Clamoring for a challenge
It’s not every day you meet a 73-year-old skier who can boast of descending nearly 24,000 vertical feet of steep, mogul-ridden terrain on half a sandwich and a couple of fig bars.Dick Capp, a 15-year resident of the Vail Valley, took on the Talons Challenge at Beaver Creek earlier this month, covering the 13 demanding ski trails – some of the longest, steepest, mogul-riddled runs in North America – in less than five hours. The only rest he got was riding the chairlifts, he says.”I read a story in the newspaper and I just wanted to keep going. I just got so pumped up, I didn’t even finish my sandwich,” says Kapp, who’s been skiing since he strapped on a pair of wooden skis with “Firestone bindings” in the woods near his grandfather’s home in 1938. “When I finished and went to Red Tail Camp, there were only about eight people who’d done it already.”Along with 254 other skiers and riders, Kapp was taking advantage of a one-time offer Jan. 23-25 for skiers and snowboarders to earn a special pin and a ski pass lanyard given to anyone who becomes a member of the Talons Club at Beaver Creek. For just those three days, on the honor system, anyone with access to the mountain could have a ski company employee at the bottom of the area’s three ski lifts – the Birds of Prey Express Lift, the Grouse Mountain Express Lift and the Larkspur Lift, chairs 9, 10 and 11 – check the appropriate runs off on a card.One-time offerIt was the only time this season doing the challenge would be allowed without full – i.e., paid – attention from instructors with the Beaver Creek School.”If it hadn’t been for Beaver Creek offering it as a free challenge to the locals, I wouldn’t have done it,” says Kapp, adding he skis, on average, about 100 days a year.A former competitive ski-jumper from Plymouth, Wisc., near Milwaukee, Kapp has been skiing nearly all his life. He retired from his job training technicians with an electrical utility company in Wisconsin and moved to Vail in the late 1980s to ski, ride his bike and enjoy the mountains. An active member of Vail Club 50 – a social organization for anybody older than 50 – Kapp for years has found pleasure and satisfaction teaching blind people to ski.As you can imagine, he skis very well.”It’s all about being competitive,” says Kapp, who lives in Eagle-Vail with his wife, Jeanette. “People say skiing is not a competitive sport, but I say “baloney.’ I’ve competed most of my life.”Common strategyKapp’s approach to the Talons Challenge, much like the rest of the 350 or so skiers and snowboarders so far this season to do it in a day, was to be on the Centennial Express Lift, Chair 6, early in the morning and head for the top of the mountain to tackle Golden Eagle – home to the Birds of Prey World Cup downhill course – first off. Just so happens Golden Eagle had been groomed the night before his challenge.”Then we did Goshawk and Peregrine, “cause they were right there,” says Kapp. “Then, before I got worn out, I did Bald Eagle, over on Grouse Mountain. It’s so steep there, the moguls have names.”Conditions were pretty good that day,” he adds. “I was still pumped up when I went home. I was in bed by 6 p.m., though. I don’t know if it was the skiing or the glass of wine that did me in.”Kapp, who adheres to no special diet other than good ol’ “meat and potatoes,” says he told his wife before taking on the Talons Challenge “it might be my last hurrah, so to speak.” But while he’s probably not going take on 13 of the Beav’s mogul runs in a day anytime soon, he says he does intend to ply quite a bit of powder before this season is over.”Lately, it’s been glade skiing where the moguls are,” says Kapp, whose favorite run at Beaver Creek is Royal Elk Glade, on the west-facing face of Grouse Mountain. “The challenge of glade-skiing is you have to be on the ball and quick on your skis. A lot of people have told me they’re glad Royal Elk Glade is not part of the Talons Challenge.”Do what “the guy in the paper did’All in all, about 450 people have earned gold or platinum honors in the Talons Club. Take Steve Buckius, 54, who completed the challenge that weekend, too, along with 19-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, and stepson Brian Loomis, 17. Part-time Edwards residents, the trio hit the slopes on a mission to accomplish the feat in a day, skiing all the runs under Chair 9 first, then Grouse Mountain and finally Larkspur Bowl.”We did the longest runs to the shortest, and we finished a lot earlier than we thought we would, at about 2:30 p.m.,” says Steve Buckius, who works as a mail carrier in Denver. “It gave us a great feeling of accomplishment, although Caitlyn and Brian slept in the whole next day.”It was a lot of fun,” he adds. “And we met a lot of people on the runs saying “you must be doing what the guy in the paper did.”A lot to gainJim Kercher, director of the Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School, says the Talons Challenge has been a “huge success” for the ski school. Skiers and riders of all ages have flocked to Beaver Creek to try it, he says, with nearly half of the total number of people to complete the challenge – at least at the gold level – being kids. About 40 of them have accomplished the mission in a day, he says.”A lot of them come back to complete it another day,” says Kercher. “And that was one of our goals, to have people work on their technique, then come back to complete the challenge.”From 10 to 15 percent of the Talons Club is made up of snowboarders, says Kercher, although during the locals’ challenge weekend the percentage of snowboarders was only about 5 percent. While skiers have it easier in the moguls, snowboarders still have a lot to gain in them, Kercher says.”Quite an accomplishment in a day’No matter the equipment, the Talons Challenge in a day is a workout. Kercher equates it with a century ride – 100 miles – on a bicycle.”It’s quite an accomplishment in a day, a very goal-oriented, dedicated experience,” Kercher says.The Talons Challenge for locals likely will happen again next season, Kercher says, and there’s already talk of making a special, three-year commemorative piece of clothing the following season for those who want to make it an annual challenge. A newer, larger commemorative pin is also on the drawing boards, he adds.”This program has really exceeded our expectations,” he says.