VAIL — The Great Race. Convince silver-haired locals to say that out loud and watch their eyes light up in a mischievous smile.
After an absence of a decade and a half, it’s back.
The Great Race 2.0 takes over Golden Peak on Sunday afternoon. Red Bull is sponsoring it — the same people who want you to climb rock spires and then jump off in a wing suit, which would be a great idea for a Great Race event.
Great Race of Yore
The format might be different, but its purpose hasn’t changed. Locals and visitors can blow off a little steam as the season winds down.
The Great Race of yore was as much fun as you could have with your boots on, although sometimes boots and most other garments were occasionally cast aside. Vacationing families would see it and look like they weren’t sure whose side the beer was on.
KZYR’s Tony Mauro emceed the Great Race for years and saw some amazing sights.
“If we saw a family wander through, we told them to spend the rest of the day in Keystone,” he said.
We’re a more humorless society than we were then.
“It would difficult to resurrect it in that form. A lot of people would go to jail,” said Ted Martin.
No one is quite sure who exactly started it, but it was 1977 or ’78, but Martin and Will Miller ran it for 20 years. Memories indicate it was a fundraiser, or something noble like that.
It gained a certain amount of fame and infamy when TV talk show host Sara Purcell was in town and did a story on the Great Race for “Real People,” a national magazine show.
The race route originally ran from Golden Peak to Vail Village, but that created certain marketing issues as it became less family friendly.
“It was banished to Lionshead because there were too many people throwing up in front of guests. Girls taking their tops off — things you don’t want to happen in a world class ski resort,” Martin said.
The original sponsors, whoever they were, quietly distanced themselves, and Martin and Miller took it over.
The last couple years KZYR ran it, but eventually it faded away.
“It had a pretty good run, about 20 years,” Martin said.
Some of the humor was what we call “edgy.” People would come up with a theme for their float or costumes based on the political upheaval of the day.
Packy Walker, one of Vail’s greatest characters, is famous and infamous for all kinds of things.
His favorite Great Race memory is of him on the winners’ podium presenting awards to that year’s victors. He was dressed in a G-string, with a fig leaf on the front covering what the great Michelangelo also had fig leaves covering.
“My dog was better dressed than I was,” Walker said laughing.
The photo adorned the cover of the Vail Trail, a weekly newspaper, and it was generally accepted that Walker looked pretty good in his fig leaf.
However, as the papers were delivered through town, you follow their progress by source of the phone calls flooding into the Trail offices. A few callers thought it was funny, but most were furious.
“I had to leave town and hide for a while. But that was OK. I was going on vacation anyway,” Walker said.
Walker still has a 20-foot long Great Race banner that Ted Martin had made. Martin was one of the Great Race founders.
A few years ago, Walker hung it from a third floor balcony of the Lifthouse Lodge in Lionshead. A few uptight town fathers were aghast that the event was being resurrected in its original state.
It’s back, but not exactly like the original.
The Great Race 2.0
Like The Great Race of yore, you’re encouraged to compete in costumes. The better the costumes, the more bonus points you get.
Great Racers in Sunday’s Great Race 2.0 will compete in teams of two — two of what the powers that be do not specify, but you’ll do well to stick with carbon-based life forms.
In your two-being teams you’ll negotiate an on-snow adventure obstacle course that includes a snowblade cross course, three-legged race, tire run and other cool stuff they’re still thinking up.
After that you’ll do a Plinko course, good for bonus time deductions. Winners will have the best overall time and most bonus points from the Plinko course.
The Great Race 2.0 is open to 35 two-person teams.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.