Our young racers deserve support | AspenTimes.com

Our young racers deserve support

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

The finish line might as well have been a million miles away, so slim were her chances of crossing it. She’d just ripped through a fast flush and was two gates away from the electronic beam when, as sometimes happens when you give it your all, she got wide of the next gate, body going one way, skis the other and only a miracle could keep her from falling. Even if she didn’t fall, she’d never make the next gate with the speed she was carrying. But then, through an incredible display of guts and desire, she demonstrated what it’s like to reach deep inside and turn it around. Her eyes never left her goal, and in a nanosecond, she pulled her body around, slammed her knees to the right, setting her edges for a dazzling blast of compressed power, and then just as quickly, turned it all the other way, crossing the finish line with the fastest run of the day.

That wasn’t the only flash of brilliance displayed during this year’s running of the J2 Junior Nationals on Aspen Mountain, but it certainly was indicative of the caliber of the up-and-coming young racers we have in this country. The idea of holding Junior National events is to get the next generation of America’s World Cup competitors familiar with courses they will run once they make the World Cup team. Running downhill on Ruthie’s and slalom on Fifth Avenue puts these kids on historic and legendary courses, revered over the years by some of the world’s best contenders.

It’s hard to say what it costs to keep a kid competitive in junior racing today, but it has to be well into five figures. That’s why you see so many parents on the race course ” as volunteer workers. There are a lot of local folks up there, as well, because Aspen, from its earliest renaissance roots, has been a ski racing town, as it’s always been.

These kids (and parents) need all the help they can get to pull these races off. And

Aspen, being the town that it is, comes out of the woodwork to help make it happen.

As I watched the eager spectators climb the edge of Fifth Avenue, clambering to get the “best view” from the island of trees at the bottom of Strawpile, memories of past races flashed through my mind. Strawpile wasn’t always the great slice of gentle, groomed rolls that it is today, and “back when” there used to be a rather severe wall near the bottom, just above Tower Ten road. Jimmy Gerbaz and I used to thrill at near-disasters as Roch Cup downhill racers like Dick “Mad Dog” Buek flew precariously off the wall before making the sharp turn into Fifth Avenue.

Someone mentioned that the J2’s were racing on “America’s Downhill” course, which is true, but long before that, it was Aspen’s “Roch Cup” course, on which the world came to compete. I doubt today’s kids care too much what it’s called, as long as they have good wax and fast snow, but the deep-seated history of ski racing in Aspen shouldn’t be dismissed or forgotten.

Before the slalom, a young, local racer full of unfettered enthusiasm climbed onto the gondola with me and my buddy Bob Snyder, wondering if he’d gotten in the AARP cabin by mistake. Once he slowed down a bit, he talked seriously about ski racing and how, in his opinion, the Roch Cup meant so much to Aspen that it should be resurrected.

Maybe ” but perhaps the Roch Cup has truly been run, its place in history as the forerunner to “America’s Downhill” revered and cherished, talked about by the young racers with respect.

And besides, these Junior National kids are tomorrow’s heroes, the ones we’ll be yelling for to cross the finish line first, and that’s where our focus should be. Keep your eye on ’em.