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Alpine skiing: Atmore Memorial is not just a race, it's a remembrance

Steve Kuchera / Scott Ransom and Peggy Atmore Mason at the main chalet at Spirit Mountain on Thursday. The annual race, now in its 40th year, was named for Mason's late husband and son. Ransom has been involved with the race every year.1 / 3
Photo courtesy of Melody Pechous Skiers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines and Puerto Rico are expected to race this weekend in the Atmore Memorial. Flags from those countries line the Spirit Mountain course.2 / 3
Photo courtesy of Tom Wood Rows of flags line Bear Claw and Gandy Dancer, the two ski runs at Spirit Mountain, which serve as the Atmore Memorial race course this weekend. The flags represent athletes from all the countries who have participated in the last 40 years of the race, and today skiers will take selfies with the flags and St. Louis River serving as the ultimate backdrop.3 / 3

Lynn Wood took a look outside Thursday morning and thought, “Is this the best day to take her out?”

Snow was falling and it was cold, and getting colder, but Wood’s friend, Peggy Atmore Mason, a spry 91-year-old, wasn’t staying home.

“We’re skiers,” she said.

While it should be sunny this weekend, temperatures will hover around zero for this weekend’s 40th annual Atmore Memorial at Spirit Mountain. Perfect, if you want to go fast.

Atmore Mason and Scott Ransom, a Team Duluth ski coach, sat down for an interview Thursday at Spirit Mountain to talk about the history of the Atmore Memorial. This year’s race features more than 200 Alpine skiers, mostly younger, representing 12 countries.

The Atmore Memorial honors the memory of Peggy’s husband, Dr. William Atmore, and her son, Mark, who died tragically three years apart in the 1970s. Ransom has been a part of every one, as a coach and course supervisor.

“It’s amazing. Feels like 20, but it’s been 40,” Ransom said. “Forty years ago, the Atmore was this tiny little race just about the Midwest. Now, it has the highest participation numbers of any race in the Midwest, and it has the most athletes from outside the region, and there’s no other race that can say that. And they all come because they know this is a race where the snow surface is phenomenal for them. The challenge of the hill is not World Cup level in any way, but it is perfect for junior racing.”

Trials and tribulation

Atmore Mason is from Minneapolis and met her future husband while attending college at Minnesota, where he was going into medical school. The orthopedic surgeon was on the ground floor of sports medicine and served as team doctor for the gold-medal winning 1960 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team — “The Forgotten Miracle” — and the family has the gold medal to prove it. They had six children: Mark, the oldest, Bill, Mary, Michael, Kathleen and Tom.

Peggy, who later remarried and is twice widowed, lives in Duluth, and three of the children are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Michael lives in New York City but has a house on the North Shore and returns home often. He planned to arrive late tonight and will attend the Atmore on Saturday and Sunday.

“Spirit Mountain became a big part of our lives, and that’s why it’s appropriate the race is there,” Michael Atmore said in a phone interview Wednesday. “What’s been very rewarding for the family is that the race has lasted this long and held the importance it’s had. We’re very proud of how the race has survived, and the place it’s held in the ski racing community.”

After Peggy and William married, they moved to Bill’s hometown of Duluth. While some of her Twin Cities fans scoffed at the notion, Peggy embraced it. She remembered how much her father loved taking the family to Duluth in the summer, before air conditioning was common, for all the outdoor activities. She thought, it was a great place to raise a family.

“I always thought Duluth was really, really special,” Atmore Mason said. “So whenever anybody said, ‘You don’t want to live in Duluth,’ I said, ‘No, I love it there.’ ”

Atmore Mason remembers the first time she saw William ski at Mont du Lac, before Spirit Mountain, flying down the hill at night in his World War II-issue long white skis, thinking, “He’s going to be all broken up before he even starts.” But soon, she was hooked, too.

“It’s a family thing,” Ransom said.

William Atmore was one of the founders of the Duluth-Superior Alpine Club, while Mark was a talented racer and coach. Mark, a 1967 Cathedral graduate, earned the school’s first Alpine skiing varsity letter and became a Minneapolis lawyer.

“I can remember some lady saying to me, ‘I don’t know what I’d do if my husband told me I had to go skiing every Wednesday,” Peggy said, laughing. “And I thought it was the neatest thing in the world. She said, ‘How awful.’ I wanted to go. Crazy me. I loved it. And everybody we knew was the same way.”

Michael, who described his father and his brother as his heroes, said they were smart and funny but very focused on their work and sport. Every moment they could spare was spent outdoors, skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer.

“They both knew Duluth was the greatest place to live,” he said.

‘The race lives on’

William Atmore died in November 1975, close to Thanksgiving, from a heart attack at age 52, shocking to those who knew how active and healthy he was. Almost three years to the day, Mark Atmore died in 1978 in a single-car accident on London Road in a black-ice incident where the car he was driving slid and hit a tree. He was 29.

“That was probably the most difficult moment for our family, if you really think about it, because it was a definite echo of what happened with my father,” Michael Atmore said. “It was sort of unbelievable that it was happening again. There was an air of disbelief. Just very sudden and unexpected, and that’s very hard for a family to deal with.”

The late Don Salo, then-president of the Duluth-Superior Alpine Club, came up with the idea of the Atmore Memorial, and with help from Bill Wilson and Ron Johnson, among others, in 1979 the first race was held.

Years later, Tom Wood, Lynn’s husband, helped take it to another level as chief of race.

Olympians Kristina Koznick and Tasha Nelson are among those who have raced the Atmore.

“People don’t understand,” Atmore Mason said. “It’s worldwide. I can’t miss this.”

The overall winners after three days of racing get their names engraved on the Atmore Cup, and Atmore Mason is still very involved with the trophy presentation.

“How many races can say that?” Ransom said.

That’s because this isn’t just a race. It’s a remembrance.

“This race is a beautiful tribute to both of them, serving as a great legacy,” Michael Atmore said. “The race lives on. People know the name, but they don’t always know the story behind it. There is a story, and it means something, and it would mean something to them, because they both loved skiing, and they both loved ski racing. They would be very impressed it made it 40 years.”


What: 40th annual running of Alpine ski race

When: Today through Sunday

Where: Spirit Mountain

Schedule: Racing runs from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, with the men and women alternating between Bear Claw and Gandy Dancer runs