After quarter century, race series still stokes locals’ competitive fire | AspenTimes.com
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After quarter century, race series still stokes locals’ competitive fire

Steve Benson
Thomas Wieringa rounds a town race series gate at Aspen Highlands on Sunday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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It’s not necessarily about winning or losing, but it’s not just a walk in the park, either. With The Aspen Times Town Race Series entering its 25th season – it is the country’s longest running town ski-racing series – several regulars spoke about the addiction of bashing gates and what continues to drive them after all these years.The field is diverse, both in age and talent. Some racers are in their 20s, others are older than 60. There are a few ex-U.S. Ski Team members, while some have no formal racing background at all. For most, this is the end of the line in their ski racing careers, but that doesn’t matter.No doubt the series is competitive, with names like Dave Durrance, Dave Stapleton and Chris Tache – all former professional racers – dotting the field. But most participants contend it’s not really a competition, at least not with the other racers. “Sure I like to win, being the second oldest racer in the league,” said Durrance, a U.S. Ski Team coach and owner of Durrance Sports. “But I don’t have a grudge against anyone, there’s not anyone I need to beat.”I’m really just competing with myself.”Most couldn’t really pinpoint why they still race; some would just shrug their shoulders when asked. Perhaps it’s like asking a dessert freak why she likes chocolate. For the racers who’ve been bashing gates their entire lives, it’s just a part of who they are; for the less experienced, it’s the

excitement of seeing constant improvement. But all of them seem to view the sport as a personal endeavor, such as an artist mastering his craft.”I can’t stop, I don’t know when to stop,” Mike Sladdin said over a beer at the Thunderbowl Cafe at Aspen Highlands, where participants gather every Saturday and Sunday afternoon to sip beers and watch film of the race. “I hope to be able to race another lifetime.”Gary Gleason, a longtime series racer, said the course offers something one can’t find when free skiing. In racing, you can’t just change your line to make adjustments, he said. Instead, you have to make adjustments to your technique.”The discipline itself to me is rewarding,” Gleason said.”A golf course is usually the same, a tennis court is always the same, but racing is always changing,” Durrance said. “Every run is different and part of the challenge is attending to the changes.”Cindy Lindsay, a longtime racer and one of a handful of women who compete in the series, thrives on the challenge.”The thrill of trying to go fast in a controlled environment is great,” she said. “But we need more women.”

Town series race director Scott Nichols of the Aspen Skiing Co. has been running the series since 1981. He’s seen a lot of changes over the years, especially the evolution ofthem hasn’t changed.”Anytime you’re in a [race], the butterflies get going and you push as hard as you can – no matter what age you are,” he said.The location of the course, the Golden Horn and Thunderbowl runs at Aspen Highlands, hasn’t changed, either. And it’s regarded by some, including former world champion Marc Girardelli, as the best giant slalom course in the world.”It has a lot of undulating terrain with a combination of steeps and flats,” Nichols said. “The snowmaking crews and the groomers at Aspen Highlands are the heroes who put it all together.”Durrance said he’s still struck with a jolt of excitement when he sees a hill set with gates.”Oh boy, there’s a course,” he laughed.And when he competes or trains he’s thinking about “keeping my technique and skiing moving forward in a modern way.”

Tache, a former U.S. Ski Team racer, who along with his brother runs Tache Racing clinics, said he got bored with free skiing. After a lengthy hiatus from racing, Tache, whose father raced in the 1950 FIS World Championships in Aspen, said he feels like he’s caught the bug again.”It’s addictive. It takes a lot of work to get just a little bit better,” he said.And like any junkie, it’s nice to have friends with similar addictions.Jim Lindsay, who’s been racing in the series since its inception, said the camaraderie is a big motivator.”I have friends I’ve been racing with for 25 years,” he said.The Aspen Times Town Race Series offers advanced races on Saturdays, while the recreation league, which includes telemarking and snowboarding divisions, takes place on Sundays.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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