Friday, March 16, 2012

Ski like a townie


During the first Town Series race of the season, skier Bedford Nabors had no idea what her fellow competitors were talking about on the lift.

"It was all about page three," she said, "and how you do not want to end up there."

Page three is code for finishing in the bottom third in this longstanding, can't-get-more-local-than-this race series. The fastest finishers' names appear on the front page of a printout that is pulled out at the party that follows each weekly race. The announcement, made at a rotating local watering hole, brings out everyone's competitive spirit and some sarcasm.

But like Nabors, you have to start somewhere, even on page three (though she actually started on page two). She, and the team she put together for this year's Town Series, are all excellent alpine skiers, but none had any racing experience.

"Running gates was the one big hole in my skiing repertoire," said Nabors. "I signed up for Town Series this year to learn how to do it."

Nabors likened the experience to golf.

"The girls on my team are all great skiers. We thought we would kick it. But just because you're a star on the driving range, doesn't mean you can play golf," she said, laughing.

The Town Series course is different from many other race courses on Baldy. It's set something akin to an open slalom or a tight giant slalom—an old dual pro course minus the jumps. The top is pretty steep and the race involves making about 20 turns. Times range from 25 to 60 seconds, and by many accounts, it can be a bit hairy. Just because you can ski doesn't mean you will make it to page one, or even two, for that matter.

"It's very targeted to people who live here," said Mike Wrobel, Sun Valley's race department manager, "because you need to be able to ski midweek on non-vacation weeks."

That translates as follows: If you can't ski Wednesday mornings at 11 a.m., don't sign up. Because of this, the series draws many service industry workers and others who have the leisure and luxury of keeping Ketchum office hours. Skiers, snowboarders and telemarkers are all welcome to participate as long as they can make the start time.

In another quirk particular to Town Series, it really isn't all about how fast you ski. It's also about consistency. Staying consistent run to run and week to week earns low points, and low points are good. The math, like so much ski math, is complex and esoteric, but the end result is that the teams of four can be slow-ish but steady and still win the race. At the end of the seven weeks, the team with the lowest points wins.

Jake Peters, another skier new to the Town Series this year, put it simply, "The format means that even though I suck, as long as I'm lousy consistently, it's all good."


It's not as serious as other race programs. Nary a padded race suit can be found on the course (except for a few, and you know who you are). How can teams like Glow Pokes, Team Menopause Plus 1, and Grateful Shred, to name just a few, take themselves too seriously?

Part of the fun of Town Series—a big part—is the parties, another reason not to take it all too seriously.

Meg Vorm of the CBG Flat Out Ridiculous Team, admitted, "for me, it's all about the prizes and the parties."

As proprietor of Ketchum's Cornerstone Bar and Grill, she and husband Erik (who, for the record, she is consistently beating this year), host one of the highly anticipated post-race gatherings.

"Watkins Distributing donates a keg of beer every week, and the restaurants and bars put out a great spread of food," Vorm said. "It's just gotten better and better."

Then there are the coveted weekly prizes. These are donated by local businesses and include goggles and poles, haircuts, restaurant gift certificates and ski tunes. And it isn't the winning team that gets the loot. If you show up and ski, you can go home a winner.

"They will give a prize to the person who came in 64th one week," Vorm said with a laugh, "Or they give a fifth of tequila to the fifth fastest female and male finishers. It's all good fun."

Wrobel said, "It's great to get locals together with the mountain and with local businesses. That's one of the reasons it's so popular."

Overall, the 21st year of the Town Series has been a big success, drawing 140 people.

"We had a really diverse crowd this year," Wrobel said. "The program is revitalized with the influx of all kinds of different people. We have a group of snowboarders who dress up and are fired up. There are a lot of skiers in their 50s and 60s coming out to be a part of the community. Everyone has been great."

And by all accounts, the racers have gotten a lot out of their Wednesday mornings. Last week found Nabors at the top of the course at 10:50 a.m. with a serious case of the nerves. She was first up for the day and getting a lot of attention.

"When you're standing in the gate, everyone, and I mean everyone gives you a tip," she said. "Stay forward, be aggressive, arms up—it's distracting."

But with first race tracks all to herself, not to mention all those well-intentioned pointers roiling around her brain, Nabors ran well, finishing on, um, page two.

"I don't even want to think about what I would have to do to get off that page. I'm beginning to really like it there!"

"Skiing, competition, prizes, glory and beer—what more could you ask for?" is the question posed on the signup form for the Town Series.

Indeed, what more?

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