Masters Nationals never gets old to devotee racers

Steve Benson
With winter hanging on and leaving its mark, No. 177 rushes the last gate in his attempt to win during the Master's Championship on upper Goldenhorn at Highlands ski area Saturday afternoon March 27, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Coralue Anderson was practically raised on skis.

The Georgetown native started racing when she was a little girl, when ski poles were made from bamboo. Years later, she’s still bashing gates and ripping it up on the slopes.

She was one of roughly 80 women and over 200 men to compete in the Masters National Championships at Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands, held last Wednesday to Saturday.

Ranging in age from 21 to 87, racers competed in the slalom, giant slalom and super G. (The downhill was canceled due to conditions.)

The event, which is held at a different resort each year, ended Saturday night with a party at Buttermilk’s Bumps Restaurant.

“This is a very diverse field of athletes,” chief of race Scott Nichols said. “We’re so fortunate to have this.”

Nichols said that although the weather didn’t necessarily cooperate – warm weather followed by a storm made course maintenance difficult – the event was a success.

“It was obviously a challenge dealing with Mother Nature,” he said. “But everything went well.”

While many of the masters are like Anderson, not all have been racing their entire lives. Nate Grifkin, from Waterville, N.H., began ski racing 19 years ago. He’s now 81 years old.

“I started racing when I moved to Waterville,” Grifkin said. “Living in Waterville, you have to ski and race.”

Among the 300 or so racers, their backgrounds varied more than the 13 age groups. The event featured die-hard former pros, business owners, ski instructors, grandmothers and grandfathers, doctors and lawyers, and ski bums to name a few.

But one thing they all have in common is their love for sliding between gates on snow.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Grifkin said, which was the most popular response when people were asked why they compete.

“I just like skiing and the outdoors,” said 75-year-old John Kielty, of Hamilton, Mass. “I’ve been skiing since I was a boy, and this was just another level.”

“You can’t stop, you can’t quit,” Anderson said.

While the masses dined at Bumps Saturday night, a small group was huddled in the corner of the restaurant – their eyes glued a television that was re-playing the races.

“The thing about ski racing is it never peaks out,” Kevin Hendrickson, 32, of Steamboat Springs said. “There’s always something to work on to improve.”

And it’s that fanaticism that draws all the racers – regardless of age and sex – together.

“This is a wonderful group of people,” Anderson said. “That’s what else keeps you going.”

Don Johnson (not of “Miami Vice” infamy) said he couldn’t imagine his life without ski racing. Born in Alaska, Johnson moved with his family to Texas when he was 9 years old. For the following 10 years, he lived out a snowless existence.

One day, when he was 19 years old, Johnson said he skied on a carpet ski deck in Houston and had a sudden revelation.

“I realized I had to get out of Texas,” he laughed.

He packed up his car and has been in Colorado ever since. He raced professionally for several years and has shown no sign of slowing down, logging in over five days of racing a week.

This season, he was the overall champion of the Rocky Mountain Masters.

“It’s what I like to do,” he said. “It’s why I’m on the planet.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is