Today Elaine and I ventured up to Eldora, a mountain where we both have spent a lot of time in the past, and not much at all recently. However, thanks to a promotion where you can bring your season pass in from another resort and get a free day of skiing, we decided to cash in on this offer and participate in the DoJoe uphill and downhill event. The DoJoe is a local ski race that had its origins in telemark skiing but is now open to a much wider crowd. It's a fun event, where costumes are more important than times, and the money raised from it goes to support the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a group whose website is an indispensable tool for those of us who venture into the backcountry. I do not know what the "Do" stands for, but the "Joe" is in reference to Joe Depres, a local honch skier who died in an avalanche more than a decade ago near Yankee Doodle Lake off the Continental Divide. It's a good event for a good cause.
I've had some interesting personal episodes here. In 2006 I won the race, but created a bit of controversy as I did the ascent in nordic skate skis, switched boots at the top and did the descent in telemark boots. There was nothing in the rules that said anything about this at the time, and after a long debate I was awarded the win. I thought it was a nice tribute to nordic skiing in general, but not everybody saw it that way. The next year, in 2007, I came back and managed to win with zero controversy, on traditional gear, which was a nice validation of the year before. In 2009 I had a fun battle with a couple of pilots, and I ended up getting the short end of the stick. I sucked at my transition between climb and ski, and by the time I got my skins off it was game, set, match. And while I'm not 100% sure of this, that may have been the last competitive event I had done, until today.
This year Elaine and I decided to enter as a team. I think a trademark of most athletes I know is they like to do things alone, but that wasn't the mindset for us. We've very much been operating as a team the past year-plus, and there was no reason to change that now. We decided I would do the climb and she would do the descent. The climb winds up from the base area to the top of Corona, which is the more advanced area at Eldora. After skinning to the top, I would tag Elaine and she would ski down West Ridge, a double black diamond trail, to the finish.
We pre-skied West Ridge and it was instantly clear that this was the proper choice. Elaine was ripping down the slope and I just felt off. I think I might have honestly had a bit of nerves for the race. Not that the DoJoe really matters, but I had some concerns, as I had not raced in any sort of competitive event in two years. We headed back to the base area and there said farewell – Elaine headed back up to the top via a series of lifts and I skinned up to the start.
My choice of gear has changed every year I have done this event. First, it was my skate skis and telemark skis. Then, a pair of Icelantic Nomad alpine touring skis. In 2009 I used an ultra-light rando racing set-up. This year, I decided to go with my pair of Asnes Marka skis with a small kicker skin. I think I was a little motivated by watching the nordic worlds, and decided that a classic nordic ski approach was best.
It was great at the start to see my friend John, who is the father of one of the finest skiers Nederland High School ever produced, Mariah. Mariah was one of the top alpine and nordic skiers on the team when I coached. This past December Mariah, Elaine, John and I went on a ski up at Loveland on an epic powder day, and a friendship was forged. It was good to see him, and I knew that his light touring set up with skins would be fast. There were also a couple guys from BCA and La Sportiva sporting some ultra-light gear, and I figured I had my work cut out for me. The highlight for me was a guy dressed in all-white, like the 10th Mountain Division troopers. It was an eclectic crew to be sure.
Pleasantries were exchanged at the start, and then we were off. My light set-up helped me build a lead, but I was quite concerned I would not hold it, as I wasn't sure the kicker skins would work on the steep sections, and I also felt quite weak. As I came around the first switchback, I caught a glimpse of something black…a raven, flying along with me. Cool. That raven helped me get into my rhythm and was pleased that my skins held. Up and over the steep, and I ripped my skins and classic skied to the top, up the Corona Traverse. I was fortunate enough to build a good lead, which I had hoped to do because I wanted to give Elaine a comfortable ski down West Ridge. I was ecstatic to see her at the top, and enjoyed the cheering from Mariah's mom, Nancy – who runs the nordic center – when she said that my technique looked good. I tagged Elaine and then sat in the snow to catch my breath and cheer on my fellow competitors.
A half-hour later Elaine came up the lift, beaming that we had managed to win first place. Of course, that's not what matters but it was nice after not having competed in such a long time to do well, and it was even more special to do it with my wife.
Elaine informed me that the "Torch Incident" was a topic of conversation among the spectators as she was waiting for me at the top. Apparently they were talking about the guy who skied the DoJoe in 2006 with a torch and got arrested. That would be me they were talking about, but the story is a bit inaccurate. That year I decided to do the event as a Viking and the plan was to ski down West Ridge with a kerosene torch. Well, I skied to the top and lit the thing but it quickly went out and I finished the event sans torch. I lit it at the finish line, skied to the lift and asked the lift attendant if I could go up with the torch. He of course said no, so I doused it in snow. However, when I got on the lift, it reignited a spark thanks to the generated wind caused by a moving lift, which created quite a hullabaloo with the local ski patrol. There were some ramifications, but I certainly was not arrested! It has become a good story to tell folks and I guess something of the DoJoe lore in the years hence. I'll be curious to hear what the story becomes ten years from now, as these things have a way of becoming exaggerated.
Elaine and I spent the rest of the day skiing some of our old classics – the Gully, Lewis and Clark and various tree runs around the area. We ski in-synch and it's fun dicing through the trees with her at high speeds with quick feet and alert senses. At the end of the day it was off to the awards ceremony where we enjoyed funky local music and were awarded a very artistic trophy for our efforts. It sits in the caboose now, our first trophy together, and because it was shared, for me the most fulfilling victory I have had in this event.
Thank you DoJoe and all the volunteers for making this fun event a tradition in our local backcountry ski community.