CAMDEN, Maine — Forty years ago, Bangor native Karen Colburn soared above the ski slopes all over the world as a pioneer in the then-new sport of freestyle skiing.
This week, she will take wing once again, this time flying west to Aspen, Colorado, in the company of her father and her son to reunite with many of her skiing friends and competitors at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame skiing history week and induction ceremony.
The special events in Aspen are meaningful to her — but perhaps more so is the chance to have a big adventure with her father, Edwin “Sonny” Colburn, who is nearly 84 years old, and her 13-year-old son, Colburn Roberts, who has Down syndrome. Karen Colburn has been getting the word out about her upcoming trip in order to raise money to help make it happen. By Monday afternoon, she was more than halfway to her $4,000 goal.
“It is an adventure of a lifetime,” Karen Colburn, who now lives in Camden, said.
When she was a child, she remembers being shy and introverted — very different from her father, a gregarious outdoorsman who met and married her Eskimo mother when he was stationed in Alaska with the Air Force. Sonny Colburn has left his mark on the Bangor area in a big way.
“He’s an avid Anah Temple Shriner,” Karen Colburn said. “He used to be in the clown brigade. He used to drive a bathtub he rigged up with plumbing, and in the parades, he’d be driving down the road having a shower in the bathtub.”
Perhaps Sonny Colburn’s most lasting legacy to the region is the idea he and his friend Lew Gilman had 50 years ago: to run a spring river race on the Kenduskeag River, the same race that still draws hundreds of enthusiastic participants every April.
For Karen Colburn, her father’s big personality was instrumental in helping her get from the slopes of Big Squaw Mountain in Greenville to the winner’s podium at the United States Ski Association’s first-ever national amateur freestyle contest in 1975. Colburn is not being inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, but is participating in the events as a former freestyle professional tour member.
“My dad was an ardent, unending advocate for me,” she said. “I couldn’t have done any of this without his support.”
On the slopes, the teenaged Karen wasn’t shy. She excelled at regular downhill skiing, then competed in the junior masters program, where she began to add tricks to her runs. When Colburn became the national freestyle champion, she was still in high school. The next year, she joined the Colgate Women’s International Freestyle Ski Tour, and she did well enough to be recognized as the 1976 rookie of the year.
“It was just total fun for me,” she recalled.
In recent years, Colburn hasn’t spent much time on the slopes, although that is starting to change. The single mom homeschools her son, and although he has been reluctant to go downhill skiing, last year he gave it another try.
“I am so astonished,” Karen Colburn said. “My amazing boy with very limited speech capacity has a pretty good sense of his own body and his ability. He’s making amazing progress, and it’s so exciting to see.”
Being a parent has given her a lot of perspective on skiing, family and on what her father did to help make her success possible. That’s why this intergenerational trip is so important to her.
“When I was on the circuit 40 years ago, I thought I was an adult doing it on my own,” she said. “And now that I have a child, I recognize that my dad did so much for me.”
For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/kec56.