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24-At First Glance


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Aspen, CO, Dec. 9, 2001, 11:00am–I usually work a little less than a forty-hour week. It’s just enough time to achieve everything on schedule. Today, the athletes I follow and I will log a forty hour day. We’ve woken to a spotless blue sky and an impeccably groomed course. We will put to shame all those who ask for a shorter work week or longer recreational day.

The Audi 24 Hours of Aspen is an endurance race like none other. It?s closest competitor for skiing’s most grueling event is the 50K of Coronet, held on New Zealand’s Coronet Peak. However in this race, competitors will ski the equivalent of driving from Aspen to Denver at eighty miles per hour.

More interesting statistics come to mind: Competitors will consume fifty pounds of pasta, twenty pounds of potatoes, 600 bananas, and over 200 Balance bars. As a journalist, I will chug down at least fifty of the 5,500 cups of coffee my peers and I will need to endure the night.

At 11 am, one hour before start time, I’ve already put down four cups of coffee, a bagel and cream cheese, a banana, an orange, three glasses of orange juice, and a peach yogurt. I’ll have to maintain this pace throughout the day and night to hang with the competitors. I’ve rarely seen a more pristine day at the top of Aspen Mountain, but then again everything Aspen is pristine and often taken for granted. Today, nothing will be taken for granted.

The sun’s warmth lures skiers to mull about the start, sipping mid-morning cappuccinos and hot cocoas. Soon, they will crowd the red netting and clusters of spotlights that line the 2.69-mile course. The upper gondola house is cluttered with race preparations. Ski technicians tune and wax multiple pairs of skis. Athletes jump about in an effort to loosen what they have trained to be tireless muscles. Flags from eight different countries (Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Slovakia, and the United States) wave about, their bearers shouting patriotism in multiple tongues. Upbeat violin and guitar instrumentals encourage the crowd to urge on the upcoming racers.

On my ride up to the summit and the start of the race, a local man, David Bruce suggests a few restaurants I should place on my experience Aspen list. While I won’t be relieving myself on the gondola, into kitty litter or plastic bottles, I surely will not have time to grab blueberry panckaes from Sardy’s, seafood pasta and wine at the Ajax Tavern, nouveau Franco-American at Pinon’s, or a dance and a martini at Club Chelsea.

As a former downhiller myself, I understand the speed aspect of this race-hanging on the brink of control, hands forward, body crouched in a bullet position. Recovery from a mistake takes nearly the length of a football field to correct at 75 or 80 mph. These racers will approach ninety miles per hour in Spar Gulch, where the course narrows and filters the racers down the belly of a ravine, which ends in a ninety degree left hand turn. Stomachs will be in throats. Fifty yards of course will pass in the literal blink of an eye. Slight errors or even an instantaneous loss of focus could end in forfeiture of the race, even death. For some racers, stopping at the bottom of the course will be the most strenuous task. Imagine driving 60 miles per hour on a washboard dirt road, banging a forty-five degree turn, then stopping in less than thirty feet. Impossible? Maybe in your Taurus, but not for these formidable athletes.

As far as endurance goes, mine will have to be fortified with whiskey and Red Bull. I’m not sure the water, energy bars, and carbs the competitors load up on will seal the deal for me. In several hours, these racers will begin to experience the delirium associated with insanely strenuous activity. They will babble. The will drool on themselves. They will struggle. But always, they will ski. For now, I can only watch, wait, and look for that next whiskey and Red Bull.

Check out continuous coverage of the Audi 24 Hours of Aspen.