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Aspen goes to the Junior Olympics

Teddy sat in the snow, bare-bummed, for two long minutes. He leapt to his feet – at the instant, he later lamented, “all the Vail girls walked up!”Representatives from the Aspen ski-racing team, 11- to 12-year-olds’ division, were attending the Junior Olympics in Winter Park. At a restaurant one night, anyone who bounced a quarter into a cup – hard to do – could assign a teammate or coach a dare. One young coach, Rohan, was particularly inventive. The team’s watching parents laughed until they cried.George and Teddy had to slow-dance on the hearth, Bobby to sing the hip-hop lyrics, “I like big butts and I cannot lie!”, and Rohan himself had to pole-dance on a beam, performing creditably enough to suggest he may have seen an exhibition.An alarmed mother from another Colorado team shooed her charges out of the room, but most hurried back to watch. Finally, the petite, sweet-voiced coach Michelle, fulfilling a challenge heroically, silenced the bar by emerging from a restroom calling, “Excuse me!” She pointed at the restroom door, waved her hand, and said, “Phe-e-ew! Do not go in there!”She said later, “We left soon after. That was probably good.”The “JOs” hosted 71 girls and 99 boys from 18 states, representing ski clubs from the Rocky and Central regions, for four days. The Aspen Valley Ski Club fielded five boys and four girls, and Ski Sunlight two boys. The two clubs often hang together and help each other.We Westerners tend to feel pretty uppity about our big, beautiful, snow-coated mountains, and as a newcomer to the racing scene, I smiled with kind condescension during the Super G when a mother from the Midwest said, “My son has never seen, much less skied, a course this steep.” I did not yet know about Buck Hill, Minn.Each morning the kids arrived for a special racers’ lift at 7:20. All carried two pairs of skis, one on each shoulder. The arms of their half-on speed suits hung down from their waists. On the slopes, they ripped.Tuning tables and banners dotted cordoned, clamorous starting areas. Coaches and ardent fathers (who’d already tuned skis the night before) waved monster screwdrivers, scrubbed sticks of wax on bases.They speak a patois.”LF6?” my husband, Mike, asked George’s dad. “What’d you do about the Cera?””No 7 in there,” John affirmed. “You cork in the Cera, and brush it with a horsehair.”Crews of dozens, bearing gates, drills, shovels and rakes, prepared and maintained courses. Coaches reported over walkie-talkies.On a lift, a nice dad spoke modestly of Central ski areas: “Our kids can ski on anything. They can ski on a hockey rink, and they frequently do.” I heard, and believed, that the Midwestern kids were great at the low-angled, intensely technical slalom. Then Michael from Wisconsin posted the Super G course’s single fastest clocked time, 51 mph.Our team’s George sported a cast on his forearm, broken in the Prater Cup, the Junior Olympics qualifier. His speed suit was split up the seam, duct-taped across the cast. In slalom, he lost a ski and continued for six gates on the other.We also boasted Katie, area phenom, who posted the second-fastest time of anyone, including boys, in Super G training, but uncharacteristically fell in the event, leaning too close to a gate. Still, she later snagged two second places. Our valley claimed other high finishes, too, in the top five and 10.Matt from Buck Hill, Minn., won four out of five races; Madeline from there won three. Buck Hill is not even a mountain. One coach told Mike it is 300 vertical “from the antennae to the bottom of the well.” Matt goes every day after school, sets up gates, and, using the rope tow, logs 25 laps. Work hard and you can be a good skier anywhere.But can they bounce quarters?Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com.


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