Remembering the Bash for Cash
The other paper recently ran Damian Williams’ profile of the career of Dr. Robert Oden (retired), who had founded Aspen’s (and the Western Slope’s) first orthopedic clinic in 1957. He had played a major role in the creation of on-mountain clinics at Snowmass Village and at Vail. He has been honored in every conceivable way as a surgeon, a creator of clinical infrastructure locally, of sports medicine as a professional specialty, and as an advocate for safety standards in ski racing.
The first time I went to a doctor in Aspen was one of the coldest days I’ve ever experienced, and I am from Minnesota. On Monday, Jan. 14, 1963, I hitched into Aspen from Old Snowmass to my pot washing job at the Copper Kettle. I had spent a restless night with an abscessed finger. Sarah Armstrong, my boss, had a bellman from the Aspen Meadows hotel drive me downtown to the Aspen Clinic that occupied the entire ground floor of 422 E. Hyman.
Doctors Oden, Harold Whitcomb and Virgil Gould were available for walk-ins ,and that morning, the official low was minus 31, as quoted by The Aspen Times weather page last Monday, also a Jan. 14. Business was slow on such a bone-chilling morning, and I got to meet Dr. Whitcomb, although my abscess was dealt with by Dr. Gould.
Except for a few night-shift nurses, ER staffing was entirely an on-call affair. Of course, Dr. Oden had AVH revved up during ski races. More to the point, he was au courant with the ski racing establishment and the evolution of safety standards for racecourse management.
In those years, ski areas had races for locals just as we have the town downhill today. Aspen Highlands sponsored a downhill race from Cloud 9 to the bottom, with no gatekeepers, called “Bash for Cash.” During one of those races, one of the participants crashed and began a chain reaction pile up that resulted in several serious injuries, some of which had to do with what happens when one skier’s metal edges meet the living flesh of another racer at 60 mph.
This incident inspired one of the angriest letters to the editor that I can recall from more than 45 years of reading The Aspen Times. As I remember it, it was co-authored by doctors Oden and J. Stirling Baxter.
They began their letter by “congratulating” Whip Jones for having had all the participating racers sign ironclad hold-me-harmless documents. In addition to several broken bones, they said that one young man had incurred disfiguring facial injuries. They opined that it was immoral to let young men ski a racecourse with no gatekeepers or helmets. They closed by saying: “One man and one man alone is responsible for this, W.V.N. Jones.”
Even though Whip (aka Whipple Van Ness) Jones had protected himself legally, the letter must have stung him because that was the end of “Bash for Cash.” I’m sure it contributed to the professional racecourse management that our local Town Downhill has today.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.