Traditionally, skiers and snowboarders blazing down the mountainside are wearing bright puffy jackets, thick pants, fuzzy hats, gloves, and goggles fit with colorful lenses.
For two days each year, visitors to Hunter Mountain will see a different sight racing downhill: skiers in firefighter uniforms.
The annual FDNY Firefighters Ski Race takes place in upstate New York, with proceeds benefitting the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation for the past 25 years. Prior to that, money raised went to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows and Children’s Fund.
“This race has become a tradition for the members of the FDNY and a big contributor for the Firefighters Burn Center Foundation,” said retired FDNY Lt. and race organizer Joe Jove. “It’s a cause that is very dear to the hearts of all our firefighters.”
The event, which celebrated its 45th anniversary in January, was inaugurated in 1973 when a group of FDNY firefighters were enjoying the slopes at Hunter Mountain. Looking for a greater test, they challenged some of the firefighters of the Hunter Mountain Fire Department to a friendly race.
Except there was a catch.
Each fire department would field a team of five members, who would race downhill wearing helmets and turn-out coats while holding onto a 50-foot fire hose through a slalom course. Fastest time wins.
Word of the event began to spread as each year passed, drawing more and more firehouses and firefighters into competition. There was even a year when a record 243 five-person teams competed, resulting in more than 1,200 total participants.
“The passion and enthusiasm on the mountain is equal to the passion and enthusiasm for helping each other,” said Bill Leahy, New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation president. “It’s a unique experience and a unique event. It’s a different type of fundraising opportunity; it’s not just about raising money and awareness, but also about renewing and strengthening the bonds among the firefighter community.”
The event has raised more than $700,000 since it began its association with the NYFF Burn Center Foundation in 1995.
In 2018, 72 teams competed in the two-day event. The first day is held among the FDNY firefighters, and the second day is a competition open to any interested teams on the East Coast outside of New York City. Engine 63 Ladder 39 located in the Bronx won the fastest ski time, while Engine 80 Ladder 23 on West 139th Street was the winning snowboard team.