The Loveland Derby: tutus on the slopes
When 250 kids ski the same course, the ruts are knee-deep. One boy, wide-eyed, said, “I felt like a rodeo rider.””My skull was smacking the inside of my helmet,” my son Teddy said. He had to go second-to-last on one run, and found that a slot for one ski and a slot for the other had formed around the turns.Watching, I was just glad he finished standing. He actually looked pretty good. For a guy in a dress.It was the 46th annual Loveland Derby, April 22-24, the last ski race of the year, and the oldest, largest alpine race in North America, with a beach-party atmosphere and many contestants in costume. Nearly 640 entrants (most races host 150 or 200) up to college age turned up, and the mountain kept four slalom courses going. Competitors come from as far away as Vermont for points to improve their seeds next season. We saw a Viking and a few Batmans; gorilla, dragon and bear suits; and sequins, tutus, and tutus with boxers. A whole team wore grass skirts. A college guy paraded in a cow costume with strategically placed udders. The race uses 500 volunteers, and one day I planned to help as a gatekeeper. Teddy, 12, concernedly began preparing me for certain scenarios: “Now, the plane is different at a flush – “He finally stopped and said, “You should tell them you don’t understand slalom, Mom.”The only problem I really had as a “gatekeep,” though, was reading bib numbers beneath boas and butterfly wings.Teddy borrowed a Dorothy (of Oz) dress from my young coworker Andrew, who’d worn it for Halloween. “Oh, look at that,” Andrew had said mildly, upon shaking it out, to see a filigree of beer stains. (We washed it.)Our hotel, offering special rates, was packed with kids. “We won’t be able to control this,” I heard one clerk tell her coworkers seriously.As soon as we’d walked in Friday night, my son had seen his buddy Bobby, also from the Aspen team, lounging alertly in the lobby. “See ya, Mom. I’m goin’ floor hopping,” Teddy said. The kids also congregated in the hot tub (which, packed, grew so noisy even Teddy and Bobby left) and ski-tuning room. One evening Teddy reported that he and Bobby had just played Ding-Dong-Ditch: knock on a door and run. The kids on our floor appeared to be engaged in competitive door-slamming.Bobby received 32 text messages on the first day alone from young admirers on the Steamboat team.”Thirty-two?” I said to Teddy. “How does anyone send 32?””You get three or four cell phones between 10 girls,” he said, “and that’s a lot of text-ing power, Mom.”The Loveland parking lot was full of team vans from as far off as Flagstaff and Taos, and a rental bus from Park City. The vans sported sponsor logos: Taco Bell, Peabody Coffee, someone’s local tire place. One of our sponsors is Aspen Orthopedics.That night at a local brewpub, I watched a 10-year-old order three soft pretzels for dinner. They arrived flanked by one pale piece of lettuce. His father was at the other end of the table, another jurisdiction. The son ate three or four bites and ran off upstairs to play “team pool.””It’s a good thing those kids can ski,” said Steve, one father, returning after checking, “because they sure can’t play pool.”Up on the mountain, in the starting area, team Flagstaff built a snow fort and barraged the others with snowballs; at least four teams stormed it.The chaos had its moments of clarity, however. I waited as a boy from Eldora splatted a sand-dollar-sized splotch of ketchup on a burger. He turned and saw my volunteer’s bib.”What course are you gatekeeping?” he asked.”J4 to J6.””Thank you,” he said, unprompted by any adult, “for gatekeeping for us.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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