As readers of my blog, you know that my background is ski instruction and not ski racing. I dabbled in some racing as a young guy and also in the Masters category but suffice to say, I made nice turns in a course but was not fast. When I worked at Sugarloaf, I had the opportunity to witness Downhill racing up close by working on the Can-Am Downhill course from time to time with the race crew. I witnessed the Hahnnenkamm Downhill in Austria up close by hiking up to the start and then watching the race from the Steilhang turn on the course. It was rock hard and those guys are flying. 90 MPH into the finish. Skiing on a downhill course the day after a race is harrowing because it is like skiing on marble. I can’t imagine going that fast on that surface. Speaking with Ron Biederman ( ex US Team downhiller) one day up in Vermont, I inquired how you develop the technique and frankly the guts to ski that fast. He said that it is acquired over a long time with junior races, senior races and eventually getting up to the national class and World Cup level. I have been watching the speed races on Universal Sports Channel and am always amazed at the skill level of World Cup skiers. Several friends and acquaintances of mine have experience racing the downhill and could probably give a discertation way better than me, but I had a glimpse of the discipline watching these races and even entering 2 masters category races with actual downhill boards. No great results but fun to experience.
I actually bought a pair of downhill skis one time when my friend Eric was living in Vermont. We have a mutual friend who works for Atomic who managed to get us two pair out of their Salt Lake City facility and Eric coached me on how to use them. Basically they sat in my garage until I made one of my treks northward to Vermont and we brought them with us to Killington early in the mornings. No one was on the hill and as I tried to keep Eric in view, I was amazed at how fast you could get up to speed with a pair of 220 cm skis. They are rock solid but the speed is a bit un-nerving if you are not used to it. Eric is used to the speed and I had to learn how to ski these long boards without killing myself or killing someone else. After we made a few runs, some people started to come out and when you see someone doing a wedge turn out into the middle of a trail, it is amazing how fast you can close in on them with the 220s. Seeing that they have the right of way, I had to make decisions in a hurry on where to ski so as not to come close to them. We rocketed by people like that until Eric decided that it was time to put them away and get our regular skis for the rest of the day. In a very Walter Mitty like way, I imagined myself as a downhill racer as I tried to follow Eric but as we skied to the K chair I was always happy to finish another run in one piece. I had a lot of fun on those boards and gained an even greater respect for downhill racers by using the equipment that they used. But my speeds were no where near that level.
My wife and I traveled to Steamboat one year and I took the DH boards with me. I used them early in the mornings and scared myself a few times out there but it was fun to ski the west with them on a perfectly groomed trail. I exchanged them for my regular skis when I picked up my wife for the day and she asked how it was. I didn’t let her know that I was playing with fire out there. I meekly put them away and skied the groomers with her. Eric, Travis, Proctor, Edie, Rosi, Gretl, Hutch, I have a lot of respect for you guys racing on that equipment in those kinds of races. For the rest of us mortals, watch the men’s and women’s downhill on the Olympic coverage and you will get a feel for how fast this discipline is.
My use of these skis came to an inauspicious ending when as a member of Team Mike Malone, I used them in the Jimmy Heuga Classic at Seven Springs Resort here in PA. The event was a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy and the winner had to raise the most money and ski the most runs. It was amazing to see how fast you could cover 800 vertical feet with the aid of downhill skis and a high speed chairlift. All went well until I went a little too far right on one run, hit a mud patch, ejected out of both bindings, and barreled down the slope in a muddy mess. Fortunately the skis were not damaged and I continued the event looking like I had been in a football game. We would have won but someone at the last minute brought in a check that beat us out at the end of the day. The DH boards were retired after that day never to be used again.
Years have passed since those days and I often think about the fun but scary times that I spent on skis that were really not for a guy like me. My friend Eric has always had the habit of sending me into the realm of the unknown but I somehow come out of it with a great experience and the knowledge that I pushed myself again a little out of my comfort zone. 220 downhill skis will do that to you but looking back, it was worth the scare. Watch the Olympics and have a great winter. Think snow and thanks for reading.