Vagneur: Help before glory
Second behind politics as a popular discussion topic certainly must be the weather. With news of a coming storm making itself known, my day at work Monday was mostly about the forecast. Like most of you, I check three or four weather channels to try to create my own best guess as to what will transpire with the cloud cover (or lack thereof) in the next few days. And so, given that, plus what others told me, my Monday forecast for the most recent snowstorm was anywhere from 3 inches to 3 feet.
With such lack of precision, one tends to take a cynical view of what anyone says about the weather and ends up hoping only that there’ll be a decent layering on top of what we already have. People loudly exclaiming that there’s a “huge” storm coming generally look foolish when it goes around us to the north. The self-induced wet leg they sport from such uncontrolled enthusiasm doesn’t help their appearance, either.
Seriously, good powder is a definite treat, and I’ve followed it north to Canada, Jackson Hole and the top of Larkspur Mountain, south to the backcountry behind the Sundeck, west to Park City and east to the top of Independence Pass. More than once, I’ve hit stellar days in all those places and can’t talk about it without a big smile. But just as much, I love the fast, hard-packed snow we’ve had the past couple of weeks. Oh yeah, and everything between, too, I reckon.
Back when I was a youngster, in the days many like to call “old Aspen,” which wasn’t very different from “new Aspen” except in the imagination and house size, the Aspen schools let us out every Wednesday afternoon to ski, ice skate or hole up in “study hall,” which was mostly a conglomeration of kids with broken legs — snapped, twisted and plaster-wrapped tibias and fibulas — from skiing, naturally.
The exact year remains a mystery, but some of us were treated to the first-ever “powder skiing” class taught by a master of rotation, Bob Marsh, powder aficionado supreme. Every Wednesday afternoon, about six of us adolescents headed up Aspen Mountain and skied fresh powder. No, it didn’t have to snow every Tuesday night for that to happen — there was just a lot of powder snow left untracked in those halcyon days.
Along toward late winter, word came down that there would be a powder-skiing competition on one particular Wednesday. It was for high school students, really, but a couple of us younger kids had impressed those in charge enough that we were singled out to participate in the competition, as well.
Thus it was that my buddy Terry Morse and I lined up with much older kids, certain that we had just as much chance of winning as they. The grand prize, which we all coveted, was a brand-new pair of skis. There was no fear in our hearts, only anticipation, as we watched the older kids go down, one by one, in front of a panel of judges lined up along the Face of Bell, slightly off the Shoulder. Just like life, we were allowed one run to show our stuff.
“Go ahead,” Terry said, and with a burning desire to crush the competition, I took off like a freshly released cannonball, gaining sizzling momentum, grace be damned, followed by a couple of beautiful turns, and then crashed deep into the powder like most people only crash on the hard pack. A “yard sale,” you might have called it, had the term been invented yet.
Lying in a heap, I looked up to watch Terry’s run, realizing that the honor of the “younger kids” now rested on his skis and ability alone. But instead of slicing by me and on to victory, he stopped and began helping me extract myself and my equipment from the seemingly bottomless snow.
“Thanks, Terry, but you’re not gonna win at this rate,” I told him.
“It’s all right,” he said.
We didn’t hear the results of the competition for a long while, or so it seemed, but then again, I wasn’t expecting any good news on the basis of my run. Then we heard, in that low-key way that rumors get around, although it was soon followed by an official announcement, in front of the entire student body, that Terry had won the new pair of skis. His incredible display of sportsmanship in helping me put myself together again, forfeiting his own chance at winning, was too powerful a message to ignore.
Terry walked away with the new skis and went on to become, among other things, an Aspen Ski Club coach and a biathlon competitor in the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.
Soon to be released: “The Aspen Kid — Growing up in Aspen, Colorado in the Fifties and Sixties,” by Terry Morse.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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