have fun and for the camaraderie of the sport.”

She said the Monday League is comprised of mainly people from the valley and folks who leave work for a long lunch to get a few runs in before returning to the work week.

“Our leagues are the only ones of their kind that allow new members to join at any point in the season,” said Fernandez. “They are also a great deal in comparison to our competitors.”

Joining either league gets you a season pass that is good all day the day of the race that’s all season long, not just for the eight weeks of the series.

“You don’t have to have a full team to join, skiers and riders are welcome to join as single racers,” she said.

She says their method of scoring isn’t all about who went the fastest, but a ‘luck of the draw’ system that the demographic seems to really enjoy.

The season ends with a prize-loaded awards banquet.

Irving, 61, said it’s a very economical way to get out on the slopes.

“It provides an opportunity to practice and hone my alpine racing skills and, mostly, it’s a lot of fun skiing and racing with such a great group of people,” he said.

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