Marolt: Remembering why World Cup week is so much fun
From the recesses of gray matter, where light rarely shines, I have snatched a few personal World Cup memories to share this week. I doubt the Aspen Historical Society has much in their archives that can compete.
There was the time when our ski gang rode the Bell Mountain chairlift and as we approached the top, there was a man in the middle of a group of attentive acolytes apparently showing them how to ski by using hand gestures and facial contortions. He was not wearing an instructor’s uniform. As we passed overhead, one of us yelled down condescendingly, “And just what the hell do you think you know about skiing?” As the entire discipleship looked up to see who might have so blatantly blasphemed, it was instantly obvious that the ski instructor was none other than U.S. Ski Team member Steve Mahre.
Upon recognizing the star skier, our yeller unapologetically remarked, “Well, you know underground ski instructing is illegal.”
In 1976, a few days before the big downhill race, we were once again riding the Bell chair when came a man below, going as fast and graceful as you could possibly expect a human being to maneuver the moguls of the Ridge. He was obviously a gifted skier. He was trailed by half a dozen local skiers struggling valiantly but in vain to keep up with who you might otherwise think were competent on the boards except for the immediate contrast.
Later at the bottom of Lift 1A we read a note to the public posted there: “If you want to really learn how to ski, meet me at the top of Bell Mountain at 10 sharp. All are invited.” It was signed “Franz Klammer,” the man who had weeks earlier won the downhill gold medal at the Innsbruck Olympics. It was him we had seen and proved that at least some ski racers could ski the bumps, too. I regret not grabbing that note he left at the bottom of 1A. It would have been a great souvenir to remember the moment.
Years later, we were nearing the top of Lift 1A on a day when the scheduled giant-slalom race had been canceled because too much snow had fallen overnight. There was a commotion going on at the top of Silver Rush, which was a new run on Aspen Mountain and was garnering a lot of attention because of its dramatically steep pitch (this was before sissies discovered it and made cutting in at an angle below the headwall the standard access onto the trail).
The famous Italian slalom and giant slalom champion, Alberto Tomba, had just tumbled all the way down the run after screwing up the his first turn off the top and an incredulous crowd had gathered to confirm the rapidly spreading account of what happened.
It was true. The Olympic multi-medalist had double-ejected into a powdery heap settled at the intersection with Elevator Shaft. It proved to us that at least some World Cup racers weren’t worth a dang outside a manicured race course. I’ve fantasized about skiing down and handing La Bomba, as he was known, Franz Klammer’s note offering a free ski lesson. It would have been a great souvenir for him to remember the moment.
I’ll close by coming full circle. There was a time when they didn’t barricade Aspen Street up to the bottom of the race course when the World Cup came to town. If you could find a spot, you could park there. In our topless 1948 candy apple green Willys, we swung around to snatch a coveted parking spot near the top of the road. In our haste, we slid and buried the jeep deep in the snowbank.
As we pushed and kicked snow from under the tires and used our hands to dig ice from the wheel wells, a couple racers came walking up the hill, skis slung over their shoulders.
“Need some help?” one asked. Without waiting for a reply, because we’d all contracted sudden cases of star-struck lock jaw, they jammed their skis tail-first into the snowbank and dug in to help us get the vehicle moving again. In few minutes it was free. We all shook hands. They plucked their skis from the snowbank and continued up to the race.
You can probably guess: The two guys who helped us before they went on up and finished the day on the podium where none other than Phil and Steve Mahre — just a couple of regular World Cup heroes.
Roger Marolt thinks the racer who suggested that the downhill should end in Wagner Park ought to be put in charge. Email at Roger@maroltllp.com.
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