Roger Marolt: Roger This
January 14, 2011
One of the coolest and one of the dumbest events ever to take place in Aspen was the 24 Hours of Aspen skiing marathon. The idea was to put lights all the way down Aspen Mountain and then see who could make the most gondola laps in one 24-hour day.
OK, lights on The Sacred Shrine so you can ski all night; that’s cool. Gondola laps down Spar Gulch, over and over and over again; that’s stupid. But, the real measure for whether the event was worthwhile was more complicated than that.
The fact that the race no longer exists tells you that the event lost its pizzazz on its way to irrelevancy, but its beginning tells you how it grew from a storm in a brain to an international whirlwind before it blew itself out.
Ed McCaffrey was a local ski nut, and probably still is somewhere else. He made his living in a snowcat making corduroy snow at night and made his life all about making straight ski tracks through it by day. He was a man who never owned a pair of skis he couldn’t ignore the sidecut on. He didn’t ski the way I liked to ski, but occasionally we would meet up and take different routes to the bottom together. When the moon was full he would meet my brothers and me at the bottom of Little Nell and give us a lift to the Sundeck in his snowcat. He got to talk more skiing on the way up and was satisfied that the slopes weren’t going to waste after the sun had set and the bars of Aspen had opened.
In 1984 Ed screwed his knee up in the Town Downhill. His convalescence left him with no outlet for his passion other than daydreaming. Also, without having to concentrate on dodging tourists in Copper Bowl at two in the afternoon, he couldn’t help but think a lot about his dad, who was dying a slow death by multiple sclerosis (MS).
It was in his hospital bed that he combined his passion for skiing with the love of his father and came up with the crazy notion to raise money for MS by setting a new world record for the most vertical feet skied in one day. The factory shine was still on the Silver Queen gondola in 1986 when he recognized the means to make that dream a reality on his home turf. In 1987, Ed somehow convinced people to back his crazy idea. Aspen Skiing Co. was all for it as a way to showcase their large investment in game-changing ski lift technology. They installed a temporary and rudimentary lighting system on Aspen Mountain and away he and a buddy went.
I think Ed and his teammate set a new world record that first attempt. But, that is completely beside the point. What is remarkable is that a ski bum whose only recognizable resources were his immeasurable love for his father and his incredible passion for the sport of skiing was able to combine those forces to make this event happen.
The rest is sad history. Ed’s event became a victim of its own success. It garnered a lot of attention and some people who recognized this mistakenly thought it was about the excitement of skiing fast all night long, and they tried to capitalize on that.
Professional organizers took over. Gone was MS as the beneficiary. The event began adopting the charitable cause de jour for greater mass appeal. Gone was the grassroots effort to raise funds and awareness. Money was now sought from corporate sponsors more interested in international television exposure than helping anyone in need. Most of all, gone was Ed’s passion and love. It was replaced by The Bottom Line.
Just like that the event became a ridiculous pursuit: men and women riding a gondola up a mountain and skiing down the same route, over and over and over again. Yes, it was as physically and mentally difficult to ski all night as it ever was, but it was no longer interesting. It turns out that what was compelling to begin with is what one man, whose station in life was never mistaken for Grand Central, could accomplish through the sheer force of passion and love. It was inspirational! All the glitz, glamour and big-dollar promotion by ESPN and its sponsors couldn’t replicate that.
I am sure that Ed was heartbroken. Too many things were out of his control for him to be able to hold onto his event. He lost his baby and the means to help his dad. He hung around for awhile and then slipped away without many people noticing. Both he and Aspen lost an incredible outlet to show what good we can do without the ulterior motive that most of the rest of the world suspects whenever we make headlines.
And, this is a long way of getting to my point today, but I hope you will connect the dots. Sunday morning people of this community will climb to the top of Buttermilk Mountain to raise money for research on Duchene muscular dystrophy. It is bad enough that this disease is the, thus far, incurable killer of children, mostly boys. It is worse that a junior at our Aspen High School has it.
What I want you to know is that The Hike for Hope event is the product of love and passion from this boy’s family. It is the reincarnation of everything that was good about Ed McCaffrey’s 24 Hours of Aspen. It is the Sharpe family taking action to foster hope; for the love of their son and through their passion for active outdoor living. For us it is a second chance to embrace what is truly worthwhile in Aspen’s soul; a cherished event to help kids who really can use it. It says a lot about our town. I hope you help to say it loudly.
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