Ski patrollers to play hard, party harder
A bomb-tossing competition and a javelin throw for accuracy with bamboo poles, a giant slalom and a modified Inferno race in Highland Bowl. An avalanche beacon search and, for a finale, perhaps the toughest toboggan race ever held in western states’ history.Yes today, all day, some 400 ski patrollers from Colorado and the central Rockies will be competing – and having a ball doing it – in the 34th annual Colorado Pro Patrol Convention at Aspen Highlands.At the end of the day’s competitions (based on the World Cup points scoring system), the Pro Patrol trophy will be awarded to one resort’s patrol, and a gold-painted toboggan to the winning three-person toboggan team. And then the real partying begins – 30 kegs have been ordered for the all-day, all-night blowout.”There’s a seriousness to it with the racing, but there’s more people who just come to ski and have fun all day long,” said Highlands ski patroller Mike Tierney, one of the organizers of the event. “The flavor is just to have fun – basically go crazy like the old days.”The event stops at different resorts each winter.”The mountain managers just kind of accept it – they know we’re gonna be going nuts. Not that we’ll be disrupting the skiing public; though we may be entertaining them,” said Tierney.The Highlands patrol won the overall Pro Patrol title in 1990 at Arapahoe Basin. Highlands last hosted the Pro Patrol Convention in 1984, four days after an avalanche in Highland Bowl claimed the lives of three ski patrollers.”It’s been 21 years – the year of the accident,” said Tierney, who was in his second year on the Highlands patrol at the time. “And we got unbelievable support from the patrol family. The outpouring was touching. And it was an awesome party, but it had a bittersweet feel to it.”All the Aspen-area resorts will have teams in today’s competitions, along with patrollers from Steamboat, Breckenridge (the two-time defending toboggan champs), Loveland, Telluride, Purgatory, Vail and Beaver Creek, Winter Park, Crested Butte, Powderhorn, Copper Mountain, A-Basin and Keystone.The giant slalom and toboggan race are staples every year at the Pro Patrol Convention, Tierney said. The third race of the competition is determined by the host patrol.”And because we’ve got the bowl, our race of choice is the Inferno,” said Tierney. However, unlike the real Inferno race – where individuals dash up and then ski/ride down the bowl – today’s version will be a relay with teams of three.Patrollers Brian Johnson, Aaron Smith and Lori Smith or Karen Sahn (a multiple Inferno champion) will be representing the Highlands, according to Tierney. “It’s not gonna be as sick as one person doing the whole thing, but it should be a unique race just the same,” he said.A giant slalom on Thunderbowl kicks off the day’s competitions. Then there’s the Inferno race in the bowl, followed by the bomb and bamboo tosses and beacon search.Instead of actual bombs, competitors will huck cans of pork and beans, weighing the same as the common avalanche control bomb at 2 pounds, duct-taped up with a piece of rope to resemble a wick for an authentic feel.In the bamboo toss, competitors will throw bamboo poles used to string closed ropes from the Cloud Nine chairlift at targets below for points. Targets include garbage cans, inner tubes and balloons, as well as a dummy on a snowboard.The toboggan race is likely to provide the highlight of the day.The course starts at the top of the Thunderbowl lift – with one team member driving the toboggan out in front, another riding in it as the patient, and the third as the tail-gunner trailing behind. It drops down through the bumps of Separator to the woods near the Monkey Hang shrine in the lower Goldenhorn woods off P-Chute Road. It finishes with a series of gates and a drop off of a 3-foot “pro bump.””Our course, I think, is probably the toughest race in the history of the race,” said Tierney. “It’s approximately a four-minute course and, since it’s the last race of the day, we’re going to have some tired puppies [tonight].”Most races feature coed teams, though Tierney said at least one all-women’s team from Vail will be running the toboggan race. “They usually have their tops off by the time they cross the finish line,” he said.The day will conclude with a giant party at the Belly Up, featuring The Legendary 4nikators.”A lot of nudity and dancing,” Tierney guessed. “But who knows what will go on.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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