Skier Spotlight: Mark Paprocki

He’s an Irondequoitan runner-turned-diehard-nordic-skier who chose cross-country over ski jumping, won back-to-back Rochester Cups, and skied his way into the Alfred State Hall of Fame.  He has dined with Olympians in Alaska, and was literally at the cutting edge of the rise of skating in cross-country skiing.  You might read his posts from Durand Eastman, where he finds good skiing when you thought the ground was bare.  If you’ve huffed your way up Bristol’s Race to the Summit, you’ve done it next to him.  And if you cross ski tracks with a bearded guy with sunglasses and a gregarious laugh who’s skating fast on classic skis with the tips sawn off, hop in the track next to him and talk skiing.  You’ll be bound to learn something cool about the history of the sport in Western NY, and stories to remind you that in an ever-more-complicated world, cross-country skiing can still be simple, practical, and addictingly fun.

NameMark Paprocki
HometownIrondequoit, NY
AgeMasters 8
Email tagline“Train Hard Ski Fast”
Go-to ski spotDurand Eastman
Started skiing1970
Times off a ski jump2
Rochester Cup victories2
Hall of Fame inductions1
Ski Olympians lunched with4
Age at which broke 5 min/mile in a 50 km58

When did you start skiing?  “In 1970, when I was a junior cross-country runner at Irondequoit High School, they needed some cross-country skiers.  I’d never skied in my life but I said I’d try.  I bought a pair of skis for $25, and my mom said I could use her poles from the attic in the garage.  They were 41” [104 cm] downhill poles that she used during World War II, when my dad was in Europe and she’d go skiing with her friends.  I got them out of the attic, and within 2 minutes the old leather straps broke loose.  So, the first thing I had to do when I started skiing was make new straps for the bamboo poles.” 

Further ski career: “I skied for Irondequoit for 2 years, then raced for 4 years in college – 2 years at Alfred State, and then 2 years at Clarkson.” 

You mean Clarkson the modern-day USCSA powerhouse?  “We were a pretty average team back then.  But at Alfred State, the school’s first [NJCAA] national championship was the 1971 ski team.  I wasn’t there yet, but I was on the team in 1972 when we won again.  A few years ago they inducted the whole team into the Hall of Fame.” 

Was this when skiers competed in all the disciplines – cross-country, downhill, slalom and jumping?  “Those were the Skimeisters.  We had Skimeisters at Irondequoit [!] and at Clarkson.” 

Did you ever try that?  At Clarkson they wanted me to try jumping – it was scary, I wasn’t a downhill skier. They were going to jump at West Point, and had me try it out on a 15-meter hill.  The skis were way over my head and weighed a ton.  I got a few instructions, then got into my tuck on the in-run.  When I got to the jumping-spot, I just froze – I went over the lip and straight down onto the hill, to the bottom without crashing.  It was so fast, my heart was pounding out of my chest.  The guys put some pinecones at the end of the in-run to tell me where to straighten my legs before the lip.  I tried it again, started down the hill, and sprang at the pinecones – I just went out, into the air, and I didn’t touch down. I went down a bit and still didn’t touch, and down a bit more.  Eventually I landed on the hill.  That was worse than the first jump.  The competition was going to be on a 40-meter hill, and I said I was done.”

Favorite races?  “They used to have races at Genesee Valley Park, the Rochester Cup.  I won the race one year, I think I was back home from college, and repeated the next year.  It was a big trophy…. I also raced at the 1984/85 US Nationals in California, and a Masters World Championship in Lake Placid.”

Other local race memories?  “I was 2nd in the [Tug Hill] Tourathon in 1982.  35 years ago I did the 22 km classic race in Allegheny [Art Roscoe Loppet] and 30 km in Inlet – both times I got there late, started the race but didn’t have enough kickwax.  I stopped after 3 miles, took off my skis, put on more kickwax that I had in my pocket, put the skis back on and won the race.  I lost 7-10 spots while waxing, but made it back up and won.  You can’t do that anymore…”

Did you hear the one about Bill Koch smearing on kickwax during a race without stopping?  “I heard that story, but could never do that!”

What about the Bristol hill climb?  “To me, that’s just a challenge.  You go do it, then go out to lunch with your friends and tell them what you did and they think you’re crazy.”

Personal skiing highlight?  “I’ve been racing for a long time, and I got faster as grooming and equipment got faster.  By 1984-85 I could break 5 minutes per mile – I know skiers measure in kilometers but I’ve always done it in miles.  I could break that for 5 km, 10 km, 15 km – every distance up to 30 km, but never for 50 km.  I was living in Alaska for 12 years and did the Tour of Anchorage, a 53 km skate that started at Hillside park, goes down through the city on trails that are mostly groomed all winter long, and finishes at Kincaid Park. Finally at age 58 I was able to break 5 minutes per mile for a 50 km.”

Good skiing in Alaska?  “I was based in Anchorage, and worked as a civil engineer for the BLM all over the state.  In Alaska, the longest ski season was 200 days.  You’d go crust skiing at the end of the year, you could go out 6 miles then back all downhill.  The snowfield would be there until mid-May or June – you’d get up at 5:30 to be on the snow by 6:30, the mountains would shade the valley, and you could crust ski until 10:00 or 10:30 and then you’d start to sink in.” 

Did you ever meet Kikkan Randall?  “I talked to her once. But I’ve been out to lunch with 4 Olympians – Adam Verrier [Lillehammer 1994], James Southam [Torino 2006, Vancouver 2010], Rachel Steer [biathlon, Salt Lake 2002, Torino 2006] and Holly Brooks [Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014].”

How did you transition from all classic to skate skiing?  “When I started skiing there was no grooming.  The JV team would go out first and the best varsity skiers would go last when the snow was packed down.  When I was in college, maybe they’d run a snowmobile over the course, but just a snowmobile, there was no tracksetter yet.  When grooming started, Bill Koch started the marathon skate.  They were able to skate when they had 2 sets of track side by side, it was packed wide enough to skate with one ski – if you were in the left track you could skate with your right ski, but not the left because you’d get into the deep snow.  I was skiing with Roger Weston in the 70’s and 80’s, and we had all these long classic skis, maybe 215 cm.  We decided with the grooming they didn’t need the long tip so we’d cut them down and make skate skis out of them.”

Cutting the tips off of classic skis turned them into skate skis?  “Yeah, they didn’t need to be so long with the grooming.  You can still find old rock skis, cut the tips off and skate on them.”  

Favorite place to ski locally?  “I live 3 miles from Durand Eastman, and they get more snow there.  I know all the pockets where the snow sits – the ridges left by the glaciers form a 60 ft natural snow fence that blocks the sun.  Even when there’s nothing by the parking lot, you can walk down into the valley and get to snow….  If I see a storm’s coming, I’ll go out and pick up sticks so the ground is smooth.  Nobody complains about that.”

Favorite local ski trail? “3rd hole at Durand – a valley with a natural snow fence”

Number of days skiing last year: “54. It was a late start at Durand.  Williamson also gets a lot of lake snow, sometimes I go over there.”

Do you ski anywhere else locally? “I go to Harriet Hollister about once a year.  Bristol, the grooming there is great, but it’s a 50 minute drive.  I can get to Durand in 8 minutes.”

Lightning round:

Fat skis or skinny skis?   “Skinny”

Classic or skate?  “Skate”

Tracks or powder?  “Tracks – ohhh, it’s a tossup”

No-wax or kickwax?  “Kickwax”

No-wax or klister?  [laughs] “No-wax”

Spandex or knickers?  “Spandex. Though I started in knickers in high school.”

Extra kick or extra glide?  “Extra glide for sure, it’s fun to go fast!”