Beer Runs

East
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East
beer.1

Join a bar race league and you, too, can feel like a pro. Of course if you tank, you can always drown your sorrows in suds.

Let's get one thing clear. I don't night ski. Some guys don't ski bumps. Some avoid the ungroomed. I don't ski in the dark. I think night skiing sucks: You can't see squat, it always feels 10 degrees colder than it really is, and everything turns to ice -- always.

So, what am I doing here loading my sorry keister onto a chairlift at Mount Peter, New York, on a late-February Monday night? I blame Chris, the carpenter who can too often be found working on my miserable house. One day, while ripping out my kitchen ceiling, he starts touting this bar racing league he skis in.

Teams are sponsored by local bars, he explains, and race every week at Mount Peter. There are eight teams, at least one female per team, and only the top four times count. Anybody can do it. They've got terminal intermediates, former college racers, even a dozen or so who've raced pro -- regionally, anyhow. You just have to be 21.

Despite the fact that Mount Peter has about eight runs and 450 feet of vertical, Chris claims that the racecourse is pretty steep. I remain skeptical. But then he reveals that the whole league is sponsored by two beer distributors, and that après-race, they serve up two-dollar pints....

So here I am, the newest member of the Warwick Tavern team. I lug my boot bag into the base-lodge bar -- a classic with wood paneling and old skis on the walls -- and begin studying the Mahogany Ridge Racing League bulletin board. We're in next-to-last place, I'm just noting, when in walks an attractive, dark-haired, late-20-somethingish woman. She introduces herself as Roni, Chris's friend and the single female on our 10-person roster, and offers to lead me on a few warmup runs.

About 30 seconds are required to run the hill from top to bottom. I can't see much (it's dark, dammit), but the snow's in amazing shape and perfectly groomed, so I just follow the lady. We find Chris in the crowd and head up to the course, where -- what the...?! Three guys are stripping off right there in the cold night air. They provocatively remove their outer layers to reveal -- oh my God -- full-fledged, skin-tight racing suits. "Who're the Serious Suits?" I ask Chris, eyeing them warily. Chris shoots them a dark look. "They're the ones who always win."

Racers are lining up way uphill of the start shack. It soon becomes obvious why. The start-shack ramp has to be rated double diamond. You need a running start and perfect timing to stop on the platform. When it's my turn, I schuss to the ramp then flash into a wedge. Crap. Too soon. I slide down backward. A small cheer rises from behind me. I regroup and, mustering nonchalance, clomp up in a lame herringbone.I state my name and team to the start lady -- a high school kid who can outrace us all, but isn't old enough to drink so is ineligible for the league -- and instead of hearing a countdown and "Go!" she says, "Okay, you can go any time." Huh? I'm so flustered by this casual starting procedure that, as I whip out of the gate, I step on my own ski and stage a total yard sale. I wait for the jeers but nobody seems to have noticed. What the hell, I ski the course for practice. It's a strange mess of pitches. The first 30 yards are totally flat. Suddenly, the ground drops away, and three gates demand short, sharp turns. This supersteep patch yields to 40 flat finishing yards. When I return to the top, Roni asks my time. "Under five minutes," I say, sheepishly.

On line for run number two, I listen to the Suits' mating call -- clamorous grunts as they push through the early flats. I strike up a conversation with a guy named Eric who muses intensely over his time while sucking on a cigarette. I study that ramp. Be aggressive, I chant to myself like a high school cheerleader. I take the damned thing at full bore and, after narrowly missing the far post, comete my second run without disaster. My time is about 42 seconds, and I'm feeling pretty good until Eric follows about eight seconds faster. Maybe I should take up smoking.

We adjourn to the bar, which appears to be segregated. The Suits occupy the room with the pool table. We inhabit the bar. They boast boisterously about race times. We exchange skiing war stories, but skillfully omit racing references. Everybody drinks heartily and happily, however, and raises a glass as the evening's winners collect prize T-shirts.

A week later, I'm actually looking forward to racing. I arrive early and, after chatting up some teammates in the bar, hop on the chairlift. A gale-force wind is whipping at the top. I line up with Chris and a guy named Terry, our fastest guy. When I negotiate the ramp, I find Roni's running the start. "Racer ready?" she says. "Go whenever."

I push hard and am hit with a face-busting wind gust. I'm skating, poling, and even grunting like a Suit, but I'm getting nowhere through the flats. After a millennium, I finally reach the steep section. Now, I'm not only moving, I'm looking two gates ahead, shifting early for my turns, lining things up and feeling great. Hey, this is cool, I think, whenI suddenly realize that the finishing flats hold at least six closely set gates. I jam my edges to make the second turn and dissipate all my speed. Now, I'm skating and grunting until I stumble across the finish line. "Mitch," comes the PA voice, "Your time is 40-point-one-two." Better than last week, I think, but still not good enough.

In line for run number two, I ooze determination. This isn't easy, given the casual distractions: The young woman before me is deep in discussion about hors d'oeuvres for her upcoming wedding; a big guy booms toward the ramp, whacks into the outside post, and tumbles off the far side of the ramp. A huge cheer goes up when he reappears with raised fist. Forget racing. How about a ramp-rolling contest?

I'm second in line now, and Roni's calling for next. But the wedding planning continues, so I jump in and, with no time to brood about it, take the ramp with pure panache. This time I'm smart. When I hear "go whenever," I wait. When the wind dies, I skate, flail, pole, kick, and grunt extra loudly all the way to the real hill. Now, I'm skiing just like before, but I'm ready for those nasty finishing gates. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, I'm through and... "Thirty-five-point-one-two," says the PA, "That's exactly five full seconds faster!"

"Yes!" I scream, just as the bride-to-be whips across the line with a 30-something. She beat me? Ah, who cares? I knocked off five seconds. Yes!

In the bar, I'm surrounded by the perpetually last-place Yesterday's team. They are toasting Goldilocks. "Goldilocks?" I inquire. "We had one of those Goldilocks hats, the ones with the blonde braids coming out of each side," says John, the team sponsor. "When we didn't have a female skier, one of us would put on the Goldilocks hat and ski as Suzy Cream Cheese."

A California transplant named Darrell sits next to me. "I've made so many friends skiing on this team. It's unbelievable," he says almost tearfully. Also unbelievable is the fact that he likes skiing Mount Peter better than Tahoe. Across the room, the Suits are roaring and laughing, too, celebrating their win. Last place, first place, everybody's happy. "You know," I'm thinking as I leave the revelry, "this night racing ain't so bad. Maybe if I got me one of those suits, I could even knock off another second or two...."

BAR RACE LEAGUES

Bolton Valley, VT: Thursday night corporate race league with two-dozen teams competing on a 12-week schedule. Weekly prizes, giveaways, live entertainment. Call 877-9-BOLTON.

Bromley, VT: The Innkeepers Racing League has 70 teams and 300-plus participants. Meets Wednesdays and features specialty and fun races. Call Amy Wetzel, 802-824-5522.

Cannon, NH: The Cannon Challenge Business League teams are sponsored by local restaurants. Meets weekly. Call 603-823-8800.

Cranmore, NH: Mountain Meisters meets Wednesdays with an après-ski party at the Pub. One of New England's biggest race leagues, with 60 teams and 800 participants. Call 800-SUN-N-SKI.

Hunter, NY: Sam Adams & RIP 97.9 Roaring Racing Series meets Monday mornings from January to March and winds up at different area bars and restaurants. Call 518-263-4223.

Jiminy Peak, VT: Thursday night race league gets about 100 participants. Après-race, a race video is shown at Christensens Tavern. Call 888-4-JIMINY.

Killington, VT: The Michelob Light Ski Bum Race Series, for skiers and snowboarders, meets Wednesdays between January and March. Après-ski at Killington Road establishments, plus end-of-season party. Call 802-422-3333.

King Pine, NH: Weekly Pioneer Races Monday afternoons January through March for adults and juniors. Call 800-373-3754.

Kissing Bridge, NY: Honey Brown Race Series meets Tuesdays for adults of all abilities. Call 716-592-4963.

Lost Valley, ME: Thursday series. Call 207-784-1561.

Mount Peter, NY: The Mahogany Ridge Racing League meets Monday nights. Après-ski in Pete's Place, plus end-of-season pig roast. Call 914-986-4940.

Mount Snow, VT: The Mount Snow Valley League has separate snowboard and ski divisions. Races held Wednesdays. Parties afterward. End-of-season banquet at the Snow Barn. Call 802-464-3333.

Nashoba Valley, MA: Adult Team Racing (ATR) takes place Monday through Thursday nights. Call 978-692-3033.

Sugarbush, VT: The Ski Bum race series takes place every Tuesday at 11 a.m. for any ability level. Postrace parties each week. Call 802-583-6818.

Sunday River, ME: Local's Challenge races on Wednesday mornings and parties at the Foggy Goggle. Call 207-824-5381.

Wachusett Mountain, MA: The Corporate Night Racing League meets Mondays through Thursdays, January through March. Call 978-464-2300 or email race@wachusett.com.

Waterville Valley, NH: Races every Tuesday. Call 800-468-2553.

Whiteface, NY: Races on Wednesdays. Call 800-373-3754.hallenge Business League teams are sponsored by local restaurants. Meets weekly. Call 603-823-8800.

Cranmore, NH: Mountain Meisters meets Wednesdays with an après-ski party at the Pub. One of New England's biggest race leagues, with 60 teams and 800 participants. Call 800-SUN-N-SKI.

Hunter, NY: Sam Adams & RIP 97.9 Roaring Racing Series meets Monday mornings from January to March and winds up at different area bars and restaurants. Call 518-263-4223.

Jiminy Peak, VT: Thursday night race league gets about 100 participants. Après-race, a race video is shown at Christensens Tavern. Call 888-4-JIMINY.

Killington, VT: The Michelob Light Ski Bum Race Series, for skiers and snowboarders, meets Wednesdays between January and March. Après-ski at Killington Road establishments, plus end-of-season party. Call 802-422-3333.

King Pine, NH: Weekly Pioneer Races Monday afternoons January through March for adults and juniors. Call 800-373-3754.

Kissing Bridge, NY: Honey Brown Race Series meets Tuesdays for adults of all abilities. Call 716-592-4963.

Lost Valley, ME: Thursday series. Call 207-784-1561.

Mount Peter, NY: The Mahogany Ridge Racing League meets Monday nights. Après-ski in Pete's Place, plus end-of-season pig roast. Call 914-986-4940.

Mount Snow, VT: The Mount Snow Valley League has separate snowboard and ski divisions. Races held Wednesdays. Parties afterward. End-of-season banquet at the Snow Barn. Call 802-464-3333.

Nashoba Valley, MA: Adult Team Racing (ATR) takes place Monday through Thursday nights. Call 978-692-3033.

Sugarbush, VT: The Ski Bum race series takes place every Tuesday at 11 a.m. for any ability level. Postrace parties each week. Call 802-583-6818.

Sunday River, ME: Local's Challenge races on Wednesday mornings and parties at the Foggy Goggle. Call 207-824-5381.

Wachusett Mountain, MA: The Corporate Night Racing League meets Mondays through Thursdays, January through March. Call 978-464-2300 or email race@wachusett.com.

Waterville Valley, NH: Races every Tuesday. Call 800-468-2553.

Whiteface, NY: Races on Wednesdays. Call 800-373-3754.