Masters Racing legend Lou Fenninger skis, talks and waxes – philosophical

Fenninger ready for Senior Games and Winterfest alpine challenge
By Terry Gavan
Sweet Lou on the lift.

I was asked once to describe my friend – ersatz confidante, and ski tuner – Lou Fenninger.

In one word.
“Peripatetic,” I said, without a blink of hesitation.
Then I said, “Whoa… wait. Let’s see if that’s the word I want.” Gav-speak for: I hope I didn’t call ol’ Lou a crank; or wide-browed member of a Neanderthal tribe.
Looked it up: “Of or relating to the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), who used to teach philosophy while walking about the Lyceum in ancient Athens.”
Bam. Perfect. Lou.
Fenninger, 64, walks around. A lot. And when he’s not howling like a wolf, or barking like a dog – these Aristotelian metaphysical ticks are logged deferentially in Kitty Kelly’s biography “Aristotle – And His Big Fat Greek Philosophy” – you may glean keen insight from Lou Fenninger; his life; and his passions.
Lou Fenninger is not a big fan of status quo; or mucky inertia; or the wallowing detritus of a life less lived.
He moves ahead, takes on problems in racing and life with fall line demeanor. My old ski school director Jeff Bartlett told me once: “You can learn a lot from Lou.”
He wasn’t talking about skiing.
Although you can learn about that too, from Sweet Lou.
Talking, walking, tuning, and waxing.
In the course of a rambling hour-long interview we traipsed around the workshop attached to Lou and Marianne Fenninger’s modest four-season bungalow, just a 30-second scamper from Sir Sam’s Ski Chalet. They share it with a passel of daughters that I could name but you’ll see their names often enough this year as we list race winners and Queen of the Hill finishers. Okay: Andrea, Erin, Victoria – who is already a member of the Women’s National Master’s Team – and Alex. Both Erin and Victoria have done the Peak to Valley Race in Whistler.
We chat, or Lou chats, and I chase, tape recorder on rapid scatter.
He tunes, sells a pair of Atomic skis to some long time friends, and scrapes wax off a new pair of 155 Atomic slalom gunners.
Lou is modest, or as modest as one can get while listing a string of eye-popping skiing accomplishments. Since falling in love with skiing in 1991, Fenninger continues to explore the nuance and the beauty of ski racing.
He’s been a mentor to hundreds of young skiers at Sir Sam’s.

Like Aristotle, Fenninger delivers his real lessons in between runs – on the lift.
“About twenty years ago I started ski racing,” says Fenninger, who will be organizing the alpine events at the Winterfest Senior Games come February 15-17, 2011. “I started here; at Sir Sam’s really… I started first with the Sir Sam’s Challenge.”
The Sir Sam’s Challenge is a Sunday staple at the Sir Sam’s ski area. It was when Fenninger started in the 90s and the Challenge continues to spawn a new breed of young and old racers today. (This year the Sir Sam’s Challenge begins Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011.)
Back then Fenninger was looking for something. He found it on the hill. Something about the tug, the imposed boundaries of a course; and something about the camaraderie drew Fenninger deeper inside the Canadian racing cognoscente.
“From there I started Master’s racing,” says Fenninger. “And it was in the early 90s that I started going to Whistler and the National Master’s Race. There were almost 400 people at the race there.”
Master’s Ski Racing was created to promote lifelong participation and performance in ski racing. Team members inspire recreational athletes—young and old—and represent AOA Masters at provincial, national and international events.
Fenninger didn’t know what to expect, but he knew he was home. He knew that first night at Whistler, a skiing mecca for many; but a true Mecca for Fenninger.
“Out of 35 people in my age category I was eighteenth, so I was right in the middle of the pack,” he says. “But I loved it.”
I should add an exclamation on that last bit, but an old Sports Editor at the Winnipeg Sun once whapped me on the back of the noggin for including such obtrusive gibberish. Screw it! Never liked that SOB anyway! Lou Fenninger loves it all! The skiing and the people! Summers he spends time whacking trails out of hillside on the Sir Sam’s mountain bike courses. Fenninger’s a dervish!
Many old coots find their mid-life solution at the wheel of a Ferrari. Bah! Ferrari in a nutshell? Hard to tune, a bitch to wax, and handles like a piece of batcrap in the snow.
Lou found his mid-life niche on the mountain.
“The Sir Sam’s Challenge. I started in 91, and in the next four or five years I really worked at getting better and better,” says Fenninger. And from there to Masters racing at Whistler. “So then the last time they had the race at Whistler I won the combined (Slalom and Giant Slalom events) back in 97. I also ran it at Sun Peaks (BC) a couple of times. And in the Ontario I usually win the combined every year.”
Remember that some of the guys Fenninger faces have skied for Canada’s National Team.
And here Lou smiles. He shrugs. The message is clear. He’s uncomfortable with the list of accomplishments because it does sound a little self-congratulatory. I smile and prod him to go-ahead. He wanders to the back of the shop, and talks while he walks.
“I would say that out of five years … four out of the five I’ll win. In the Ontario’s it’s usually clean,” says Fenninger. “I win the slalom and the GS and take the combined.
“At Whistler someone might beat me in the slalom and I’ll win the GS and take the combined. I’ve only won a single event a couple of times but I usually win the combined. Since the mid-90s I haven’t been anywhere below third. And I mean there’s guys that are better than me in GS and some guys who are better in slalom. I just do better in the overall.”
Lou’s teams have also won several of the four-man legendary Peak to Valley Race at Whistler.
Winning’s nice says Fenninger, but the preparation, the concentration and the fun he has doing it makes the whole exercise worthwhile.
“The best part of it all are the guys involved,” says Fenninger. “All these guys that I compete against are all really good friends of mine. There isn’t a dull negative person in that whole group.
“Our oldest guy is Rolf Hauge, he’s 91-year-old and he competes in the Peak to Valley at Whistler every year,” says Fenninger.
Something sparkles in Lou’s eyes and you just know that Lou Fenninger has eyes on Rolf’s pace setting longevity record.
In 1991 Lou found and filled the hole in his donut.
Reminding us all to stick with the TH coffee and leave the Timbits on the counter.
Next time you get stuck on a lift at Sir Sam’s with a yellow helmeted crazy who barks like a dog?
Have a chat.
But don’t ask him to tune your skis.
My Nomads are next.
Schuss Points:The Winterfest Alpine events at Sir Sam’s goes Feb 15-17 and will be overseen by Fenninger and Sir Sam’s ski school director Dave Webb. Phone for entry and viewing recommendations at 705-754-2298. / / local sports blog