Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you watched the “skiercross” event at the 2010 Vancouver Games, you can imagine what the girls in this original 1960 photo were up to, airborne off a roll between Buckhorn and Dipsy Doodle. The photograph was taken by Life magazine, documenting Olympic training in Aspen.

Five local girls, side by side in the air (Fleeta Rowland, Judy Marolt, Roine Rowland, Cherie Gerbaz and Sharon Pecjak), they were the best of Aspen’s ladies at the time, and it is questionable still whether a couple of them shouldn’t have made the Olympic squad. (Pecjak won the Roch Cup in 1962.) For the cover, Life magazine liked the display of the Aspen girls so much they photographed the eventual Olympic team off the same bump, having them attempt to replicate the Aspen girls form. An irony that still stings.

Forward ahead 50 years, and luxuriate in the reputation that Aspen has maintained as a ski racing town. The U. S. Alpine Championships were held here the last week of February, a coup that few places in the country could pull off. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, ponder this: Eight Olympians, including Alice McKennis, ran their races in Vancouver and then hopped a plane to Aspen, expressly to participate in our NorAm Spring Series and U.S. Alpine Championships. And the Roch Cup, one of America’s most prestigious and longest running ski races, shelved since 2001, was once again the focus of America’s ski racing world.

Things seldom go according to plan and a few weeks ago, when the race crew got set to make artificial snow at the top of Aztec, a frozen underground water pipe created almost insurmountable problems for them. Take a little Aspen irreverence, coupled with creativity, perseverance and a healthy respect for tradition, and poof! The downhill was run instead on Ruthie’s Snowbowl, just like the old days, fully sanctioned by the International Ski Federation (FIS), and the week took on a vibrancy that couldn’t have been achieved any other way.

A couple of years ago, Penny Pitou (two silver medals at the 1960 Games) and some other impressive ski racers went with me on a cruise of Ruthie’s. Thinking they desired speed, I sadly miscalculated. What they wanted was to mentally re-create the Roch Cup downhill they had run as youngsters, before Aztec was cut. Fortunately, my memory served the purpose and reliving that race clearly meant a lot to them.

For today’s kids, it was a chance to compete on a tough and legendary line that has a reputation for frustrating some of the world’s best. This year’s crop of racers, including local Wiley Maple, figure to be the stars of World Cup and Winter Olympics Games in the future, and their potential can only be further honed from the experience of competing on Aspen’s world-renowned “America’s Downhill” course of continually changing terrain.

It takes a lot to put on a ski race, not only in terms of money, but volunteers of every stripe are always in demand. Lunches need to be delivered, gates need to be kept, hand timers are critical, even in the electronic age; announcers, scoreboard writers and a ton of other positions are crucial to the success of ski races. Getting up close to competitions of this caliber can be quite exciting.

It’s been a lean winter for snow, but with the U.S. Alpine Championships and NorAm Spring Series came the powder many of us had been craving, even though it created havoc on the race course. As Chief of Course Pat Callahan put it, “If you want snow, schedule a downhill.” And, so be it.

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