Lori Augustine: The Starting Gate
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
It was a crystal clear morning.
The valley’s most spectacular view greeted me as I arrived at the top of the new Tiehack Express chairlift. Rewarded by the majesty of Pyramid Peak towering above and the overlook onto Aspen Highlands – my playground – I was embarking on yet another exploration and a daring adventure. Indecisive, uncertain and unsure sum up my emotions just hours before registering to race in The Aspen Times John Meyer Memorial Super G. Speed is unfamiliar territory for me, but I’m suddenly searching for it. It’s a release, yet I’m in control and I want more.
With the encouragement from my coaches and closest friends, I was committed. I had the sensation that they would all be riding on my skis with me, and I knew then that I would flow down the race course with worlds of talent behind me. I got the green light. It was a test. I was going out on a limb and was willing to do so. I felt like I was taking a new step. Progress always involves risks, and I dared to venture. As T.S. Elliot wrote: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Ben Stonebraker, coach and pro of Tache Racing, brought his passion for the sport, his enthusiasm and his expertise to me on race day. Ben’s first-class instruction, words of encouragement and bright smile calmed my nerves. There are numerous things that we needed to focus on before the race to help me ski my fastest: the course inspection, the terrain, my line, speed, snow conditions, warm-up and start-area routine.
Racer’s Edge is a thrilling course with its steep double fall line, rollers and flats and we were off to inspect every nook and cranny. He talked me through every single turn, every crux, each corridor and when to “grab the bullet” (to tuck or not to tuck). And, he reminded me to breathe. When we reached the top of the course, I visualized the way it would look as I raced down it, knowing where the rhythm changes were, where the bump was, etc. Five minutes before my run, it was time to take the warm-up clothing off, keep the legs moving and click into my skis.
My goal was to have total focus, filtering out distractions, and to race with joy from the moment I kicked the starting wand to when I triggered the finish beam. The forerunner for the super G was none other than my coach and maestro, Ben. One minute after he left the starting gate, I got in the gate and went for it. I flew down behind him in his perfect railroad tracks that he carved with great precision for me to follow. It was impeccable teamwork. All of the super G training, techniques and strategies that I received from my coaches throughout the week were playing out before my eyes. My line was more efficient, miscalculations were minor and the practice paid off – a first-place finish in the women’s division and my first gold medal in ski racing.
I waited below and watched in awe as the men took the stage. At high speeds, they honed their craft. With precision, courage and utter silence, they charged. It was as if nothing else in the world mattered. They took flight, gaining speed in between gates. I witnessed elation and euphoria on the faces of each racer as they crossed the finish line. I was not the only one.
The downhill event is another animal, one that I was not eager to embrace this year. It is alpine skiing’s showpiece event. It’s the one with the longest course and the highest speeds. And there are parts of the course where the racers have no choice but to go airborne. It’s a race involving minimal turning, maximum speed and maintaining control. After a full day of required downhill training Saturday, Sunday arrived and it was time to compete. The energy was high among the racers whose dauntless spirit and guts hurled them down the race course at lightening speeds. Sensational!
Sixty-one racers took great pleasure participating in the super G and downhill races this weekend at Buttermilk. It was a very successful town speed event.
Special thanks goes out to Susan’s Flowers and Gifts, Epicurious Fine Foods, Cache Cache, Habervision Goggles and Sunglasses, Mint Conditioning Personal Training, Novus Windshield Repair and Bob “Slowman” Sloezen for their generous donations of prizes that were raffled off. And thanks to Bumps at Buttermilk Mountain Lodge for welcoming all racers for the post-race party.
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American giant slalom stud Ted Ligety won six times at Birds of Prey, be it five World Cups and/or gold in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, but we have to remember what a struggle it was for him to get there.