Making Monsters

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It’s that time of year again…hammer time. This year has been a total flashback. First I found myself in Soelden, Austria, back at the Hotel Regina, site of my first US Ski Team trip to Europe. The food is a lot better now but the freshly spread fields smell exactly the same. It was nice not to be playing soccer in them with 20 bloodthirsty women.

At the end of the trip we watched the opening World Cups which were impressive! I realize it was a heck of a lot easier running downhill straight down that face than arcing thirty turns on it. It was excellent to get a dose of the scene, to hear the wacky announcer zinging along in four languages and to see the real deal Ground Zero of skiing.

My kids thought their parents went to Europe and all they got was a lousy t-shirt (and a lot of chocolate). And they might have been right, had I not secured a start list for both of them and one autograph on each of their shirts. When they toted the start lists around for week studying the names, I knew that lousy shirt could become something way better.

Two weeks later I took them to Copper Mountain, a place I thought I’d never again visit voluntarily in mid November. It seems the Circle of Life can be cruel, and I find myself with two youngsters who are incredibly eager to ski on one trail with a bazillion people strafing the hill next to them.

No really, it was fun. Now that I live in the east and my early season alternative is the white ribbon of death at one of our fine resorts, I can see that the skiing was in fact quite excellent. Copper has changed in some ways. It has a bigger fancier village, better lifts, no sketchy Club Med and even more snowmaking. But the November vibe is the same and it’s all business. The air is filled with pre-season tension and excitement. By the time we loaded the lift, rows of downhill skis were getting strapped back together and the US Ski Team was already done with their 6:30 training session.

This was the perfect place for my fan training program to come together. I armed the kids with their Soelden shirts and a Sharpie and whispered how to politely stalk members of the US Ski Team for autographs as they were packing up their gear. The first day the kids merely loitered pensively on the sidelines, unable to go in for the kill. I was worried. Perhaps they didn’t have the stalking instinct.

That night, we were at a Squaw Valley group dinner with Stacy Cook and Marco Sullivan, who engaged the kids in conversation as soon as they saw their shirts and hopeful faces. I’ve never been a huge fan of the US Ski Team “playing hard to get” PR tactic, but the athletes sure get the part about building enthusiasm at the grass roots level. Once my guys got a whiff of real ski racer contact, they were like sharks smelling a drop of blood.

The next morning they woke up, wolfed down an Eggo and put on their gear without any prompts or threats. “Mom—we need to get to the lift for some autographs.”

This time, they were fearless, or at least savvy. I could see my son lurking at a respectful distance but trying to get eye contact, making sure the pen—and his intent—were clearly visible. The athletes were wonderful, gladly signing and asking the kids questions about their own ski racing. The kids came back to me periodically and asked in hushed tones who had signed their shirts. Truth is I’ve lost touch, which is easy to do when your only source of ski racing coverage is the Internet. So I taught them the trick about asking the athletes where they were from, and looking them up later. That way you can sort of pretend you aren’t just asking anyone in a uniform for an autograph (even if you are) and the athlete isn’t insulted. These pieces of stalking etiquette are important to me.

So now, I’m pretty sure I’ve created monsters. Already, they are disappointed that I am not taking them out of school for two weeks to watch the Olympics (what kind of parent am I anyway?), but said that it sure would be great to see Birds of Prey next year “when” (not if) we go to Colorado.

I guess we’ll be going, with our Sharpies.

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