Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
How great is it to see a major skiing event on Aspen Mountain again? Crews have worked tirelessly getting the famous America’s Downhill course into perfect racing condition: rock hard and too fast to screw around on. There is a lot on the line. The weather has been perfect. Aspen can once again be proud of its ski racing heritage.
And the event is deep with local talent. There’s Katie Mickey, Mead Geary, Micah Evonitz, Alexandra Pavon, Lilly McSwain and Zach Kendick. We have Julia Mueller-Ristin, Bobby Moyer, and Devon Cardimone, who have all qualified for the J2 National Championships. Kevin Hartman, who won the state high school slalom title last year for Aspen High School, is up there. And Katie Ryan, a senior at AHS, is on the verge of making the U.S. team. And perhaps the brightest young U.S. star, Wiley Maple, who came into the week ranked second in the Nor-Am Series downhill standings, had more than most riding on his results. He won the downhill on Monday, but did not finish Tuesday’s event. Nonetheless, he looks assured to have at least a few more World Cup starts next season. You get even a glimpse of his potential and …
Aw, what’s the use? Who am I kidding. I’m not qualified to talk about ski racing. Lots of people think I am. After all, Marolts are ski racers, right? My father? Yes. My uncles? Yes. My brothers? Yes. I even have a cousin who was pretty damn fast. But, me? No. I was a ballplayer. (And, if the truth be known, so were my brothers, but secret ones for fear of the Ski Club clique.)
OK, that’s not entirely true. If we’re measuring in nanoseconds, as ski racers usually do, I had a long ski racing career. It spanned from December through the end of February my senior year in high school. On March 1, I hung up the skin-tight speed suit, picked up the ball and glove, and never looked back.
During that span in spandex I can count the number of downhill races I ran on a mitten finger, but it was at Sunlight, so many people who know that track have a legitimate argument saying that I never really raced a downhill at all. I remember going to slalom and giant slalom races in Vail, Steamboat, and Crested Butte in my career, but other than that I’m drawing a blank. So, I had four races in three months. Not bad … if I had been growing up in Ecuador.
Whatever, I am proud of what I accomplished that season. I got the full Aspen Ski Club pass in the fall and nearly wore it out during the entire winter despite innumerable warnings from coaches that they would yank it if I missed just one more practice. It was then that I knew I had the gift for double-talk and rug dancing to escape consequences for ill-advised choices I made. It is a skill that I have employed liberally since, as my regular readers know.
Yes, I skied a lot that year, just not through the gates. What I remember most about after-school practice was sneaking off to pack out the old 40-meter Willoughby jump next to the Slalom Hill training course with a couple of other Jack bamboo-bashers (not to be confused with Jack Mormons), inciting coaches to yell us back on topic. We would then obediently take the rope tow up only to sneak back over to the perfectly prepared jump and give it all we were worth. Of course nobody else could resist once they saw us soaring off of it and by the end of training everybody was flying instead of carving. And, yes, I would be threatened once again with losing my pass with just one more indiscretion.
By now you’ve guessed that I didn’t care much about ski racing back then, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I don’t care much about it now. I know it’s taboo in this town, but I’ll admit it: I haven’t watched a ski race since the Olympics. That, of course, means that despite bashing the bumps in the dumps a few hundred yards away from the action, I missed all of the North American Series Championship events this week on our own world-famous America’s Downhill course on Aztec.
But, here’s the thing about that: None of the racers missed me (or you) spectating. And that’s super cool! It means they are ski racing for the right reason – because they love it – and not for fleeting adulation or pretense. I know from the passion that I had for playing baseball while growing up in Aspen that if I was depending on the local fan base to sustain my desire, I wouldn’t be going very far with it. As it was, we played all of our home games very far away in Rifle. That pretty much limits casual fan participation. Even still, I don’t ever remember thinking, “Gee, I wish more people were in the stands today. I’m having a hard time getting excited to play.”
I imagine that it is much the same with ski racing; even in Aspen, Colorado. Competitors know that it is playing the game that creates the excitement, not who is watching it. At the professional level the crowd means a little more, but only in as much as it is more of a gauge for measuring performance. Athletes get bummed when they are playing badly, not because the crowd is small.
So, even though ski racing isn’t my thing, I am proud of you kids racing on one of the most famous hills in the entire skiing world. I know your spirit. I understand your dedication. I admire your skills. Most of all, I’m glad you found passion for something, no matter if anyone is watching. Heck, doesn’t that describe most of the rest of us on the mountain, too? Anyway, give it all you got … and never look back!
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