penguinpaddleBy Ed Racich

Whoever would have thought that sliding down a snowy hill in a black plastic bag could be so much fun! And yet, here we are, 30 years later, all ready to do it again!

Emily Eckley, Karen Lowe and Connie Velotta — beautiful women, inside and out! All three were (and are) great supporters of the “skiers’ lifestyle” and also great supporters of the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program, better known these days as LASP. By the way, “skiers’ lifestyle” is shorthand for ski hard, party hard! As most skiers know, you don’t need much of an excuse to start a party, but a really good one (excuse, that is … ) never hurts!

Emily, Karen and Connie, and their friends from Cleveland, Buffalo, and many other places, began a series of après ski parties in the spring of the year that evolved far beyond what any of them expected. These people would get together after a morning of skiing to eat, drink and have some fun off the slopes. Everyone would bring a batch of chili that would get dumped into communal pots so that everyone in attendance could have lunch. Drinks were BYOB, but most everyone shared with anyone who forgot to bring their own. Once everyone had imbibed, both food and drink, games would begin — the most anticipated being the Penguin Slides down Yodeler in front of the ski patrol building.

In 1990, Emily Eckley, having realized the need for more formal organization, became the first chairman of the Penguin Paddle, as it had come to be known, and the event was literally off and running! Everyone wanted to “Paddle”!

So many people were becoming involved in the races that the group began selling bags. And so many more people were around to feed that lunch grew to an area-wide cookout, offering not only chili, but hot dogs, sausages, chips, cookies and drinks, all for a modest donation! And all the donations went to support the LASP. Coffee cans were circulated during the festivities soliciting additional donations for the LASP. Before you knew it, a Holiday Valley institution was born!

During the ensuing years, the Ski Patrol and the Safety Patrol became more involved, helping to safely control the large groups of sliders and partiers. Brian McFadden has taken over control of the safety and security of our sliders, while Doug McVeigh, a safety patroller, became the official Canadian Mountie of the Paddle, selling buttons produced annually for the event. Doug was also the official starter of the races at the top of the hill, while Jack Barclay and Brian Smith donned penguin suits and sold buttons and raffle tickets. Beer and wine sales were handled through the years by Dick Pulvino, Ed Clarmo and Dan Etenger, eventually giving way to Jay Lee, an LASP instructor who just loves to work in his kilt!

In 2001, Holiday Valley opened the new Yodeler lodge, which featured a picnic area outside facing Yodeler slope and the Paddle was officially moved there, with the auction under the overhanging deck and the lunch tent between the Yodeler lift and the Ski Patrol building … which brings us to 2014.

The Penguin Paddle has grown to become the single-largest event held at Holiday Valley each year. The Paddle has been noticed, covered and reported by television stations in Buffalo, Cleveland and Toronto, and shown on ESPN.

Today, it serves 500-plus lunches, and much more wine and beer. The live and silent auctions currently offer hundreds of items for bidding, and the auctions and the raffle for very special items have together more than doubled the funds collected to support the LASP. The Paddle has become the single largest fundraiser for the LASP. All because a few people wanted to make a difference and have a little fun doing it.

2014 is the 26th anniversary of the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley. The volunteer instructors of the LASP and its Director MaryEllen Racich would like to thank Emily, Karen and Connie, and the countless others who have helped through the years to make the Penguin Paddle the success it has become today. We love you all!