I just came in from my hike in the snow and although it was pleasant, I am dying to ski. I have been out once, but the weather around here has not been consistent for the season to open full scale. So, I placate myself watching all the ski racing on TV and I DVR all of them. I just watched Ted Ligety, our US Team star slay all in the GS at Beaver Creek and watched Lindsey Vonn make her second comeback of the season from knee injuries to finish 10th in a downhill at Lake Louise in Canada. These world class athletes are amazing in that they take their rehab seriously and want to win at all costs. They are not afraid to put it all on the line and risk injury for the reward of a gold medal. My friend Travis Durfee, who at one time was top ten in Downhill and Super G west of the Mississippi for several years and a member ofthe prestigious Far West team, always said that the difference between world class competitors and national class competitors was that fearless attitude to go as fast as they could and put it all out there risking all. Susan DiBiase, another friend, said the same thing about women racing dowhill in mountain biking. If you are not willing to take every risk, you will never reach the pinacle of the sport. She was a pro mountain biker and knew the game. Ski racing is a dangerous sport and I thought of my dabbling in it way back when, and how I was not willing to take those risks at all cost.
I was not a very fast ski racer. I came from the instructors background and although people said I looked smooth in a race course, I was not fast. Locally, we had several guys who were fast because they tried as hard as they could to beat each other every weekend. We had juniors, seniors and masters races at our local mountain. My group all grew up racing together and when we were in our twenties, we all raced as masters in the USSA races here and sometimes visiting our friends in New England. It was a lot of fun, but guys like Porter Scott, Bill Boucher, and Craig Jerome were the fast guys. They were the tops in our division and my friends Craig Morris and Tim Chappell and I were always chasing their times. We got smart and decided that while those guys were trying to kill themselves to beat each other, we needed to put two consistent runs together and we might end up in the money. Usually one of them or a couple of them would crash because they would be willing to put it all on the line and one or two of us would sneak in there and stand up for two runs and grab a trophy. People got to think we were good but really our strategy was to make sure we finished two runs reasonably fast and hope for the best. That hope was that one of the fast guys or two of the fast guys would crash. We called ourselves the attack from the back and oftentimes we got the trophy. I have a box full of trophies in the basement that are a testament to the fact that I could put together two smooth looking but not fast runs, but fast enough if the good guys tried to kill each other.
I got to see some really good guys when I ventured to New England to race with my friend Eric Durfee who was a really fast racer and had collegiate and Can- Am experience. He was a real ski racer and the guys in New England were a different breed and very competitive and very fast. When our crowd went up there, we got smoked. Even the fast guys. I would do NASTAR races with Eric at Mad River and Killington and would watch him try to destroy the pacesetter while I was just trying to win a gold pin. That is the difference. The fast guys in New England were competitive as all hell and wanted to win no matter what the venue. To this day, Eric is our fearless leader when we ski with him and his competitive nature and win at all costs, is still evident in his free skiing. His son Travis is the same and it is amazing to see these guys in action.
I have also had the good fortune to see World Cup races and see the best in the world. Just like any sport, it is enlightenling to see world class athletes and how they perform. I skied with Phil Mahre one day, who was our greatest male ski racer of all time along with his brother Steve. I got to see first hand how strong they were and how they effortlessly carved trenches in the snow and nothing threw them off balance. I thought I was pretty good on the snow but when I got to ski with world class guys, you quickly realize that these guys are on a completely different level. Ski racing hones good technique and the one thing that was always good about running gates even at my level, was it made your skiing sharp and the little bit of local competitiveness was not only fun, but it made you a better skier. Craig, Tim and I talk all the time about the attack from the back and how we succeeded at grabbing a trophy out from under the faster guys. Eric, Travis, Ted and Bodie would disagree with our philosophy by saying that if you don’t put it all on the line, you will never know what your potential is even if you crash out of a lot of courses. Bodie Miller was a classic example in that if he managed to stand up for two runs, he usually was in the money. He crashed more often than not but his willingness to win at all costs is what makes him world class. The 59 year old kid, unfortunately, did not have the talent or the will to do that. But skiers from the banana belt seldom reach those lofty heights anyhow.
Probably the only time I can remember putting it all on the line was when I was a kid and dove across the finish line at our little Standard Race to try to win the coveted gold 7 pin. I got my pin but took out the timing device and everyone in the lodge thought I had killed myself. Kind of a dumb way to try to be faster but I was proud to win that gold. When you were a fat little kid and you wore that gold 7, you had arrived. I got the bug, but the smooth looking turns eventually won out and the attack from the back was born. Hoping some snow comes our way soon or I will have to keep watching the fast guys show me how it is done. Think snow and thanks for reading.