Marolt: A Jean-Claude of all skiing is a master of none
Not so many years ago I thought, “I’m a mountain man.” It inspired me to prove it. When I said this to myself, I wasn’t picturing long hair and beards or leather clothing and yellow teeth. What I had in mind was a goggle tan.
During the six generations my family has been trying to figure out a way to get out of this place, I’m sure there have been plenty of the former types I share my name with, but most of the ones I knew were more of the latter. The modern-day mountain man is a skier. The guy who lives in a cabin on the side of a mountain all winter without plans to somehow get rich by it forgot to read the pages of history explaining why people risked life and limb to brave the frontier in the first place. Sure, the ones who survived ended up rugged, but they were even greedier.
My aim is not a history lesson, though. What I am trying to point out is that mountain men — OK let’s be politically correct, “people” — need to be good at both kinds of skiing: alpine and Nordic, or so I thought. I was most likely inspired in my quest to become an Uber Aspen person by a high school ski event called Skimeister. This is an all-around competition promoted by ski clubs across the state of Colorado to generate huge economic stimulus for our state by coaxing a few kids to join both the alpine and cross country race programs that their schools cobble together.
The vast majority of wintertime athletes choose one or the other type of skiing to pursue while passing the frigid months of the sun’s offseason, but a few decide it sounds like fun to do both. At the end of the season a huge trophy is awarded to the best all-around skier in the state, providing the main motivation to pursue this sliding-on-sticks biathlon. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not: It all comes down to the trophy.
There are some kids who are really aerobically fit and do well at cross-country skiing who try an alpine race one time and do pretty well at that and then think, “I bet I could do well at Skimeister.” Likewise there are kids who very efficiently harness gravity to their advantage in navigating a giant slalom course who suffer through a cross country race signed up for on a dare who then think the same thing. The result is that about a hundred kids sign up for the Skimeister competition at the start of every prep ski racing season.
The attrition rate is faster and more furious than most of the competitors’ combined efforts in pursuing the dream of hoisting the Skimeister trophy in March. Since most alpine ski racing program directors and Nordic ski racing program directors don’t have enough in common to talk to one another, a Skimeister might have a slalom race in Steamboat on Friday and a Nordic skate race in Leadville on Saturday. A Skimeister never unpacks.
The optimistic Skimeister looks forward to training with both the alpine and Nordic racing teams. The experienced Skimeister realizes they will get half the training at each discipline as the kids who specialize in either. No matter how you look at it, you get better more slowly and worse more quickly practicing half as much at each discipline.
In the end, the corps of Skimeisters is trimmed to about 10; consisting only of those who have even a remote chance at the ultimate prize. It is survival of the fittest on P-tex and the polished brass proof waits for the survivors.
But what is so cool for the kids ends up being a waste of time for grown-ups who try to re-create the magic. Remember I said that the main goal in Skimeister was the giant trophy? Well, in becoming a mountain person, there is no trophy. When I went zealously after getting as many days on the cross-country trails as I did on the slopes, all I got was skinny. Rather than becoming super adroit at both types of skiing, I ended up weaker in each. In the end, I discovered that nobody cared about my pursuit of being the ultimate ski resort citizen, least of all me. All I ended up with was a solid goggle tan.
Being the Jean-Claude of all snow sports and the master of none has no reward except what you create. My advice is to do something that has a chance of something shiny that you can place on your mantle or do it just for fun. Trying to impress people with anything else is just impossible around here.
Roger Marolt’s other kind of skis are gathering more dust than anyone else’s in the wax room. Roger@maroltllp.com