Tony Vagneur: Amping up on-mountain time with ‘Ampa’ |

Tony Vagneur: Amping up on-mountain time with ‘Ampa’

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

His legs aren’t as big around as my arms, but they’re relatively new, and like the proverbial ant who supposedly can lift 80 times its own weight, those legs are a couple of the strongest things going. And I say that with great admiration. You want to totally wear yourself out with a day on the hill — ski with a 4-year-old.

It’s crazy, I’ve been led off Aspen Mountain and over to Snowmass and Buttermilk. “What,” you say? “An Aspen Mountain snob like you?” I couldn’t help it, it just happened like in a split second because his mother, Lauren, knows her way around Snowmass Ski Area. That’s where it all started this winter.

My new ski buddy, grandson Cash Burtard, has somehow worked his way into my schedule and it’s clear that we’ve begun something that will continue as long as he’ll have me and I can keep up. We don’t ski every day because he has preschool to deal with, but he had a long Christmas vacation. Today he starts AVSC ski school at Buttermilk for the second winter. Tuesdays and Sundays remain our best bet for bombing the hill together.

We started him early, at 2 years old, and it was an experience. He’s 4 now and rips down the mountain like he’s been doing it forever. I give him the same speech I used to tell his mother every time we’d start down the first run of the day, “OK. Let’s see some big, wide turns.” Sometimes I think the kid is deaf but I’m now confident he understands that he can make a lot of turns and still go faster than hell.

As adults, we sometimes don’t get down at their level to understand how fantastic it is they can ski at all. He can go all day on those legs I mentioned, in a wide stance or parallel in a tuck or traverse without complaining. He’s on skis comparatively as long as my 180s and sometimes I ski alongside him, behind him, in front of him, just watching him deal with the terrain or, very cautiously, offering advice.

If you get up close to a fast-moving 4- or 5-year-old kid, it’s very impressive. A deep cut left from someone making a well-edged turn can be something big to a small child coming down the mountain and it can jiggle his skis in a menacing way, but he doesn’t blink. Small clumps of snow also can present a challenge, but to a kid like Cash, the snow gets moved in flying clumps, rolling down the hill behind him.

It’s possible we’ve skied every tree trail at Buttermilk, and we hit our favorites with regularity. His buddy, Luke, showed us a few of them we hadn’t seen and, man, when you get two of those little guys steaming down the mountain together, don’t dawdle or they’ll be out of sight before you know it. The most common remark heard on the hill: “Let’s go!”

You never see the good balls that life throws at you until it’s time to swing, but boy, some of them are sweet. I was telling Luke’s dad (who loves skiing with Luke) how fortunate it was for me to ski with Cash after doing the same drill with Cash’s mom when she was little. “Oh wow,” he said, “you’re getting to do it twice.” Damned right. And I don’t take it for granted. Just think about this — Cash’s younger sister Charli will be scoping out Panda Peak for the first time next year.

Maybe the interesting thing about it, other than the pure enjoyment of watching such enthusiasm, is that when we’re skiing with those young kids, we’re also skiing with ourselves when we were that age. Billy Johnson and I playing ski patrolman, coming down 1 & 2 Leaf, with a pretend two-man Aspen rig (toboggan) between us. The next run, flying down Dipsy Doodle, we were Zeno Colo and Stein Eriksen.

Terry Morse and me, not much older than Cash and Luke, taking Spar straight from the dam (bottom of 6) because we could. And then, Spook James and me, flying high off the mine tailings in Tourtelotte Park.

It was a special thrill watching my very young daughter finesse her way down Walsh’s or Steeplechase, the bumps taller than she was, her concentration cool and collected.

A line of advice, coming from back-when ski pro Don Bird (yes, the one you know) — “If they start wearing you down, throw a hot chocolate invitation at ’em.” Guaranteed break time. And then, sooner than you’d think, with only a few sips down, comes the familiar refrain from across the table, “Let’s go, Ampa!”

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at