For Lee Anne Underwood, the journey to becoming a national skiing champion started right here in Bracebridge.
Former Bracebridge resident Lee Anne Underwood recently earned four gold medals at the Canadian Masters Alpine Championships in Alberta. The championship skier says she got her start in the sport right here in Bracebridge over 40 years ago.
At 55, Underwood has won four gold medals at the Canadian Masters Alpine Championships in Nakiska, Alta. on March 30 to April 1, where she took on 80 to 90 rival athletes from across Canada in the 55 to 59 age group. She emerged from the late March competition with first-place finishes in the super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined events.
Underwood said growing up across the street from a skiing instructor in Bracebridge and the support received from other community members helped lay the foundations for her love of the sport.
“There was a program that was run out at Rainbow Ridge by Stan Knowles, and Stan lived across the street from us on Aubrey Street, and he said to my parents, ‘You need to get your two daughters involved in this,’” she said. “Every Friday afternoon in the wintertime, from recess, there was a bus that would take us out to Rainbow Ridge and we were in our ski program out there until 5 o’clock. The bus would bring you home and you’d drag your skis across town from the public school back over to Aubrey Street.”
In the late 1960s, Underwood said there weren’t a lot of athletic opportunities for girls in Bracebridge. That meant following in the footsteps of her father — former Toronto Marlies hockey player Danny Poland — wasn’t possible at the time.
“Other than figure skating, we didn’t have ice hockey, and skiing was kind of what you just did,” she said. “I don’t ever remember there being a hockey program at that point in time (for girls).”
Gender barriers, however, weren’t around in skiing.
“It was a way for your parents to get you out of the house and it was a safe place to be because everybody watched over you,” she said. “It was a great safe outlet for competition.”
Since first hitting the slopes at the age of seven, Underwood also found herself skiing on weekends. She continued skiing until leaving high school, when attending Queen’s University made it impossible to continue the sport.
“You can’t do any skiing in Kingston because it’s pretty flat,” she said. “I actually went about 11 years before I skied or raced again.”
After starting a teaching career in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, however, skiing came back into her life in 1985.
“The gentleman that I met and ended up marrying owned a ski shop,” she said.
From there, she began hitting the slopes again as an adult, eventually joining a league that skied in Collingwood. As that program expanded, individual race opportunities began being offered, including chances to race at the national and provincial levels.
That journey would eventually lead her to the Canadian Alpine Masters Championships. She first went five years ago over the Easter holiday while still working as a teacher, but did not have the time to compete again until recently retiring. The camaraderie, sense of community and friendships she’s made at the competition over the years, she says, will likely see her going back for a third time.
“I can see myself going again,” she said. “It’s a very positive experience.”
LOCAL CHAMPION. Former Bracebridge resident Lee Anne Underwood recently earned four gold medals at the Canadian Masters Alpine Championships in Alberta. The championship skier says she got her start in the sport right here in Bracebridge over 40 years ago. (Submitted photo)
*She’s submitted a photo, but it wasn’t high res enough. She’s been asked to submit another