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Franklin County senior heads for ski competition

March 01, 1999

Heather DillardBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - At speeds most drivers would be wary of on a snowy day, Heather Dillard slices past gates on slalom courses across Pennsylvania.

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The Greencastle-Antrim High School senior does it so well that she'll compete against the East's best skiers later this month in Maine.

Dillard, who turned 18 last week, said Sunday she has been skiing for the Whitetail Ski Resort Racing Team for six years. Last month she finished fifth at the Pennsylvania Alpine Racing Association Derby at Elk Mountain near Scranton, Pa.

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There she raced with the top 48 skiers in her age group. The top two go on to the Junior Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., with the next five highest-placing skiers going to Sugarloaf in Maine for the United States Ski Association's Eastern Finals.

To get to the derby, competitors went through a winnowing process of a dozen races at resorts around the state, Dillard said. That included four Pennsylvania Cup races in January.

"We use the World Cup points system and whoever has the most points gets invited up north," she said.

This season, Dillard also won the women's Jim Branch Memorial Cup for the best run at Whitetail. The award is named after one of the resort's founders who died several years ago, she said.

"I have four older brothers and they all skied," Dillard said. Her older sister, Anne, has been an instructor at Whitetail since she was 14.

"I've been skiing since I was 3," Heather said. Back then her parents, Duane and Lee, would hold her between their legs as they headed down the slopes.

"We'd hold her by the coat and then let her go," Duane Dillard said.

During the season, Dillard trains three days a week after school. Weekends are spent traveling to and competing in races, she said.

During the week, the Whitetail team trains with Mercersburg Academy skiers, Dillard said. Four academy skiers - Jake Koodrich, Patrick Koch, Kent McGlency and Tom McCahill - are also heading for the finals, according to Dillard.

Heather said she also trains with Marta Vastagh, who skis for another resort team and is "the top girl skier in the state."

Heather's classroom work hasn't suffered from the training. She said she has a 3.8 grade point average and has taken courses at Hagerstown Business College during her junior and senior years.

The hard work has paid off. In 1996 she finished sixth in her age group in the super giant slalom at the eastern finals. The following year she was a discretionary selection for the Junior Olympics.

That meant she was invited to compete in place of another skier who could not make the event. Dillard passed, preferring to attend her brother's wedding.

Dillard said she had "a bad year" in 1998, but has regained her edge this season.

But competitors from Mid-Altantic states will be at a disadvantage against New England skiers, she said. Members of the latter group have more resorts, a longer season and schools and private academies where students spend as much time hitting the slopes as the books.

Additionally, ski runs in this region are not long enough for downhill racing, an event in which she'll compete at Sugarloaf. "When we go to the finals ... it's our first chance to do the downhill all year," she said.

Whatever the outcome of the finals, Dillard said, "You go up there to have fun. ... There's no use getting stressed about it."

Dillard has already been accepted to one university in Colorado and is waiting to hear from other schools there and in Vermont. Whether or not she makes a collegiate team, "I'll keep skiing for fun."

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