Lori Augustine: The Starting Gate
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
More than 24 inches of snow had fallen this past week and wild, periodic winds limited our slalom training on Golden Horn and Thunderbowl to a mere two days. Practice is important, but mental preparedness became crucial.
A recent lecture that I attended about technique and biomechanics by renowned instructor, coach and ski technique expert Ron LeMaster imparted great insight at the perfect time. His teaching – from analyzing the best skiers in the world, describing the inner workings of ski performance and translating the sensation of each movement – is the ultimate ticket to better skiing.
He spoke as if every word were tailored to my needs. I was hungry for his explanations on the basic mechanics of great skiing and how “good” technique is supposed to feel. Controlled toppling, center of mass and platform angles were all communicated beautifully. His words created a more advantageous experience for me as I confidently approached the starting gate at Saturday’s slalom race with tips, cues and a vision of each movement throughout every turn around every pole. I finished in third place and am currently tied for first place overall in the women’s recreational division. The heat is on!
As we loosened up Saturday morning and raced through the warm-up course set by Tache Racing, men and women competing in the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race were en route to the summit of the Highland Bowl. The 25-mile race across all four ski areas climbed more than 11,000 unforgiving vertical feet and involved technical descents throughout the competition. It was awe-inspiring and impressive to watch the athletes as they charged up the course. The two-run slalom challenge that I faced suddenly seemed trivial. However, toughness of the competitors ascending to our left inspired and motivated me to perform my best on the race course while envisioning the mountains of possibilities beyond.
Earlier in the week, I hiked to the peak of Highland Bowl for the first time this season, with the guidance of a dear friend. Straight down Ozone we went, just like the first descent of my life in the bowl last year. Another lap would not have been impossible considering we eliminated 10 minutes from our hike – a significant achievement. The trip up the bowl was capped by the discovery of a run off Oly Bowl called Deception. It is a tree-lined, mega-bump run heading out toward a ridge with the most spectacular tree on the left. He is old, wise and worldly and has withstood the test of time. As I approached the gnarled tree, it was like greeting an elder statesman or a grandfather. Reverence and respect were due. The distinguished tree appeared to offer protection and strength. I returned again and again.
I also found time for a new adventure, beyond the race course, this week: ice climbing. Daring, stimulating and powerful! I was eager to explore the unknown once again. It was an expedition with Bob “Slowman” Sloezen, alpine guide extraordinaire. With an extensive international climbing and mountain guiding career, Bob specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and has summited Mount Everest a remarkable four times! I was in good hands. The feature was a frozen waterfall just off the Rio Grande Trail known as Stein Falls.
The iced water glistened like an exquisite chandelier. Crampons, ice axes, tying in, figure-eight knots and belaying were all new to me. We spoke a foreign language. The surface was precarious, and changed throughout the day as the sun made a gallant effort to quickly deteriorate our conditions. As the ice transformed from hard to brittle to slushy, I did my best to properly swing the ice tool without sapping my energy to prevent the unwelcome occurrence of “dinner plating” (brittle ice breaking off in saucer-like plates when you swing your tool into it) and to “peck” my crampons into the ice to achieve a solid foothold.
I danced my way to the top with balance, strength and rhythm, and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences. Standing on a curtain of crystal ice, I put all of my trust in my guide, whose passion for the sport is gripping. Excellent cardiovascular fitness, endurance and vigor are extremely valuable when preparing for a climb. Sloezen is one of Aspen Expeditions’ most requested alpine guides.
And finally, 70 racers participated in The Aspen Times Town Race this weekend. A big thank you goes out to everyone who joined in as well as the race crew and the cat drivers for making sure that our slalom course was in great condition for race day.
Special thanks also goes out to Susan’s Flowers and Gifts, Epicurious Fine Foods, Venga Venga Cantina and Tequila Bar, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Four-Mountain Sports and Weems Westfeldt for an autographed copy of “Brilliant Skiing, Every Day”. Their generous donations for prizes are greatly appreciated. And thanks to Highlands Pizza Co. for welcoming all racers for the post-race party.
Race-day registration for this Saturday’s giant slalom will take place at Highlands Pizza Co. from 8-9:30 a.m., with the post race party at the restaurant beginning at
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Normalcy will be few and far between this ski season, so Aspen’s Simi Hamilton’s traditional slow start brought a sense of calm to a world that’s mostly in chaos at the moment.