If you are buddies with Max Taam, but he wasn’t too talkative when you saw him on Highland Bowl Friday, don’t be offended. He was in the middle of breaking his personal record by hiking and skiing the bowl 10 times in a six-hour stretch.
“I didn’t think I could do it, but I did,” Taam said, adding that he started at 9:15 a.m. and finished just after 3 p.m.
Over the past eight years, Taam, 30, has become known for his performance in endurance competitions, placing well in some of the most extreme ski-mountaineering races that Colorado offers including Aspen Skiing Co.’s Power of Four ski mountaineering race and the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse. He’s also competed in Europe on the U.S. National Team in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) World Championship twice and last month, he qualified for this year’s competition in Pelvoux, France.
Most local ski bums don’t have as many medals to their name, but Taam’s story is a lot like other college graduates who moved here for a season and ended up staying.
Taam grew up in Ithaca, N.Y. and spent afternoons after school traveling to the local ski hill, Greek Peak Mountain Resort, to shred whatever kind of snow there was, he said.
“Growing up I skied a lot under all sorts of conditions,” Taam said. “They were generally very poor compared to what we have here.”
After high school he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he studied finance. Looking back now, he hasn’t had much use for the degree, he said with a laugh.
Taam moved to Aspen the summer after college and began working at Ute Mountaineer and the Hub of Aspen bike shop. He spent the following winter teaching skiing in Snowmass and the next year he was hired for one of the most difficult local jobs to land — working as a ski patroller on Aspen Mountain. With only a few spots turning over each decade, Taam got pretty lucky, he said.
The job has allowed him to spend most of his days outdoors, and he has settled into a routine where he hikes or skins up Ajax about one-and-a-half times before he heads into work, he said. On his days off he tries to pack in larger workouts doing multiple laps on Highland Bowl, he said.
Currently, ski mountaineering is his favorite activity on the hill, although he still loves a good powder day, he said.
“I just think it’s a cool mode of transport through the mountains,” Taam said. “ ... I just love pushing myself on the uphill for that sort of the pure aerobic [workout] and I also love skiing so this kind of sport is perfect.”
While ski mountaineering has been growing nationally, Taam spent last winter in Chamonix, France as part of a ski patrol exchange, where he learned how much more seriously the Europeans take it, he said. In the future, Taam hopes that Americans can up their skill level to be more competitive with their European counterparts and that the sport makes it into Winter Olympics one day, he said.
As an endurance sports junkie, Taam doesn’t limit himself to ski mountaineering. Last summer, for example, he decided to compete in both SkiCo’s Power of Four mountain bike race, where cyclists gain 9,000 feet across 36 miles, and the Aspen Backcountry Marathon. Both events take place in a two-day span. Taam earned third in the bike race, which he won gold in the year before, and second in the marathon.
Taam said he wasn’t sure if he is good at every sport or if he just sticks to the things he knows he does well. But one thing he knows for sure is that, like any true ski bum, his real passion will always be skiing, he said.
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