There’s something undeniably sexual about the sport of skiing: Its fluidity, grace, energy and speed all rolled into one in a natural setting. The turns themselves are about tension, then release. There’s a mystery surrounding those who do it, often hard to tell who or what is hiding behind the goggles and under all those clothes. The aerodynamic skin-tight ski suits the World Cup women wear leave a little bit less to the imagination.
Seeing someone of the opposite sex doing the sport on a professional level that you do recreationally is awe inspiring in the sense that they have turned the corner. They have taken something that they love to do and made it their way to actually make a living. It’s pretty frightening to think about, having to wake up and skiing fast for food and shelter. That’s why whenever the World Cup comes to Aspen, you’ll find me on the side of the course cheering on the racers.
One of my sacred prized possessions is a program from the 1950 U.S. FIS World Ski Championships in Aspen. It came to me via the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, Md. On page three there’s a full-page ad urging people to take the Rio Grande train to Aspen for the races. Can you imagine what a thrill it was to take the train to the Roaring Fork Valley for the first time on a ski vacation? Might as well travel the elegant way.
There are some classic photos and stories in the program that remind me of what style and class the sport of skiing came from. There’s one of Dick Durrance standing at the top of Ajax with more sporting more cool than all of the participants of Aspen’s Fashion Ski Week combined. There’s an element of his skiing form that I’ve always tried to emulate ever since I saw the picture of him in what was arguably the best advertising campaign by the SkiCo, “Lunch is for Sissies.” It shows him diving into a high-speed turn in his iconic hawk-like dynamic crouch, arms out and bent at the elbows. I had a ski instructor tell me one time, for free, that I was bending too much at the waist. Standing upright while skiing simply bores me to tears.
Growing up we were always taught to lift the inside ski off of the ground, and counter rotate our bodies into the gate and turn. It’s a technique I still use to this day. It blows my mind to see the kids these days standing on their edges with equal pressure through each turn. I’ve tried to ski like that with horrible results.
The equipment and technique used by the World Cup racers is incredible to witness firsthand. The skis are razor sharp, ultra stiff tools of the trade. The boots will flex, but not until they are put through unimaginable shin-bruising stress. Most local skiers would probably have a difficult time skiing them on anything other than a groomed green run on Buttermilk. Not to mention there have been a lot of injuries linked to top- of-the-line race equipment.
There’s a great deal of emphasis these days on ski specs like sidecut, width, length and turn radius, all of which I’m happy to ignore. It probably has something to do with the fact that I always got my ass kicked badly in ski racing. I’ve always been of the mind to buy a ski, get used to it and forget about it under foot.
According to some local U.S. Ski Team insiders, race skis are trending towards being longer, with less sidecut. This can only be viewed as a sign of hope and change in a dying industry, not to mention validation of the longtime local mantra with a twist — short skis still suck.
The first men’s downhill course on Ajax took an almost unfathomable route from the top of Ruthie’s chair to the top of Mill Street down FIS, Spar, and then Niagara and Schuss Gully. The women’s course went down the freshly cut Silver Queen. I still find it hard to believe that the men’s and women’s downhill races somehow outgrew Aspen. We’re left with the skeletal remains of abandoned TV camera platforms as a solemn reminder.
World Cup skiing is one of the few things that still makes Aspen a classic American ski town. That’s why it’s important to go out and support its presence. Hosting a World Cup ski race in town is still extremely significant on a lot of different levels.
Now that elections are over and we have all that emotional free time on our hands, we can start focusing our collective energy as a community to get the men’s and women’s World Cup downhill back to Aspen. It may mean redesigning a course and cutting new runs.
A huge thanks is in order to all of the local course workers, volunteers and everyone who make these races possible.
In the 1950 FIS program for the first-ever World Cup held in the U.S., there’s a wonderful essay written by legendary western writer Luke Short, whose ashes are buried here. There’s an interesting passage reflective of the times that’s extraordinarily pertinent today: “Aspen, in all its history, has never cared much about the pigment of a man’s skin or the fashion of his hair cut ... In this time of unease, it is good to remember that, to reaffirm an old Aspen friendship and tolerance toward all.”
Welcome and good luck in as many different languages as it takes to all the World Cup racers, and here’s to another wondrous ski season in Aspen.
To reach Lorenzo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.