Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
One of my father’s popular sayings was that ski racing is the most wonderful sport in the world except for the boots and the silly people in charge. (Note: He used one word instead of “silly” and “people” that sort of rhymes with “wax” and “poles.”)
You might think this blasphemy from an Olympic racer, ski coach and man who made his living in the ski industry, but I think it came from years of insight. Yes, he loved to ski. No, he didn’t adhere to convention. I want to be like him when I grow up.
I was thinking of him the other day while riding up Lift 1A watching the young racers carving through the gates on Strawpile. It was race day, so each kid was going to get about two minutes of actual playing time. And that’s if they successfully completed their first runs. If a kid makes a mistake and blows out on the first run, their entire “game day” might last only a few seconds.
This is what drove my father nuts. The way he had it figured, even under the best circumstances, a couple of minutes of actual race participation wasn’t nearly enough reward for a week’s worth of training and a three-hour car ride to the event and another three-plus hours, including a dinner stop, afterward to get home. But even this paltry amount of playing time didn’t drive him as completely berserk as the reason why it was so: because that’s the way it has always been.
OK – I can see that in Europe in 1912 it might be difficult to get more than a couple of runs for a few dozen racers on a slalom course in one day. Rope tows were slow and unreliable. Snow grooming was not yet an art form, so courses got extremely rutted very quickly. The gates were made from aspen saplings or bamboo, both of which splintered and came dislodged from the snow frequently – almost after each racer passed, in fact. All this, and time set aside to enjoy a cigarette or two between runs, made it impossible for more time in the gates.
But we don’t live in Europe in 1912. Even the Europeans don’t, despite what you are led to believe if you visit. Modern skiing is all about high-speed lifts, perfectly manicured hard snow and plastic racing gates on hinges that rarely come loose. It’s all about technology, right? There is no reason why the modern ski race should involve two minutes of racing per participant.
Come on. Does anybody who has seen a ski race really believe that there is not a better way to put on a ski race? It wouldn’t be hard to figure one out. In fact, there is a group of skiers who already have. They are called snowboarders. They figured out that it was way more fun to do lots of runs down their halfpipe and at the end of the day score the best one for each competitor. Other skiers with two tips on each ski liked the idea so well, they adopted the format. The whole thing became kind of popular with spectators, too. You might have heard of it – it’s called the X Games!
You want to see some ski racers really going for it? Give them some margin of error to fool around with. You give a kid half a dozen cracks at a slalom or giant slalom course knowing that only his best run of the day is going to count, I’ll show you a kid going for broke every time. Talk about exciting! And as long as it’s exciting to watch, we might as well shorten the courses so spectators can see the whole event. Imagine having to watch an X Games halfpipe competition on a pipe so long that you couldn’t see the tricks being performed on the top half of it. Boooo!
The danger of writing about an idea is that many readers who could do something about change will read it and spend only enough time with it to tear it apart and smugly convince themselves that it will never work and then rest easy while things continue not to change, just like they always haven’t. They need to look at this as a “for instance,” not a concrete plan to jackhammer away at. I don’t have the answers. But some folks who can effect change might if they just sit down and think about it, maybe during a 31⁄2-hour drive to Steamboat or while standing around between runs, freezing their waxes off, waiting for their kid’s minute of glory.
The point, of course, is that ski racing could be dramatically better. The question is: Why is it not? The answer probably has nothing to do with the boots. It might be because of the silly people in charge.
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