Tough, tenacious, and on top of the heap
Editor’s note: Vail is home to some of the best winter athletes the world has ever seen. But great athletes aren’t raised in a vacuum it takes a village to help create the very best.And so it’s no surprise that there are many other athletes out there who deserve notice don’t worry, their time will come. In a valley like ours it will take years to profile each and every outstanding athlete.In this issue, we give props to some of our best-in-the-world athletes, and also to some who create the athletic setting so important to generating top skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and climbers.What would a snowshoer like Josiah Middaugh be, for example, without Bruce Kelly’s snowshoe racing series? What would have become of Toby Dawson if gals like Julie Rust and Addie McCord weren’t out there taking care of the ski hill?Some of our athletes were chosen because of their young age and pure potential others made the cut because they’ve done astounding things at an age where many have retired permanently to the couch.All of them, however, have in common a profound love of the mountains and a insatiable desire to get out and play no matter what the conditions or time of year.–TBEllen MillerYears in the valley: 12Sports: Mountaineering, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, running, mountain bikingBackground: When Ellen Miller stood atop Mount Everest for the second time in 2002, she became the first North American woman (and one of only four women in the world) to summit the world’s highest peak from both the north and south sides. Oh, yeah, and she was on the downhill slope of 40-years-old on both treks.”I do Everest slideshows at schools and the children are always appalled to hear my age,” she says. “But it’s also a good thing. I say keep your dreams alive because they can take a while.”When not climbing Everest, Miller climbs everything else. No really, she climbs everything. She’s topped peaks in China, Russia, Tanzania, Ecuador and Alaska. She’s also seen the view from all 54 of Colorado’s fourteeners.During the brief moments when she’s not strapped to rock and ice, she’s giving free skate-ski clinics for locals at Vail’s Nordic Center and snowshoe racing against women half her age.”She has stayed competitive for 30 years,” says snowshoer Bruce Kelly. “And as she’s gotten older she hasn’t fallen off. She’s a world-class mountaineer and still shows up for snowshoe races, skate ski races, trail running races, everything.”Toughest moment: Miller doesn’t hesitate on this one: The northeast ridge of Everest. When it’s 20 degrees below zero, just surviving is tough.Julie Rust and Addy McCordYears in the valley: 25 eachSports: Skiing, snowshoeing, running, mountain bikingBackground: Next time you’re at the bar bragging about the number of days you spent on the hill this year you need to check yourself. How many days did you get in? Fifty? One hundred? As the head of Vail and Beaver Creek ski patrols, Julie Rust and Addy McCord don’t count ski days, they count the days when they don’t ski (it’s somewhere around three each this season).They are also two of only a handful of female patrol heads in the nation.Rust has been on patrol for decades and has been in charge in Vail’s patrol for the last five years. She never meant to make a career out of skiing but, as we all know, our valley has a wicked strong gravitational pull.”Just like everybody else, I moved out here to spend the winter before I got that real job,” she says. “Apparently that isn’t going to happen.”Like Rust, McCord never meant to make patrol a career, but after she passed her ski test with flying colors in 1981, she didn’t look back.”I thought that maybe I’d like to patrol one year before I started nursing,” says McCord. “But I couldn’t go back. During 90 percent of my time at work I have views that you don’t have from any other office.”Toughest moments: Any moment has the potential to be the toughest when you’re on patrol, McCord says.”You can’t ever let down your guard. Any call can turn into anything and you have to have your mind in the game 100 percent of the time.”Rachael NelsonYears in the valley: Lifelong localSports: SnowboardBackground: Nelson first strapped on a board at age 10. In the 13 years that have followed she’s become one of the best riders in the state and globe trotted from Chile to New Zealand, Europe to Canada showing off her skills in competitions and exhibitions.”Traveling to Chile was my best trip,” she says. “They hadn’t really seen much snowboarding, well, much snowboarding like I do.”The kind of snowboarding Nelson does is all about big air. Big air in pipes and parks, jumps and bumps, Nelson constantly challenges her fellow boarders, men and women, older and younger. She won her first dollars at Vail’s Session in mid-January.”My favorite thing is to bring the sport to a new spot and wow people,” she says. “I like being a woman and doing this. I like getting other women excited about the sport.”Toughest moment: Nelson has blown out both of her knees (thankfully not at the same time), but she doesn’t count the injuries as her toughest moments. Still in her early 20s, Nelson says she’s too young to have already boarded through her most intense experience.Sarah WillYears in the valley: FourSports: Mono-skiBackground: Sarah Will hasn’t missed a ski season since age four. That’s even more remarkable when you consider the fact that she was paralyzed from the waist down in a ski accident in ’88. The next year she was back on the slopes in a monoski and three years later she won a spot on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. Over the next 11 years, Will went to the Paralympics in France, Norway and Japan and took home 12 gold medals.Now Will coaches monoskiers and helps test and modify new monoskis.”We don’t just go to a ski shop like everyone else,” she says of her equipment. “We go to a ski shop to get the ski mounted, but after that we go to a motorcycle shop, a welder, we take our straps to the shoe repair guy There is so much that goes into this technology.”Last week she got a new ski and had a chance to take it out for a few runs. She didn’t get it up to her old racing speeds around 60 miles per hour but she got a feel for how the new ski performs.”We’ve been waiting for so long for something new,” she says. “The athletes are surpassing the equipment so advancing the technology is important.”Although Will’s just begun learning her tricks in the pipe, she and some of her fellow athletes headed to Aspen last week for a demonstration at the X Games.Toughest moment: When Will’s skis stuck in freshly fallen powder, she spun out of control over a catwalk. It wasn’t too long after the fall that she lost feeling in her legs.”When something like that happens it’s natural to think about all the things you can’t do,” she says. “For me it was a huge blow because athletically there were so many things I was able to do.”Bruce KellyYears in the valley: 31Sports: Snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, mountain biking, runningBackground: The owner of Eagle-Vail’s 25-year-old Pedal Power, Bruce Kelly’s been snowshoe racing for a dozen years. Kelly got his start with Leadville’s Off-Beat Off-Track a punishing run through 10 kilometers of powder, and he’s been steadily, quietly churning away ever since.”The first time I did this I thought that it was much more like mountain biking than the snowshoeing I was used to,” says Kelly. “We were just going through the woods and we never really knew where we were. We had to go over rocks and trees and bushes sometimes in knee-deep snow, sometimes in hip-deep snow And there was no attempt to avoid a steep downhill or a creek crossing. We just went for it.”After the Leadville race, Kelly couldn’t return to the prosaic groomers most snowshoe on, so he began organizing back county races based on routes he bikes in the summer. The most tormenting of Kelly’s events is the nine-mile Meadow Mountain race. But for the extreme snowshoeing neophyte, Kelly also has a 5K and 10K on the Eagle-Vail golf course where the terrain’s more straightforward.”We’re not really trying to market our races as easy,” he says. “There is always going to be some technical descents and bushwhacking. But if you can go up to the top of Eagle’s Nest on a pair of snowshoes you can do one of our races.”Toughest moment: Racing to the top of Mount Albert in February wasn’t too easy, says Kelly. The fifteen-mile race is so arduous hopeful participants are weeded out during an interview”They wanted to know all about my background and my ability,” says Kelly. “It was like I was on American Idol.”Chris AnthonyYears in the valley: 11Sports: Extreme skiingBackground: Anthony began as an alpine racer with Ski Club Vail, but World Cup hopes didn’t pan out when the U.S. Ski Team told him he was too old at 22. A few years later, Anthony entered a renaissance skier competition at Beaver Creek and had the chance to ski against one his idols, extreme skiing pioneer Mike Farney.”At the end of the day, at the Saloon, he came up to me and asked what I doing in the next couple weeks,” says Anthony. “I told him I had finals down at CU. He said, ‘If you think you can get out of them, I need someone to come with me to do some filming.'”Farney didn’t tell him where the filming was to take place or who it was with, but two days later Anthony received a plane ticket to Europe from Warren Miller Entertainment. Anthony spent the day running across campus getting his finals delayed.”All the professors were really cool, well all but one, who decided to fail me,” he says. “Ironically, it was my sports psychology teacher who gave me an F.”Anthony went to Europe and from there became a staple in Miller’s epics appearing in 16 of the ski legend’s films.Toughest moment: Even though Anthony can say things like “the first time I broke my back,” he doesn’t consider any injury his toughest moment.After coming back from Europe the first time, he went to Alaska for the inaugural World Extreme Championships. Anthony assumed the trip was to a ski resort and was surprised to find he’d be dropping out of helicopter flown by a former Vietnam-vet who still carried his sidearm and Bowie knife.”I rolled into Alaska in my old stretch pants with no beacon, no shovel, no backpack and they flew me into these mountains no one had ever skied,” he says. “I was so ignorant about the whole thing that I had no idea how dangerous it was.”Josiah MiddaughYears in the valley: 5Sports: Snowshoeing, biking, running, swimmingBackground: After moving from Michigan to Vail, Middaugh wondered how he’d adjust from distance running to snowshoeing. But after two years and a U.S. National Snowshoe Championship, his curiosity has been assuaged.”I jumped in the North American Championship race [held in Beaver Creek] the first year I was out here and I got something like 12th or 13th,” he says. “Next year I just started doing a lot of races and won the North American Championship my second year.”Middaugh isn’t a fulltime snowshoer he’s predominantly a professional triathlete he just found snowshoeing to be a good way to maintain his cardiovascular fitness. He generally snowshoes twice a week along with his regular routine of running, biking and swimming. His regular jaunt consists of a climb to the top of Eagles Nest, a loop around the rim of Game Creek bowl and then he heads back down. But the groomers, he says, are boring. Middaugh favors blasting through untracked powder.”I don’t like to use the word undefeated, but I can’t think of race he’s lost unless he was sick or hurt,” says Kelly. “He’s world class. He’s definitely the man.”Toughest moment: Being a snowshoer, Middaugh doesn’t have many death-defying moments. But he does consider some of his races to be “pretty epic.””I did one in Leadville that was 20-miles on snowshoes off track,” he says. “We got about 20 inches of snow the night before and that was great. Anything that makes it more adverse I thrive on. I love to see two feet of snow before a race or pounding rain before a triathlon.”Daniel WeilandYears in the valley: Lifelong localSports: Nordic skiing, biking, running, swimmingBackground: Like Josiah Middaugh, Dan Weiland is triathlete first, winter athlete second. But he’s also responsible for growing the valley’s Nordic skiing program from a small side culture to a Ski Club Vail-supported sport.He started as a skier during his freshman year at Battle Mountain but conflicts with a coach at University of Colorado at Boulder led him to give up a career in Nordic racing. But he couldn’t stay away from the sport for long. A few years later he was back in Vail coaching kids at the Vail Mountain School. This year he’s working with sixty racers from throughout the valley with Ski Club Vail.Toughest moment: Weiland would have to go with the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. This 40-mile backcountry race follows the traditional mail routes between Crested Butte to Aspen of course mail carriers didn’t traditionally travel by Nordic skis or start their trek under a full moon.”We’ll start at midnight and finish about 7 a.m., depending on the conditions,” he says. “So yes, it’s a pretty tough race.”Toby DawsonYears in the valley: Lifelong localSports: Freeskiing/Freestyle skiingBackground: The rumors are both true and false. Toby Dawson does have a broken foot, but he’s not resting at home in Vail. Less than three weeks after the injury, Awesome Dawson is back on the hill competing.”I had surgery (a few) days ago and they put a screw in my foot,” he says. “But I’m feeling surprisingly well.”Adopted from South Korea by two Vail ski instructors at age three, Dawson was on skis a year later.”My mom put a helmet on me at 12 years old before helmets were all the rage,” he says. “I guess she was worried that I’d hurt myself.”The helmet has done a good job of protecting his head, but he’s broken and bruised just about every other spot on his body. In between injuries, Dawson has risen to the top of his sport with six career World Cup wins. After sitting out of the World Cup finals last year with a broken leg, Dawson is back and ready to compete even with that pesky broken foot.Toughest moment: When he didn’t qualify for the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, says Dawson.”It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through,” he says. “It got to point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try again. When you know that you are better than some of the other skiers that went, it’s hard to swallow.” VT By Jed Gottlieb
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.