Paul E. Anna: High Points
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Wednesday was an inspiring day for anyone who skied Buttermilk.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals were taking place and the quality of competition was outstanding. With all of the racing that has taken place over the last five decades on the ‘Milk, I doubt there has ever been a collection of such highly tuned athletes for a race.
I vaguely knew that the Paralympians were in town for a tune-up prior to going to Vancouver for the 2010 Games which begin Friday, March 12, with the opening ceremonies, but I was in no way prepared for how many and how skilled these skiers are.
The first sign of the numbers came when I walked out of Bumps restaurant to see 30-50 wheelchairs parked in the snow. Not your typical sight at a base lodge. The first sign of dexterity came when I looked uphill and saw a sit-skier taking a jump near the bottom of the half-pipe. Twenty feet later, as he landed and the spring compressed under the chair, he cranked one, two and three turns before coming to an instant stop and turning to wait for his friend who performed the same move. Speed, strength, agility and grace all displayed by a double amputee.
The rest of the mountain was filled with racers who were free skiing as they either waited for start times or had already completed runs in the in the Downhill which took place over on Racer’s Edge. The start gate, immediately adjacent to Telio’s perch at the top of the Tiehack lift was crowded with timers, starters, coaches and athletes throughout the day as one after another took off down the hill.
There are three categories in the Paralympics for alpine skiers: standing – which includes athletes who have lost a leg, or part of an arm, sitting – for those who ride in sit skis, and visually impaired – skiers who use guides to call the course on the way down the hill.
Just like the recently completed Olympic Games, each of the categories include various ski disciplines – downhill, super G, a super-combined downhill, super-combined slalom, a giant slalom and slalom. That’s a lot of racing that will take place at Creekside Whistler.
To give you an idea of he speed of these skiers, the winner of the men’s visually impaired category, Spain’s Jon Santacan and his guide Miguel Galindo, smoked the top-to-bottom in 1:12.10. The top of the men’s standing podium went to Gerd Schoenfelder in 1:16.68.
The inspiration comes not just from seeing athletes overcome disability to excel, but also from seeing the intensity and drive and pure joy on their faces as they compete. At the end of the day at Bumps there were athletes and coaches (there are 105 athletes from 17 different countries) in their nation’s uniforms, hanging out in the sunshine, having a beer and enjoying the day. It was a great scene.
Kudos must go to Challenge Aspen who is hosting the event here at Buttermilk. They are an outstanding organization that has done this valley proud over the last decade and a half.
Saturday at 7:30 a.m., Challenge Aspen will host the Chris Bove Memorial Uphill on Buttermilk to close Disability Awareness Week. The race is open to all; race day registration begins at 6:45 a.m. and costs $40. Any way you want to go up the hill – snowshoes, stabilizers, telemark skis, skinny skis or heavy metal- is OK and a $5 pancake breakfast will be waiting for you at the top. You can get more info at ChallengeAspen.org.
Hopefully you’ll be inspired to participate.
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