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Spirit of the Talon Crew

Last winter, 400 of my new friends and I built and serviced a couple of solid ice roads euphemistically called race courses on 50-plus-degree pitches that would worry anything but a bird. They’re built on runs named for rapacious birds with vice grip-powered knives for feet euphemistically called talons. Talon became our totem. We are the Talon Crew.

But it’s over, right? The racers raced and it’s over. No, in me the spirit continues; the inner glow persists. Why?

Reflecting, I realize Manitou was there: A spiritual energy is present that continues to pay it forward. It challenges me to continue to live as we did on the crew.



The eagle is a spirit bird, the talon a symbol of opportunity. The reason the spirit of our work on the Worlds lingers in me and grows is that more than a racing event occurred and wants to be talked about. So, let’s talk.

Talon work minimums for the on-course team would exceed acceptable maximums for most non-military contexts; especially in bad weather and serious snowfall. Those courses are to be always clean and safe whatever it takes. Volunteers work all hours to make it so. The Talon physical effort at 10,000-plus feet is an order of magnitude more demanding and dangerous than regular work, e.g. construction work. Mountain logging comes close but not equal.



As in the races, both sexes were champions. Both Talon women and men did the heavy lifting, and heavy thinking and provided superb leadership — from the front. Team respect for all leaders female or male was total — and palpable. The Manitou spirit of cooperation, “We are one,” was absolute. That’s rare. Hundreds of people, often strangers, instantly taking direction from other strangers, working as a team and volunteering for and sticking to tough jobs without hesitation.

Task teams I worked on introduced themselves and sorted out who would do what and got into a productive team routine in about 15 minutes and, once set, worked the long day or the shift without one disagreement or complaint — and smiled.

The spirit of community and personal respect was so strong it guided our behavior; we could feel it. As the air we breathe, it was the invisible stuff of life — sacred energy.



The obvious common purpose was to make the courses safe and perfect for others to use. The invisible common reality, Manitou, was to do good for others, without praise or reward. Leadership was needed to assign tasks and create teams but never to motivate. Yet to an extent rare in most lives, praise was shared, strangers helped strangers and smiles were the normal expression.

In the rare circumstance when there was a conflict of priority, it was resolved by a focus on the higher good.

For example, we were watering, pulling the heavy hoses. It was hot in the sun. There was a lot more to do than anticipated and a smaller crew than expected. Sweating was standard. The word came that a cat was on the way to windrow and work over the area we had watered. A messenger came by to announce the impending arrival of the mighty cat whom all should fear and avoid. We were urged to hurry to finish to make space for the cat. The young man who was testing the water concentration in the snow quietly said, “This is still too dry. Shall we do it quick or shall we do it right? The racers count on us.”

“I get it,” I’ll tell them.

The team took its time, our working sweat lodge continued, and we did it right.

That dedication to perfection was everywhere and supported by everyone.

The great spirit: Hundreds of volunteers, guided not managed, in concert to do good.

Beautiful, and, for me, a lasting spiritual lesson.

Covell Brown lives in Vail and Toronto.


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