Vagneur: Wrangling the best World Cup
It’s 4 a.m., and the eyes coming at me in the reflection of my head lamp tell me the horses have heard me and are coming up for their grain. And then it’s walking up Monarch Street to the headquarters to check in and get my gear. Wonderful volunteer women greet us as they check us in for the day.
And then it’s a 6 a.m. ride up 1A while it’s still dark, and the lights from town play a bit of enchantment on the memory and the imagination. And what am I doing up at these incredibly early-morning hours? It’s a labor of love.
A few years ago, the powers that be said it couldn’t be done, but times change. FIS World Cup Championships in 2017, World Cup men’s downhill and super-G in Aspen this weekend. And, oops, we didn’t replace that old clunker, 1A, as part of the requirements of ever getting another World Cup in Aspen. Outlooks change, and often, reality sticks closer to the ground than politics.
Working that downhill course is a lot of fun, and participating as a volunteer for any part of a World Cup event is an opportunity for community involvement that shouldn’t be missed.
Ski racing is a rich Aspen tradition going back to the days of the Roch Cup (began 1946) — and even earlier. The Roch Cup used to be one of the biggest races in the United States. Olympic hopefuls had it on their schedules — winning or even placing in the Roch Cup was almost a requirement for a racer to have on his or her resume. Guys and gals of yore, ski legends like Durrance, Ericksen, Seibert, Knowlton, Werner, the Marolt brothers, Pecjak, Ferries, Greene, Fraser, and Oblock.
That’s just a sampling. More locals could be on that list, but there isn’t time today.
Watching those racers fly by can be exhilarating, but it takes a lot of work to get to that level. And it has to start somewhere. Around here, that somewhere is the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. You see those kids ripping around the mountains, especially on weekends and holidays, clad in those blue-teal and dark blue coats with the Aspen leaf and ski-club insignia — all looking similar, and all skiing like most people who come here wish they could. They start young, very young.
As Chief of Course Pat Callahan says, having the World Cup races in Aspen is a huge event for a small community. And most of the help in putting on the races in Aspen comes from volunteers. As it always has, from the beginning: starting in 1939 with the Southern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Championships, and in 1941, when the U.S. National Championships were held here. The town has always turned out to make the races a success and to make the racers feel welcome.
Showing up for the first day of work is something like old home week for those who have previously volunteered. A lot of hands get shaken, catching up with friends one hasn’t seen in a while. It’s great stuff, and the magic starts to brew. Good snow, good people, and as we begin to work together, it’s clear this year is going to be an excellent World Cup. If you can do it, get up there, and watch Saturday’s downhill. Super-G on Sunday.
Cowboys in the summer, volunteers all over the mountain in the winter, putting the course and 10 million other things together to make it all work are sometimes called “snow cowboys.” I’m in, course slipper and forever skier on the Big Mountain.
Word has it that many racers like to come here because they believe it’s the best prepared course on the World Cup circuit. To get it that way takes a huge amount of experience and caring from everyone. These are the world’s best skiers coming from all over the world to compete in our little burg — a town with a world-class, excellent downhill course right out the back door.
It is dubbed “America’s Downhill.”
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.