Larry Willette’s mother bought a pair of old, wooden skis with leather straps at the Salvation Army thrift shop when he was 14, prompting him to begin skiing. He would walk from his home in Belleville, N.J. to Branch Brook Park in Newark, N.J., climb the park’s hills, and ski down using homemade bamboo poles and wearing army boots from the first World War. He did this all day before retracing his steps home. Willette’s by-foot ski commute was nine miles round-trip. Now, Willette is 94. He’s accumulated 80 years’ worth of skiing experience.
When Willette was in high school, he took the ski train from New York City to Conway, N.H. to ski at Black Mountain as often as possible, and while later working in New York, Willette joined the Ski Club of America. One of the club’s instructors took him aside and began helping him to improve his technique. Eventually, he became an instructor himself. For many years, he accompanied the club on weekend trips to Vermont and upstate New York.
Willette always said that one of the benefits of being a ski instructor, in addition to the free skiing and ski equipment, was that it was a good way to meet “gals.” In 1971, he met Ann Marie, who later became his wife. Upon seeing her on the first day of her bus trip, he rearranged the schedule so that she would be in his class. He ended up having his hands full, with all of the girls in the class falling down. Ann Marie became frustrated and told him that she was leaving his class, to which he replied, “No, you’re not.” On the next run, she said, “Watch me! I’m going to get my own ski instructor,” and skied straight out of the class. Willette liked a challenge, so after class, he pursued her and Ann Marie ended up with her own permanent ski instructor.
After moving to Massachusetts, Willette and Ann Marie went night skiing after work and took weekend trips, on which he taught her and their friends how to ski. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching his daughters, Alyssa and Tiasha, from the time that they were very young. The family has skied all over the country.
Skiing has been a vital piece of Willette’s life. When he was no longer able to ski safely, due to balance issues, he still wanted to be involved with the sport. He and Ann Marie began taking the White Mountain Express bus to Sunday River on Wednesdays−13 years ago. So, while he may have had to retire the skis, Larry Willette still enjoys watching skiers and providing pointers to friends, and he still very much “hits the slopes.”
*Note: This story was written by Anne Marie Willette and submitted to Sunday River via the White Mountain Express ski bus group, of which Larry is a member. Longtime loyalists like Larry are part of what makes this place so unique. Thanks for sharing.