by Krista Sturday
In 1976, Wollongong skier Brian Donegan talked about his plan for a special race and party among the Illawarra ski clubs. But it wasn’t until 1989, following Brian’s untimely death from leukaemia, that the event became a reality. On August 16, the 25th Brian Donegan Memorial Interclub ski race took place at Perisher ski resort, followed by a schnapps-fuelled party.
Ninety three competitors took part in the event held on Mother-in-Law race course at Blue Cow Mountain. For the four participating clubs – Illabunda, Maranatha, IMBAC (Illawarra Master Builders Alpine Club) and Illawarra Alpine Club – this event is not so much about competition as an excuse to build camaraderie and tradition. “It’s all about sportsmanship and friendship and everyone getting together like this,” says Terry Dryburgh, captain of the Illabunda club.
Firm and fast snow conditions combined with a piercing blue sky provided an ideal setting for the annual race. Brian’s brother, Kevin Donegan, of host club Maranatha, thanked his brother for the great conditions. “Brian always turns on the good snow, and the good weather for us.”
There are three disciplines involved in the day’s event: giant slalom alpine, giant slalom snowboard, and cross country skiing. The competitors are amateurs, but the event is run professionally by the Blue Cow Race Department.
Marty Firle, Blue Cow Race Department Supervisor, has been involved in Perisher races for 20 years and says that club events like this are different to professional ski races. “We set them with more turns, especially here on Mother-in-Law, so it’s a bit safer for everyone to get down.” Mr Firle sees about 20 club races per season and says the Illawarra clubs have a strong feel of camaraderie. “They’re all pretty good, these Illawarra guys; they’re encouraging of each other and a lot more relaxed.”
While the rivalry is friendly between the clubs, the individual competitiveness is audible from participants who grunted and yelled at themselves as they passed gates in an effort to crank themselves up. Racers turned to view the time board as they crossed the finish line, calculating the hundredths-of-a-second difference that could mean glory or defeat.
The evening presentation and party provided an official ending to the day’s competition, with Illabunda taking home the overall winner’s trophy for the sixth year in a row. Mr Dryburgh accepted the award to friendly cheers and heckling from other clubs. He thanked the host club and congratulated “all the winners, seconds and thirds – and all the losers,” which was met by the friendly laughs and cheers that bring the club members back year after year.