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If you live in the Northeast, especially if you ski, you don't have to be informed this was some winter!

They'll be skiing into May. and then comes Tuckerman's Ravine ...

In any case a ski year full of event. From the tragedy of Ulli Maier's death in a downhill race to the enormous and unexpected triumphs at Lillehammer of Diane Roffe and Tommy Moe and, oh, yes, Picabo Street of Ketchum.

Also a year in which journalism lost in a ski accident a talented colleague and former Ad Age executive editor, Dennis Chase. Of this, more to come.

Against the background, very obviously, of the Winter Games in Norway, some 325 advertising, marketing, media and allied types gathered earlier this month at Hunter Mountain for the seventh annual Advertising Agency Ski Challenge.

We drove up early on Friday (I like to sneak in a day of practice before things get serious). It is about 135 miles from midtown Manhattan to the Catskill Mountains where Rip Van Winkle once slept, and in recent years you might drive the whole way without seeing snow until the mountain itself, the trails white from snowmaking with the rest of the hill bare and brown. Not this year; this time the snow began in Manhattan and just never quit.

God bless four-wheel drive!

Good Houskeeping's Alan Waxenberg has been a sort of local Jean-Claude Killy of the Ad Age ski races since I've been attending while a company called Sitour does the actual work of running the event.

Forecasts called for splendid weather all weekend, sunny and with temperatures just above freezing. Perfecto! And that's how it was Friday. On Saturday at dawn I woke to a thermometer reading of 10 degrees and snow flurries that got heavier and heavier. But by 11 a.m. when the races began on the Nastar course (parallel gates and parallel slalom courses with two competitors racing side by side for two runs), it was warming nicely and the sun was peeking through gray cloud.

And has the skiing ever been better?

In the major races, for the clients, Smart Money grabbed top money by less than a second over Wall Street Journal Team One.

On the Smart Money squad were Chris Lambiase, Meghan Gluney, Robert P. Fritze, Tracy Loughlin and Michael De Carlo. And well done, all! For the Journal it was Saul Federman, Holly McElreath (sign her up; she won a year ago as well!), Jack Hyndman, Michael Spane and Bill DiModugno.

In third place was Rodale Press, John Fales, JoAnn Policelli, Robert J. Cale, Jeff Gropper and Jonathan Daniels. In fourth was Wall Street Journal Team Two (do these people actually go to work or just ski for a living?) followed by gallant Ad Age. Other client teams competing included Barron's, two squads from R.H. Donnelley, three from Fortune and Time Inc. and one from MRI.

Among the ad agencies, Luyk Miller Pelton was swiftest. Their stars: Clifton Mark, Kam Hoopes, Susan Schoonmaker, Jeff Bucko Greiner and Marjolaine Arsenault. Grey Team Three was second with Peter Isaia, Stephanie Esposito, Tom Evans, Allyson Gracie and Gardiner Welch. In third place, FCB Team Four, Jennifer Harkins, Gordon Spater, Cathrine Bozzo, John Flood, and Dennis Johnson.

Grey's Team Four came in just ahead of Biederman Kelly & Shaffer. In all, 27 agency teams competed, which may be a new record. (And I might say the spellings above are courtesy of the Karl Plattner Ski School at Hunter and I'm sure several of them are correct. "Achtung, Karl, get mit der spelling!")

In the individual competitions, among women clients, Holly McElreath won, followed by Meghan Gluney, Michele Spane, Joanne Policelli and Tracy Loughlin. For the client males, Jack Hyndman took the gold, followed by Chris Lambiase, Robert P. Fritze, John Fales, and John McShea of Barron's.

In the agency races, the top man was Kam Hoopes, followed by Thomas Hoya of Thompson, John P. Kelly of Biederman, David Beatus of FCB, and Andy Zevon of Thompson. Taking the agency gold for women was Noel R. Caban of Bozell. Second came Cathrine Bozzo of FCB, then Nori Possavino of Saatchi, Heather Rowe and Janice DiMaggio of McCann-Erickson.

At the cocktail and dinner former Olympian Doug Lewis talked movingly about the Olympic experience (apparently the best fun is the closing parade when you can stroll out with new pals, fellow luge drivers, for example, and not stick with your national squad) and lots of new skis and other prizes were handed out following speeches and stuff and announcement of the best linked-snowplow turns. Sunday the sun was out all day. So were vast crowds. And the skiing was easy. ...

For those of us who work at Ad Age all this jollity and sport and camaraderie was being played out against the sad fact of Dennis Chase's death. He was killed, as you may know, while skiing with his 14-year-old son Justin at the Brighton Resort above Salt Lake City on Feb. 15. He was 47.

The irony is, to be killed skiing, you have to be a good skier, to get going fast enough to be badly hurt. Dennis was good. Good at a lot of things. He was smart and creative and tough and he often drove people nuts. No one spun off ideas faster than Dennis did and when you generate that many, there are always going to be clunkers. But amid them, the gems! It was Dennis who made me go to Eastern Europe four years ago when the Wall was coming down. It was Dennis who chased me to the conventions of '92. It was also Dennis who conceived briefly (and implausibly) an idea I should spend one week a month in California year 'round. Can't you just see those expense accounts?

He's gone now. I miss his bark. Miss his bite.

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