Winter 2011 Forward to a Friend

AN OLYMPIC SKIER WITH A SUBARU LOVE STORY

Donna Weinbrecht

MY PARENTS FELL IN LOVE WITH SKIING IN THE 1970S, AND THAT LED TO ME HITTING THE SLOPES AT AGE 7. WE REGULARLY JOURNEYED NORTH FROM NEW JERSEY TO SKI AREAS IN VERMONT AND NEW HAMPSHIRE – AN EXCITING ADVENTURE FOR A YOUNG JERSEY GIRL IN AWE OF THE MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN WITH ITS PLENTIFUL SNOW.

With a set of snow tires on the rear of our large family station wagon and ski equipment in the cargo area, we were good to go. My brother, sister, and I thought it was fun slipping around in the snow to get into the driveways of our rented ski houses in New England. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun for our parents after five hours of driving.

What made it worthwhile was their new love of skiing, along with friends, wine, crisp cold air, the smell of pine mixed with a wood-burning fire, and ski chalets to explore.

VERMONT SKI HOUSE

In 1980, my father, a builder by trade, constructed a family ski house in Killington, Vermont. He did it single-handedly, using recycled materials from old jobs.

I was a freshman in high school. I felt athletic but had no outlet. I didn’t play traditional sports, so I founded our high school ski racing team.

Our family vehicle became an SUV, and my parents tried to head up to the Vermont ski house every weekend. We’d drive four-and-a-half hours on a Friday night, ski the weekend, then return Sunday for school and work.

In the early 1980s, the family car became a Subaru station wagon. My parents knew the value of getting more miles to a dollar. Plus, we no longer had to get out of the vehicle to change the hubcaps to engage four-wheel drive.

I graduated from high school in 1983 and decided to attend an art school in New Jersey. I needed wheels for my commute. My parents, by now Subaru lovers for so many reasons, bought a used Subaru hatchback for me, and I learned how to drive a stick shift. I drove to school and, when the weekends came around, to Vermont.

I had my own Subaru. I loved it.

Donna with family and in competition(top) Glen Ellen, Vermont, ski area (Sugarbush North). Left to right: older brother Jimmy, younger sister Joy, Donna, and her mom. (middle) In mogul competition at World Cup in Nagano, Japan, performing a double twister spread. (bottom) 1991 World Championships in Lake Placid, New York, where Donna won gold.

OUTER LIMITS

Killington had a famous run called Outer Limits. It was the width of a football field, twice the length, and loaded with bumps. The run was raw and challenging, but I was up for it, as were a new group of ski buddies. We called ourselves the “Rat Pack.”

Then fate took a turn: The art school closed at the same time I was falling in love with mogul skiing. To make things more interesting, the Rat Pack convinced me to enter a mogul contest. I won.

My journey had begun.

I set my sights on making the national freestyle team. I worked as a waitress in the evenings, and during the day – every day – I went up and down and up and down the bumps of Outer Limits. They say that if you do something for 10,000 hours you will become proficient. Well, I did my 10,000 and then some.

All the while my little Subaru got me there and back safely through wind, rain, snow, and ice. It never let me down.

With the money I made from waiting tables, I bought my first car – a 1985 Subaru sedan. The little white Subaru hatchback was passed down to my younger sister along with my (by now) expert stick-shifting advice.

In the 1987 season, I started winning all of my eastern competitions. I qualified for the only spot from the eastern division in the Freestyle National Championships, held in Squaw Valley, California. I placed sixth, and that gave me a slot on the U.S. National Freestyle Ski Team.

WINTER OLYMPICS

In the emerging sport of freestyle skiing, I was in the right place at the right time. During my rookie year, the sport took its place on the world’s largest stage, demonstrating in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics in Canada. Moguls was granted full medal status and would become an Olympic sport officially at the 1992 Albertville games in France.

What happened the next four years leading to Albertville was magical:

  • First year: I won rookie of the year, taking a couple of third-place World Cup finishes and winning National Championships.
  • Second year: I was second in the overall World Cup grand prix standings, took a silver at World Championships, and won Nationals.
  • Third year: I was the overall World Cup Champion and won Nationals.
  • Fourth year: I won World Championships, was again the overall World Cup Champion, and, for the fourth year in a row, I was the U.S. National Champion.

By 1992, I was favored to win the first Olympic gold medal for freestyle mogul skiing. The pressure was immense. Yet, as I stood on top of the Olympic course, I looked out across the mountainside and gave thanks for the journey that had taken me to this moment. I thought of how my parents, with their infectious love of skiing, unknowingly had paved the road for me to become an Olympic athlete with every round-trip from New Jersey to Killington.

That day, I’m proud to say, I did bring home the Olympic gold medal for the United States of America. My name is Donna Weinbrecht, Olympic champion, and today I’m driving my fifth Subaru.

Medals
Five overall World Cup Champion Crystal Globes for being the season title holder 1990-1994 and 1996. Left to right: first-ever awarded Olympic gold medal for mogul skiing in 1992, Albertville, France; 1991 World Championship Gold medal from Lake Placid. Background is Outer Limits in Killington, Vermont, where Donna trains.