Diamond cutters storm Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

Diamond cutters storm Beaver Creek

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SPT Talons Challenge PU 1-26-08

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” From first lift to final punch, there was no right or wrong way to do the Talons Challenge.

And like the snowflakes on which they skied, no two experiences were alike for the more than 2,000 who took part in Saturday’s 13-bump-run event at Beaver Creek.

There were five-timers and first-timers. Skiers and snowboarders. Go-getters and latecomers. Weekend warriors and die-hards.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., when the lifts opened, participants began the journey that descended 23,722 feet of diamond and double-diamond terrain.

“My legs are ready ” I’ve been priming for it,” said Mark Gouim of Denver as he waited in line to register at Red Tail Camp. “We were up here last year when this was going on, but we didn’t know about it, so we made a point to come up this year for it.”

By 9 a.m., there were some skiers with several of the 13 runs under their belt.

“I thought you could do it for the best time,” said first-timer Ernst Barta, who warmed up Friday by doing 17 black- and double-black-diamond runs. “I guess since nobody is watching the time, I’m going to take it easy.”

Each participant received a lanyard with a punch card listing all of the Talons runs. At the base of the three lifts ” Birds of Prey, Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Express ” yellow-jacketed volunteers clipped cards after each run. Then it was back in line, and back on the lift.

“It’s a challenge,” Karen Kern, of Wildridge, said. “I like being challenged. This is a great day. The snow is wonderful, and I’m finding powder all over the place.”

Three inches of new snow (and four from the day before) provided a pillowy base but couldn’t prevent the lactic-acid bump-run buildup.

Almost halfway through his list, Jason Wynn gave his legs a, “not too good” assessment.

“The endurance on the double-blacks is tough,” said Wynn, who was visiting from Phoenix, Ariz., and decided to participate. “I’m making a few good turns, then getting lazy and getting in the back of my skis a little bit. But I’ve got to admit, seeing little 8-year-olds going off the top gave me a little, ‘All right, I’ve got to do this.'”

To some, the 23,722 feet didn’t mean much, but the number was a big draw for friends Bobby Hill and Jamie Gaynor.

“Two years ago, we summited Aconcagua, which is one of the seven summits and is 22,872 feet,” Hill said. “It was about a 21⁄2-week hike. We live in Colorado Springs and ski, and Jamie heard about the Talons Challenge and said it’s about 23,000 feet, and we said, ‘It’s Aconcagua, let’s do it.'”

Hill and Gaynor’s trek down the talons started on Grouse Mountain, with all seven runs, then after a short break for lunch, they moved to the three runs off the Birds of Prey lift and finished with the three runs off the side of the Larkspur lift.

“We figured (the Birds of Prey runs) would be the hardest, and we didn’t want to leave them to the last,” Hill said. “We thought we’d go back over and have a nice easy last three. After we got the first seven, then it was like, ‘OK, we can do this.'”

Kern, who planned to tackle all 13 runs without a break, decided to knock off the three Birds of Prey runs first.

“I got to the top and did Golden Eagle,” said Kern, who set her personal record last year, finishing in 2 hours, 50 minutes. “It’s straight from the top to the bottom. Why waste your time going down Red Tail?”

A new record had to be put on hold for Kern, however.

“There are too many people to do (that) because the lift lines are too long this year,” Kern said.

With more than double the participants from 2007, and a blue-bird day, the lines built up, then abated as skiers shifted areas. But there was little complaining among the participants. And there were even some who wished they could have joined in for a mogul-filled day.

“I was going to do it if I had the time,” said Jean Alexander of Eagle, who was skiing with a friend. “I’m not doing it because we have kids at the ski school and have to meet them early and take them to hockey later.”

Along with the popular runs, like Golden Eagle, where the World Cup races take place, the Talons Challenge took skiers down some lesser-known paths.

“We were saying that we have our favorite black runs we hit every time we come up … but this is forcing us to go to some of the one’s we typically don’t,” said Lance Tweden, who came up with some friends from Denver for the fourth year in a row.

“We’re not real familiar with the mountain,” Hill said. “It’s like, ‘Falcon Park: Where is it?’ You don’t want to miss it, go down and have to come back up and do another one.”

One area that wasn’t hard to miss was the aid station, situated in the middle of the three lifts.

“They had a great setup for snacks,” Tucker Brown, of Denver, said. “We filled our pockets on the first run … started at 9 a.m. and finished at 12:30 p.m.”

Brown was one of the brave souls who completed the Talons Challenge on Telemark skis.

“The endurance is really killer. I only have nine days in so far this season, so I’m hurting right now,” Brown said. “You start ‘fake-a-marking’ halfway through.”

Mixed among the bi-peds were a smattering of snowboarders.

“We were representing,” Mark Scheel said. “My progression (on bumps) doubled today. After my sixth run ” once I finished the double-blacks and went back to the blacks, it was no problem.”

As the afternoon wore on, participants gathered at Red Tail Camp with their booty ” Talons Challenge hats and pins ” and enjoyed some beers and brats. While Saturday’s stories were all different, it was common knowledge that everyone would wake up Sunday morning with the same souvenir ” a pair of sore legs.

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