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Siblings on the slopes: Bedford's Purnells have similar styles, common goals

Feb. 9—PEOPLE have told Audrey, Luke and John Purnell more than a few times that they all look alike.

That's a common comment siblings get, but the Purnells hear it about their ski styles as much as their physical appearance.

The Purnells, Bedford High School Alpine ski team members, started the sport when they each turned 3 years old. They began competing around 7 and have always been part of the same teams and programs.

"I think when people watch all three of us ski, they say we all ski pretty much the same," said Audrey, a senior and the oldest of the three, after practice at Pats Peak in Henniker recently. "Obviously different speeds but we all have the same ski style and I think it's because we all just build off of each other and we've seen each other ski for our whole lives so we just copy each other's mannerisms."

The siblings will compete at the NHIAA Division I Championships. The girls D-I meet is scheduled for Monday at Crotched Mountain in Bennington. The boys meet is scheduled for Tuesday at Gunstock Mountain in Gilford.

The Bedford boys are the three-time defending Division I champions. The girls have won five Division I titles over the past six seasons.

Audrey, Luke, a junior, and John, a freshman, became interested in skiing when they were young because of their mom, Liz, an assistant coach for Bedford, and their older brother, Nick.

Nick, 19, skied and played lacrosse at Bedford.

Audrey said the three looked up to Nick and, Luke said, Nick helped them improve even after he stopped skiing competitively to focus on lacrosse.

"He'd always come to the races and give me good tips and stuff because he remembered a lot from when he skied," said Luke, who serves as a captain for Bedford alongside Audrey. "And, when he did ski, he would stay behind and help us out, teach us how to get better and stuff."

Luke is the fastest of the three. He, Audrey and John each started racing with the Gunstock Mountain club ski program. They grew up traveling together for competitions that went from Thursday through Sunday each week during the season.

The friends they made during their club skiing days kept them interested in the sport.

"It was like a second family there," Audrey said. "Everyone knew each other and everyone was always excited to go and it was just always a great time."

The competition within their family did not really start until high school, though.

When they raced for Gunstock, the girls and boys courses were separated. Bedford's girls and boys teams train with each other and race on the same course during high school meets.

If one of Audrey's run time is close to Luke's, then she knows it was a good one, she said.

Eighth-year Bedford head coach Phil Akstin said Audrey loves challenging herself against her brothers and the rest of the boys team.

"A couple races ago, she almost beat all the boys in the whole field," Akstin said. "I was like, 'Audrey, c'mon, you were right there.' I think you get that sibling rivalry but they're a very close family."

During those club competitions while racing for Gunstock growing up, the Purnells often stayed at their lake house in Gilford. They took a ski trip to Utah last year during February vacation.

The three have also bonded a lot over the past year, Audrey said, through carpooling and chats on the lift during the weekend training program at Pats Peak, which they joined last year.

"It's just been fun because I ski with them more than I ever did before," Audrey said.

The program has also helped the Purnells improve at the high school level. Audrey said that the courses Pats Peak creates for the training sessions are sometimes longer and more challenging than those at their high school meets.

When John joined the Bedford program this winter, he already knew most of his older teammates. Many are Luke and Audrey's friends, he said.

Luke and Audrey also helped John settle into the team by telling him to relax and ski comfortably while holding him to the same standard as their other teammates.

"Everyone had high expectations for him," Audrey said, "and we were like, 'You've just got to ski your best. We know you can do it. We've seen it, so just show everyone else.'"

Luke and John are among the top three of the six Bedford boys skiers competing at the Division I championships, Asktin said. Audrey is the No. 1 skier for the girls team.

The siblings said their shared passion for skiing has made them closer.

"We've all got to get up at the same time and get in the car and get to the mountain," John said.

"We're all going through the same thing," Luke said.

ahall@unionleader.com