Skiers remember with a promise at Zebulon
They called themselves the Rockets. Theirs was the tightest ski group that John Spencer, an Aspen Valley Ski Club instructor who keeps students for years, ever had. Zebulon Piffer skied with John for seven years.The Rockets were the fastest group at Buttermilk. At the end of every Saturday, the seven did a “tuck run” from top to bottom, John giving them a head start and then catching them. Over the years, John also taught them manners, and the Rockets were in John’s wedding.On Saturday, Feb. 26, John spoke at the 10th annual Zebulon Race, a memorial at Snowmass now so familiar it is just called “the Zebulon.” He referred to the “dark day” known to all present.”Zeb was my best skier,” John said. “He was one of the brightest flames I have ever known.””Kids – have fun but be safe about it, figure out ways not to drink and drive. Don’t let your friends. If someone wants to do it – tackle ’em!” Then he sat down at a picnic table and cried.It was late September in 1995 when one of Zeb’s friends threw a party. The youth tried to be responsible, taking away car keys, and calling a lockdown.But one kid missed confiscation, or had a spare. Zebulon drove away, along a windy road in Missouri Heights, rolled, and died under his truck. He was 18.The first Zebulon Race hosted 65 participants. This year saw 191, with many first-timers. Present were Zeb’s parents and sister, many of his close friends, and many children. The Zebulon Committee, a dozen people including five of Zeb’s peers, organizes the ski/snowboard race, and has given out $70,000 in college or vocational-training scholarships.This year the committee is finally being taken over by “the kids” on it. Chris Hays, Jason Sewell, and Zeb’s cousin Matt Piffer, with John Spencer, visit high schools and talk about the event and Zebulon. The Zebulon Race could easily have occurred, been good, and died out. Zeb’s friends have kept it going.Zeb was a great athlete, everyone says. The youngest ski-patroller-in-training Snowmass had ever hired. A soccer player, fisherman and hunter. High-energy but poised.”Oh, Zeb could charm anyone,” recalled Marti Bauer, mother of J.P. Bauer, one of the Rockets. “He talked as easily to adults as kids. He was comfortable with them.””He looked like Tom Cruise,” she added. “A blond Tom Cruise.”The six remaining Rockets come home by car and plane year after year for the event.Today my son Teddy, 11, is in John Spencer’s ski class, for the third year. John says he will name the group sometime. But there was only one Rockets.Teddy raced the Zebulon this year for the second time, I for the first. To register, we signed pledges. His stated that in any situation where drugs/alcohol “would make it unsafe to be in a vehicle,” he would phone home, to preserve “our lives together.”Mine, too, stipulated no drinking and driving, and said that if my child ever called I was to provide transportation, at any hour, no question.All around were Zeb’s friends, milling and smiling. Men now, grown, bearded; one has a child.Years ago, we lived across the street from the Bauers, when J.P. was Teddy’s age. J.P. is 27 now, has moved to Durango, and lives with his girlfriend.Zeb’s mother, Peggy Chandler, spoke at the event for the first time. She thanked organizers and participants, and then entreated: “It’s awful to lose a child. It’s worse than you can even imagine … Don’t drink and drive. Don’t do it.”Nearby, Marti Bauer said to friends, “I remember so clearly thinking, the month before Zeb died, ‘This is the kid I want to see in 10 years. This kid is so outstanding. He’s going to do something different with his life.'”Someone replied, “Well, maybe he did.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com
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