Seventy Year-Old Ski Bum

Going into the backcountry with Chip Smith at East Longmeadow’s Competitive Edge

About a mile past the X on Route 83, after Donut Dip and Pasquale’s Restaurant and Tavern, just over the Springfield city line into East Longmeadow, next to the Pride gas station, is Competitive Edge Ski & Bike.

It’s not the typical location for a ski shop specializing in backcountry gear. And East Longmeadow isn’t the place most think of when searching out a ski gear salesperson with an extensive knowledge of telemark and alpine touring equipment, but that’s where Chip Smith is anyway.

Smith stands six feet tall and speaks with the sort of enthusiasm a young man or woman from the East might use in anticipation of experiencing the majesty of the West for the first time. He says he’s 70 years old, but an athletic 60 would be more believable.

If you contact Competitive Edge inquiring about gear that would hold its own on a mountaineering trip in the Alps or a heli-skiing excursion in Alaska, you will be referred to Smith, their backcountry ski guru.

Smith grew up in the Springfield area. He first skied the famed avalanche-prone headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire at age 16. He and his brother — who went on to captain the ski race team at Syracuse University — made the pilgrimage to Tuckerman’s every year before he moved out to the fabled West.

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Million Dollar Man: UMass basketball coach Derek Kellogg now the state’s highest paid employee

The University of Massachusetts recently announced a new contract extension for men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg, who, with an annual salary of $994,500, is set to become the highest paid state employee in the Commonwealth.

The new contract comes immediately after the program’s most successful season in over a decade. The Minutemen were nationally ranked for much of the year, and made the NCAA “March Madness” Tournament for the first time since 1998. The deal extends Kellogg’s position through the 2018-2019 season, and replaces his previous contract, which had two years remaining. A native of Springfield, he played for Cathedral High School, then at UMass under John Calipari in the early 1990s, the glory days to which the state university’s most prominent athletic program has been trying to return ever since.

“I’m grateful to the university, and their commitment to the men’s basketball program,” Kellogg told the Advocate, adding that he believes his contract brings greater stability to the team, which will help keep it on the national scene.

“It’s tough to put a price tag on happiness,” continues Kellogg. “I’m ecstatic to be here, and I think the contract reflects that.”

Massachusetts now joins 40 other states whose highest paid public employee is a college coach, according to an article on Deadspin. Of those 40 employees, 27 are football coaches, 13 are basketball coaches (including University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma), and one (at the University of New Hampshire) is a hockey coach.

“He has built a solid foundation for the future,” UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon said in a statement. “We felt it was appropriate to put something together that the university and he are both comfortable with in terms of the extension to keep him here for a long time.”

The new contract raises the inevitable question: are highly paid college coaches worth their salaries? Do they offer a return on investment?

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Another Normal: Ultra runners race distances of 30, 50, even 100 miles at a time

Amy Rusiecki laces up her running shoes one foot at a time, just like us mortals. She makes her way to the trailhead, then heads off at a gentle gait. And I follow.

We’re at the Notch Visitor’s Center on Route 116 in the Holyoke Range. The autumn leaves, just past peak, are scattered about the forest floor. The sun plays hide and seek behind the ridge. It is late afternoon. It had rained earlier, but now the sky is clear. Still, the tree roots and rocks that dot the trail are slippery, especially under cover of the leaves. We don’t gain too much elevation, but the route is not flat either. A few minutes later, we’re on a section of trail I never knew existed.

Stumbling along, I try to negotiate the multiple tasks of breathing, talking, and staying upright at the same time. Rusiecki is barely breaking a sweat, conversing easily while running. She doesn’t slip once.

“What gear is this for you?” I ask.

“You mean, like a car?”


“First,” she admits. “Well, maybe not even first.”

Eyes focused on the ever-changing landscape, I wipe the sweat from my forehead quickly, careful to do so on a section of trail where a momentary decline in sight won’t result in another stumble. Taking a deep breath, I struggle to keep pace.


People kept asking if I knew Amy Rusiecki.

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The Flush of Acquisition: From auctions and ephemera fairs to hidden-away shops, the Valley is a mecca for antiquarian booksellers

The Grand Ballroom at the Hotel Northampton was abuzz with excitement. Antiquarian booksellers and private collectors perused hundreds of rare items displayed on long tables in final preparation for the evening’s auction, picking up leatherbound books, laminated broadsides, old, flimsy chapbooks, and other ephemera.

Items to be auctioned that evening included a broadside of a verse called “The Happy Child,” dated to the early 18th century; an autograph album containing the signatures of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Daniel Webster, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, Artemus Ward, and others; and a copy of the Bible, written in Greek, from around 12th century.

But the big draw of the evening, if not of the entire year, was displayed by itself in the center of the room next to the auctioneer’s podium: Lot 276, the Silver-Mathews Fourth Folio Shakespeare, described as “the fourth edition of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies,” and “the last of the 17th-century editions of Shakespeare’s collected works.”

Bidding for many of the 321 items up for auction that evening began at a relatively sober $50, though several items sold for hundreds, or thousands of dollars. But the opening bid for The Shakespeare was set at $62,000, and many of the Valley’s antiquarian booksellers told me they wouldn’t be surprised if it fetched six figures.

“I love my job,” Paul Muller-Reed said. He auctions items twice a month at the Hotel Northampton. “But this,” he nodded to the podium, “is the hardest part.”

With only a few minutes remaining before the auction, most of the 50 or so buyers had already found seats in the rows of chairs that filled up half of the ballroom. Another 50 buyers would phone in their bids from as far away as the United Kingdom. A few of the attendees sipped glasses of red wine or pints of beer. Others sat next to cardboard boxes waiting to be filled with the bounty of their successful bids. Over half the bidders were fellow booksellers, hoping to acquire antiques at a good price that they could then sell at a profit. Others were private collectors. Several represented libraries. Many of the attendees talked jovially amongst themselves. Others waited in hushed anticipation.

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An Exclusive Homecoming: Multi-million-dollar renovations at UMass’ McGuirk Stadium don’t include ADA compliance

This Saturday, Sept. 27, the UMass football team returns to play a home game at McGuirk Stadium for the first time in three years, since making the jump to upper-division college football—a move that necessitated an upgrade to its on-campus facilities. All home games over the past two seasons, and the first two this year, have been played at New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s Gillette Stadium, nearly 100 miles away in Foxboro.

Maroon-clad fans cheering on their team will likely notice several aspects of the stadium’s estimated $34.5 million facelift. For example, located a few yards beyond the north end zone, the new 55,000-square-foot Performance Center includes locker rooms, rehabilitation services, and training facilities, as well as film rooms and offices for coaches. New turf replaces the old field, which was laid out in 2006. And a new press box with instant-replay capabilities rises over the stands to the west.

Astute observers may also notice that, oddly enough, neither the Performance Center nor the press box actually touch the existing stadium. The renovations were done this way, UMass spokesperson Edward Blaguszewski told the Advocate, to avoid having to comply with the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

If the renovations don’t touch the existing structure, said Blaguszewski, “it doesn’t trigger the immediate need” to update the entire stadium, which was originally built in 1964.

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Ten Pin Alley

Rolling with the pros in Northampton.

Just two paltry gutterball throws into my first string, I was already feeling the twinges of a strained hamstring. Not exactly the triumphant return to the bowling alley I had been hoping for.

At the far end of the lane, the pin setting machine lifted all ten pins and swept away none—for none had been knocked down—moving me unceremoniously to the second frame. I slunk back to the empty bench and attempted to appear as inconspicuous as possible—an unlikely proposition given that the bowling alley attendant had placed me at the lane just inside the entrance.

Sitting gingerly on the plastic bench, I began stretching my right arm in a manner I hoped would dispel the doubts of any bowlers glancing at the flatscreen television currently broadcasting my ineptitude. For good measure, I stretched out my other arm as well.

A couple of lanes to my right, at the far end of the alley, two kids bowled with a woman who appeared to be their mother. To my left, two gentlemen who were far better bowlers than I seemed to be doing their best not to scoff in my direction. Beyond them, a skinny guy with glasses and a 5-o’clock shadow was bowling alone.

The other end of the alley, by contrast, was filled with league bowlers, rolling on the first night of their fall season at Spare Time Northampton. Their efforts filled with the alley with communal laughter, strenuous concentration, shouts of support, and the rhythmic clunk of balls hitting the hardwood—followed by the apparently inevitable crash of 10 pins yielding to strike after strike.

My arms now effectively stretched out (or my stalling technique having run its course), I grabbed the green 12-pound ball I had been using and positioned my feet—clad in rented bowling shoes—back onto my lane. Passing the ball from left hand to right, I raised it up to my chin, took a deep breath, and tried to ignore the gutters waiting gluttonously on either side of the lane. Continue reading

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Jet Engines, by Amy McCarley, and Frost, by Daphne Lee Martin

This weekend, Amy McCarley and Daphne Lee Martin perform at Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton in support of their new albums, Jet Engines and Frost, respectively.

“Everybody Wants To,” the first track from Alabama alt-country artist McCarley’s Jet Engines, begins with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of individuality and universality. She states that there are certain desires shared by everyone, then sings in her low alto: “Well I’m not everybody/ I’m just me/ But I am one body/ and anyone can see/ Everybody needs to believe in something/ And everybody is no different from me.”

McCarley plays acoustic guitar on all 10 of the album’s tracks. Her harmonica work lends an especially relaxed mood throughout, as does the guitar playing of George Bradfute, who sits in with his electric on “Smart Man,” and his slide on “Head Out of Town.”

After listening to McCarley, Martin’s indie offering Frost sounds especially synthesized—not in a bad way—with William James Readey using his keyboards to do an impressive impression of a samchillian tip tip tip cheeepeeeee. (The space age-sounding samchillian is a keyboard MIDI controller designed by Leon Guenbaum, who plays it so effectively in guitarist Vernon Reid’s band Masque.)

Frost begins with “Little Birds,” which is full of samchillian-esque sounds, before segueing into “The Book of Love,” the album’s only cover. The Magnetic Fields tune has also been covered by Peter Gabriel. The middle three tracks—”Make It Rain,” “More Flies With Honey,” and “Smile at Perfect Strangers”—show Martin’s jazzy blues side. “Five Points,” the eighth and final song, is an upbeat, electronica instrumental.

Ohio native and schooner veteran Martin sings and plays electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, flute, and other “sounds,” the album’s inside cover notes. Beneath the CD hold there is a stenciled quote: “Treat a queen like a whore and a whore like a queen,” which Mickey Doyle offered in Boardwalk Empire, just as Frank had in Alien 3.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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