I head to Piancavallo Italy with the US Ski Mountaineering Team to race the World Championships. I will compete in the Teams event with Jon Brown. We will work together for the 8,254’ ski mountaineering race. Why have I worked so hard at 40 to make the US Ski Mountaineering team again? This time by a margin of 8 seconds that ended with a collapse on the ground at the finish line from shear exhaustion. Why do we push so damn hard in our local amateur races and leave it all on the course? Why get out of bed to jog up a groomer on skis in the cold dark December morning? Why pack the night before, train in the dark, rush to work drinking a protein smoothy to end up changing clothing at least three times in a day, seemingly every day? With all the civil and nobel endeavors one might engage, why live life on the go sweaty, smelly and incessantly active?
“With two skiers standing between Teague Holmes and a spot on the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team, he tucked, prayed and pointed it. Before long, the Summit County local was cruising at nearly 60 miles per hour on skis no wider than an iPhone. “I just could not get going that entire first climb,” said Holmes, who was one of more than 150 competitors at the Heathen Challenge skimo race outside of Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs on Jan. 15. “I was so far behind, but I didn’t let it get to me. I said to myself, ‘Just do what you do.’” And so he did. Holmes, a member of the U.S. team in 2015 who calls the peaks of Breckenridge his gym and playground, knew that his descending skills were better than the final two guys he needed to pass: Rob Krar, an elite ultra-runner originally from the Canadian Rockies who has set records at the Leadville 100, and Rory Kelly, a former pro road cyclist from Boulder who grew up in Snowmass and has lungs like airbags. After that brutal first climb, though, Holmes was about 20 spots away from a qualifying position in an 11-mile race with 5,500 feet of vertical gain….As Holmes rocketed down the Heathen, he passed Krar in a corner and sped into the transition area. One down, one to go, but Kelly was nowhere to be seen. He spotted two people strapping skins to their skis for the finish ascent and assumed one was Kelly. “I’m so focused that I don’t even look around,” Holmes said. “I just do what I do, so I’ve got one last, short climb to give it all I’ve got, and that’s when I had Rory (Kelly) behind me, this former pro road racer. I know I wouldn’t make it if we were neck and neck.” With his head down and skins on, Holmes powered up the final climb and collapsed at the finish line — eight seconds ahead of Kelly for the final spot on the U.S. team. Funny enough, Kelly found him on the ground, delirious and depleted, and told him, “I’m glad you beat me.” Why? “Rory had qualified for the team with the sprint the night before and was happy I made it too.” “This was my last chance to make it,” Holmes said. “I gave it everything I have, he gave it everything he had, and I beat him by eight seconds. And that’s what this sport is all about — laying it all on the line, pushing each other to the brink, and being thrilled with whoever takes it. I love it.”
from the Summit Daily News article by Phil Litman
I was 8 when my family got me into a pair of Nordic skis. We lived in Western New York where 3 feet of “lake Effect” snow storms would blanket the ancient glacial carved hills over night. We shuffled around our property through snow nearly as deep as we were tall. My brother and I etched our own Nordic track around our modest ranch style home, through forest, up the hill in the side yard, completing a loop of kick and glide occupying us into the dark some nights. Mom’s dinner bell was the only way we would quit. Our dog’s name was Bandit. A Siberian Husky who loved to play in the snow as much as we did. When we got out the harness, Bandit would dance and lurch in circles, howling and yipping at the anticipation. My brother and I sat in the sled and hung on for dear life as Bandit dragged us around the yard in three feet of fresh. We called out the signals of a dog sled musher “GEE” for a right turn, “HAW” for left. How did an 11 month old dog, of sled dog linkage know what the words meant? Why did Bandit love to pull so damn hard in the deep snow? We had no idea but the face shots made us laugh out loud.
Our return bus ride from school was an hr to an hr and a half in a snow storm. If we could sit still long enough to complete our homework on the bus, it was an hr and a half sooner we would get to ride chairlifts at the local ski hill. Justin and I would walk or nordic ski out the back yard, across the street and up the drive to Tamarack ski area south of Buffalo New York. Often the anticipation of connecting the jump line from the top of the single slow moving double chair with our friends, would have us jumping in the car with Mom to cut the trip in half to a short 5 min drive. Much like Bandit we could barely stay in our skin when there was fresh snow to slide on. We would ski every night after school Wednesday through Friday and all day Saturday. Lap after lap after lap. Working the new tricks from jump to jump till we had the spread-daffy-helicopter on lockdown. At home that night over a late dinner we were proud to tell mom and dad how we solved the kinesthetic puzzle and soaked up their praise and support.
When I was 15 I realized I had a whole big world of possibilities in life ahead. I didn’t know where I would end up or what I wanted to do for a living but I knew I wanted options beyond skiing, as well as beyond a 9-5 office job. I also knew I needed to create the opportunity to ski every day for the rest of my life and it needed to be compatible with other career paths. So I applied for a part time position as a ski instructor. The organized culture of training toward excellence in instruction and ski technique appealed to the work ethic I was raised on. And the pursuit of better skiing equaled career advancement higher pay and more fun.
And so, after passing one person, then another, then another in the middle stretch, Holmes came to a final descent on “the Heathen” — the event’s namesake pitch on a burly expanse of wide-open backcountry.
“I think my experience of backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, teaching skiing plus the experience from other races, has helped give me that ‘intuitive confidence’ you need for these things,” Holmes said of his decision to trust his gut and point it from the top. “It’s about being consistent for me.”
Our father worked hard. Like 6 days a week overtime hard for our whole lives. He built bridges and hauled heavy equipment. Somehow the yard and home were kept immaculate as my mother and he made caring for us and our home their vocation and pride. We worked all the standard chores like cutting the grass and detailing the tractor, raking leaves, felling trees, and planting and harvesting a .5 acre garden. After chores and homework we usually ran free outside exploring the ravines, hanging new adventure zip lines from high in trees across the ravines, jumping cliffs into crayfish filled creeks or local after school pad/helmet-less tackle football with the neighborhood friends.
Mom would not let us watch much television and we whole heartedly agreed except for the occasional lazy Saturday am cartoons or a special that conflicted with a school night. We were taught to take care of priorities, that there was no greater pride than an honest day of productive hard work, then to play hard outdoors in the fresh air, rolling in the ‘clean dirt’ . We were raised on Garden vegetables, Venison and maple syrup. I rented my father’s John Deere tractor and started a small local lawn mowing business. After the first summer I spent $1200 on a brand new top of the line Cannonade cross country race mtb.. I was 15yrs old and bought a bike before a car. And when I finally did buy a car I spent half that on a vehicle with a motor and radio. Priorities.
As we got older we appreciated our Grand parents taking us to state parks, wildlife preserves and ‘The Farm” The Farm was a rustic cabin on 10 acres surrounded by a state Forest Preserve. We found salamanders under rocks, crafted terrariums, hunted mushrooms, hand fell dead trees, fished and watched the deer graze with our Grandma Reader. And occasionally Grandpa would reluctantly allow us to bug the resident beaver in the pond. We would let a trickle of water out of the beaver dam.. After a mere 5 or ten minutes out swam Mrs Beaver to repair the breached dam. We watched in silent awe as the wild animal immediately tended to her priorities of securing her home and yard before returning to their under water beaver lodge.
My family and wild surroundings taught me that putting great effort and thought into work and play was not only the way for our clan to live, but, that this work and dedication paid off with a comfortable home, good food, and the joys, lessons and rewards of living working and playing out doors. So why do a track workout in the dark before a day of tree work? Why scarf down a Kate’s bar found under the seat of the truck while changing out of saw dust, sap and fuel oil stained Carharts and into running shorts? Why run uphill wearing ankle weights with ski poles in the evening shade toward an alpine setting sun?I don’t think Bandit knew why he was compelled to pull so hard through the deep cold New York snow storms. He just did. It was in his blood. No real profound reason really. Work hard and play hard outside in the wild.
It’s just what we do.
And that is all it needs to be.