Leavenworth’s Carolyn Phillips Wins at National Master Skier Championship

by Marlene Farrell

Phillips, in yellow, with other racers, awaits her turn to race slalom.

Carolyn Phillips has racked up many podium finishes over her long career of racing—in skiing and previously also in crew and triathlons—but this year is significant. Phillips is now the reigning national champion in her age group in three events! She is a versatile racer, which equipped her for success in giant slalom, parallel giant slalom, and super G. She also won first in a separate super G race that was part of the 2024 A Racer’s Edge National Speed Series.

The first foray of Phillips, now 84, into the arena of national circuit master’s ski racing was in 2001. Over 300 competitors converged on Sun Valley for Nationals for a week of training runs, elimination rounds and finals. Back then, skiers had to qualify to be part of the quota allowed to represent each region. It hooked Phillips. When she retired from teaching in 2004, she and husband Jim made ski racing a part of every winter.

The scene has shrunk to less than 100 at this year’s Nationals, Phillips lamented, in part due to pandemic derailment, but also because younger masters are not renewing the ranks. And Phillips’ age class—originally eleven strong and full of fierce competitors—is down to four, with two of them traveling rarely.

So at Nationals, Phillips found herself in a battle with longtime friend and rival, Lilla Andrews, in the technical slalom, giant slalom and parallel giant slalom, and in the two speed-oriented super Gs. Andrews bested Phillips in the slalom, while Phillips clinched the victory in the remaining events.

Master’s Nationals were held at Granite Peak Ski Area in Wisconsin, one of the oldest ski areas in the country and, with snowmaking, it was able to host these races even with unseasonably warm and dry winter weather in the Midwest.

Phillips drops onto the course to start her slalom run.

Phillips liked the snow conditions. “The snow was very firm and icy on [the ski run] Exhibition. That’s good for racing because ruts don’t develop.” While Phillips says she lacks the flexibility of younger racers—one won’t see the same extreme angles in her body—she’s as focused as any racer on carving, which is apparent when the ski bases are visible and there’s no trail of spray.

Thinking back on her races, Phillips said, “I was really happy with the super G.” The course alternated between flat and steep sections. Each racer did it twice for a cumulative time because Granite Peaks lacked the vertical for one long super G. A former pro skier complimented Phillips’ final run, saying her line was perfect with no spraying of snow. Each of her course preview times had gotten consecutively faster, and while she felt almost out of control for the final run, Phillips said that is the edge all racers seek.

Attending Nationals and other races is also about friendships forged in competition that are warm and affable off the slopes. When organizers delayed the slalom races by four hours, Phillips and other women racers instinctively chose to head to town together for brunch.

One of the several times Carolyn Phillips got to stand atop the podium, this time for winning Overall Combined National Champion, with Lilla Andrews in second.

She has been skiing for over 60 years. Skiing is in the family’s “blood,” and Phillips occasionally gets to cheer for grandkids who have taken up the mantle of ski racing.

“I’m lucky. My knees are holding up.” It’s more than luck, however, because Phillips’ quality training prepares her for racing and prevents injury. Most winter days, she exercises on a skier’s edge machine, an ergometer and her bike attached to a trainer. She works with a racing coach at Snoqualmie Pass on Tuesdays and at Mission Ridge on some Wednesdays. Summers will find Phillips making time to run, bike and hike with Jim.

Attending races comes with a lot of equipment; Phillips explains she has four pairs of skis, slalom, giant slalom, super G and all mountain, which Jim tunes for her.

Phillips will keep ski racing because she loves the community and the challenge. “I’m always thinking about technique, being centered on my skis.” She added, smiling broadly, “Carving—you go really fast!”

This story was first published in the Leavenworth Echo on 2/23/24.

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