Marolt: Medaling or meddling in the intense competition of recreational skiing
I guess I am a ski bum. How else to explain the enjoyment of Lo Semple’s column last Saturday? He spoke my language. He unveiled invented skiing events not possibly enjoyable by objective evaluation, but purely fulfilling to anyone whose alter ego finds the smell of burning ski wax from a smoking iron on a ski bench more enjoyable than designer scents from glittery candles flickering on the counters of local boutiques.
A pair of skiers did 38 laps on the treasured runs of Lift 1A in one day. The next week another pair did 40. Not giving in, the first pair then cranked out 68 laps on Sam’s Knob. Mostly meaningless to anyone but a die-hard, that amounts to an incredible 55,000 vertical feet descended. The strength! The endurance! The freaking pain! This is not for the champagne sprayer at Cloud Nine or the loafers who will pay $4,800 for bottle service in a private tent on “Snow Beach” at the Sundeck this spring.
Of course lap skiing is a sign of boredom in winter’s doldrums. Yet, what is impressive is that these skiers have not abandoned the course set on opening day in order to take a long weekend somewhere warm. No, no, no. They intensified the mid-season shade of gray and steered straight into the eye of the storm.
I used to be this, but a humbled back and rebellious knees now prevent me from being a world-class February intensifier. I still go as hard as I can, but when the dogs yelp after one run down S-1, you accept the minor accomplishment and head for the armchair cut from old skis to quarterback from there.
Lo highlighted his participation in the “Black Diamond Challenge” that our ski gang came up with in 1995. It was a dull January day void of authentic skiing excitement (e.g. powder or a galendasprung contest). Riding up Lift 1A, it occurred to us that we needed to ski every black diamond run on Ajax that day. We did about five runs by haphazard selection and realized the challenge was probably impossible.
“Probably” leaves a crack in the window of opportunity. I grabbed a trail map and paired perusing it with a cold beer that night. I scribbled. I drew. I imagined. And, threw a lot of wadded paper in the can. Amusement became obsession.
For weeks we madly exchanged spreadsheets and ideas for squeezing all the expert runs of Ajax into one regular ski day. Along with the previously unrecognized huge number of black diamond runs, we had to account for lift rides and skiing times. There were dead ends, frustrations and headaches.
We finally got it! I am still nearly convinced that there was only one way to link all of Aspen Mountain’s trails together in a day.
I couldn’t sleep the night before P-tex was to hit the trail. The hard part was sequencing the runs on paper. The harder part would be skiing that volume of steeps, moguls and crud in a day. I should mention there are sections where you have to ski a run and hike up to the next because it’s faster than taking the ski lifts.
We accidentally created an event with a symmetry between objectives, layout and constraints almost as perfect as the game of baseball. We never guessed the time required for skiing every black diamond on Ajax was perfectly in sync with the length of a normal operating day, if everything went perfectly, meaning no stops, no crashes, no lift lines. It proved an elegant mix of endurance, strength, speed, timing and a little luck.
My hope is that this inspires die-hard skiers to try the Black Diamond Challenge and/or come up with something else to keep the winter juices of enthusiasm from freezing up. To those who say skiing is a recreational activity, I remind them that almost everything that happens on the slopes is competition. We make it so in many ways, from what gear we use, the kits we wear, what mountain is best, NASTAR medals, 100-day pins, nabbing first tracks on rope drops, cutting the gondola line, with or without a private instructor, the Buck-off on Ridge of Bell, and so on. The list of little competitions flows. And, every once in awhile, somebody comes up with a contest undisguised.
Every true skier has something to prove. If you play the game long enough, eventually you will do it. Whether or not anyone cares is another story.
Roger Marolt notes this game was invented before the T-chutes, Bingo Glades, and Reardon’s area of the mountain were opened. Today the task would be impossible. email@example.com