When last ski season ended, Abe Musty of Bradford, VT, immediately turned his attention to next ski season. The 11-year-old, who started skiing at the Dartmouth Skiway at age five, was thinking of ways he could make money over the summer to join his U-12 Ford Sayre Ski Club teammates on their early season ski trip to Colorado. He figured he needed to raise $1000 over the summer to make that happen.
Abe and his friend Sam thought about what they could create and sell over the summer. During some down time in the lodge with his grandfather, during last year’s NH state champs, Abe had watched the “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” a movie about the African boy who built a windmill to power a bicycle generator that ran a water pump for his village.
“We were brainstorming ideas and I remembered that movie, “Abe recalls. “My mom has a road bike she does not use that often and I thought ‘Hey maybe we could get a generator and I could make something that kids liked.’” Lemonade sounded good, but it doesn’t require electricity. Then they hit on cotton candy, and got to work.
The first step was running it by Abe’s Dad, Ben. After hearing the concept, Ben, a mechanic, agreed to help him assemble parts and build the rig. They bought the cotton candy machine on Amazon, then got to work MacGyvering. They replaced the drum on his mom’s bike trainer with a DC automotive alternator, then connected that to an automotive battery and an inverter. When Abe pedals the bike, the alternator charges the battery that powers the inverter into which the cotton candy machine is plugged.
Fortunately, math is Abe’s favorite subject, because he got to do lots of it. “We treated it like a science project,” Ben explained. “We figured out the rear wheel rpm and what size pulley we would need to spin the alternator fast enough so it would make enough power and so on.” They calibrated the set-up for 10 mph, a doable speed for the power source (Abe) to maintain for a sustained time.
Math also came into play when Abe needed to figure out how much maple sugar he would need for the summer, and then how much syrup he would need to make that amount of maple sugar. He offers standard pink (raspberry, the best seller) and blue (blueberry) flavors, but his premiere offering (at $4 a pop) is maple. After figuring that out, Abe happened to win some syrup in a spring trail race. The local sugarmaker, impressed by Abe’s venture, made all of the syrup into enough spinnable sugar/maple sugar mix to fuel his business. Due to food dye allergies, maple is also the only flavor Abe can eat, making it a key part of his product mix.
Selling the Dream
On a warm Tuesday night in August, the town common in Fairlee, VT, is rocking to a free concert. It’s a weekly community jam, typical of small towns in New England. On the side of the green, across from the gazebo where the band is set up, Abe is pedaling away through the heat, maintaining 10 mph while his mom, Abby, makes up cotton candy for a customer. This evening he’s not alone. Next to him fellow Ford Sayre U-12’s Allie Vogelien and Harper Traendly have set up shop selling homemade lavender lemonade and chocolate chip cookies respectively. All are raising money to help fund their Jr ski racing careers. Their parents, who mill around nearby, are grateful the kids can contribute. “We’re pretty stretched,” says one, “so it’s good for them to have some skin in the game.”
Going the Distance
Commitment is nothing new to these three kids who, along with another friend, call themselves “FSN,” for Ford Sayre North. Their winters involve a significant commute to be part of the club’s weekday training, and Abe’s trek is the longest. The closest ski area to him is Northeast Slopes, an all-volunteer-run eastern gem that is home of the oldest continuously running ski tow in the US. This place, where Abe’s mom, Abby, learned to ski from her Dad, is the soul of skiing— the type of place that will run the rope tow spontaneously under a full moon when the conditions are right. It does not, however, have snowmaking, and even when there is ample natural snow is only open on Wednesday nights midweek.
So, when Abe caught the ski racing bug, getting regular midweek training required driving 45 minutes south to Whaleback. Abby, a massage therapist, shuttles the kids down three afternoons a week, and the other parents, who work in the Hanover area, take turns driving the carpool back, while Abby returns to work. Abe is the last to be dropped. After training—and chowing down on snacks while jamming to their “FSN” playlist on the ride back north—he typically gets home around 7 pm. “The midweek carpool to Whaleback is a lot of fun, and as you can imagine, a whirlwind,” says Abby.”It’s a long day for a kid his age.”
In addition to the cotton candy venture, Abe has been mowing lawns, and doing yard work around his grandparents’ camp. Of all the jobs, “this is the most fun,” says Abe, though it is not easy. Riding with the resistance of the alternator is like doing a mild hill climb, nonstop and without the breeze that comes with a regular bike ride. The hard work has paid off. Abe is fit and strong, and, as of mid August, had surpassed his Colorado goal by enough money to achieve his second goal of buying a new pair of ski boots. They will be a significant upgrade from his ski swap boots, and make the trip to Colorado that much sweeter.
When the music stops and the crowd starts to disperse, Abe enjoys the last bit of maple cotton candy before Abby pours water into the hot machine to steam clean it. His friends and their parents pack up their stands, empty the tip jars that overflow with community support, and head home. It’s a happy reminder, even in the summer heat, that the spirit of ski racing is alive.