by Steve Slivinski, from a feature in the 1996 Sun Valley Ski Club Annual.
Last season (1995) Thanksgiving came and went without a snowflake to be seen, but two weeks later Mother Nature finally came through. With plenty of the white stuff, a full slate of Intermountain and Club races filled the calendar from January to March. During the season, many of my dignified Nordic friends inquired about the glamorous and fun filled life of a downhill racer. The following is intended to give you a brief glimpse into a day in the life of a racing hero on Baldy.
It’s the crack of dawn and you jump out of a perfectly warm bed to face a cold gray morning with thoughts of fame and fortune dancing in your head. After layering yourself in wool,Capilene, Spandex, goosedown and Gore-Tex, you have a quick breakfast. Now it’s off to Warm Springs, which at this time of day is anything but. On arrival, you find yourself dragging 100 pounds of essential racing equipment across the plaza of the Warm Springs Lodge. This equipment normally includes, but is not limited to, the following items: two pair of skis, two pair of poles (one bent, one not so bent), boots, a helmet, a bag full of miscellaneous articles of clothing, goggles, and finally a small tuning kit that would make the shop at Sturtevants proud.
Now it’s into the lodge to grab a cup of coffee, sign up for the race, and commiserate with your fellow racers. The discussion usually revolves around: how cold it is, what wax did you use, who’s the S.O.B. setting the course, and what’s the start order. Now the start order is normally based on age, but how this is determined differs between the sexes. The men openly and sometimes loudly argue birth dates down to the closest minute. The women, on the other hand, do this through mental telepathy; no mention of actual ages is ever heard. Just before 9 o’clock, one of the day’s biggest decisions has to be made: whether to don one’s undersized, overly tight racing suit now, or wait until just before the race. Do it now where it’s warm and comfortable, or later outside where it’s 10 below. In making this decision you need to take into account the 1st law of ski racing: the need to go is directly proportional to the stretch of the Spandex. As 9 o’clock strikes, you fumble around searching for your lift ticket, hoping you haven’t left it home again. Finding it, with relief, you head out to the Greyhawk chair. Now is the time for that all important course inspection. This is where the racer memorizes every small bump, every twist and turn, every icy inch to insure a victorious run.
Getting off the chair and skiing down to the course you are met by Sun Valley’s finest, the ski patrol. As you ski by, they offer warm words of encouragement such as: ski fast and lose your pass; keep your racing on the course; and my favorite, slow down stupid. When you reach the course if you are lucky, really lucky, it has been groomed into a seemless white carpet. But reality sets in and you find yourself stomping ice balls and scraping ridges and furrows down, all the while making rude comments about Idaho beet farmers. As you slip the course, you also run the risk of being run over by your fellow racers doing a European slip. Soon your detailed course inspection has turned into, right at the red pole, and the finish is somewhere down in the trees. About 15 minutes before the start, you make your way to the top of the course again with your mind tumbling over things like: will that $100 an ounce wax really work; are my edges sharp enough; how many times will Bob Sarchett say “let’s slip the course,” and why did I drink so much coffee.
As you arrive at the top of the course, you’re just in time to hear the start has been delayed for 15 minutes. So you stomp around trying to keep warm, eyeing your fellow competitors as they work on their skis with frozen hands, trying to get that extra tenth of a second. The race finally gets started, you’re two racers from the start, when simultaneously the zipper on your warm-ups gets stuck, there’s snow in your gloves, and your goggles start fogging up. As the anxiety level peaks, you’re in back of the starting wand, body coiled like a steel spring, a forest of red and blue poles meeting your glazed eyes. The starter drones 3, 2, 1, GO and you’re off.
You head for the first turn anticipating the wonderful carving sensation as you put your skis on edge. But what’s this, the impossible happens, your skis begin to slide sideways. No problem, you’ll make it up on the next turn. Five turns later, as you speed along, skis wide apart and eyes wide apart, you realize only an act of God or a big step ladder will get you back on line. At least you’re getting your money’s worth using every square acre of the course. Halfway down the hill, a little voice calls out to you, breathe. As you keep going, these 47 gates begin to feel like 147. Finally, the finish is in sight. You remember to stop before you run into the big poles with the branches on them. Suddenly it’s all over, you go over to the scoreboard and look at the times. No matter how long or hard you stare, your time doesn’t get better. Your mind goes into the post race mode: wrong wax, wrong skis, timing system was off, light too flat, course was too icy.
At the awards presentation, you clap for the winners and come away with a free headband from the raffle. As the end of the day approaches, you drag your cold and frozen equipment back to the Warm Springs bus stop with a smile on your face knowing you get to do this all over again next week.
I hope this brief, tongue-in-cheek glimpse into a racer’s life is not all covered with roses and Rossignols. Remember, keep those tips pointed down the hill.Written by Steve Slivinski, Sun Valley Ski Club.