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Boulder Mountain Tour

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All who cross the finish—from competitive racers to casual beginners—enjoy the camaraderie and accomplishment of completing the undulating course. Wood River residents Taina Raff and Karen Johnston skied the race for the first time last February. Neither had raced before, much less skied 32 kilometers. Full of determination, they sought to learn all they could about the sport and the race, collecting every thread of information that could lead them to success.

The two women enrolled in Masters Champion Muffy Ritz’s VAMPS program, familiar to many women in the Valley as a focused and fun way to improve skiing technique and fitness. They began training with Tuesday’s novice group, but were anxious to advance to the more demanding Thursday training sessions. An invitation didn’t materialize, however, so they advanced themselves by simply showing up—and quickly discovered that Thursdays were indeed different. When Ritz instructed the skiers to “V2” (an advanced skiing technique) around the perimeter of the golf course, Raff and Johnston immediately fell behind the group and found themselves isolated with their instructor, who good-naturedly dubbed them the “Remedials.”

Ritz encouraged Raff up the hills, commanding, “V2! V2!” As Raff fought desperately to employ the technique, Johnston strategically kept a safe distance behind, watching in dismay and content to stay out of Ritz’s sight while inventing her own unorthodox methods in the struggle to keep up.

At the end of the training session, Ritz offered an unsolicited evaluation of the Remedials’ abilities. Turning to Raff, she said simply, “Taina, you’re out of shape.” Casting her eyes on Johnston, she added, “And you have no technique.” The two laugh about it now, but at the time, they were crushed.

Raff and Johnston could have quit in shame, but they were determined to improve. They respected Ritz, who is well known for accurate assessments and untiring motivational encouragement. Her advice was typical: honest, and meant to be constructive. Both women now recognize that it was the best counsel they received from anyone in preparation for the Tour.

Today, the race boasts national champions and Olympians—past, current, and future—but it doesn’t belong to the elite.

Raff took a balanced approach, increasing her training and sacrificing wine for the ski season. Johnston, on the other hand, went on an aggressive rampage to develop technique, taking private lessons with former Olympian Tessa Benoit and training with a mixed-gender group at Galena. As race day approached, Raff and Johnston, now fit and technically sound, concerned themselves with one final detail. “We had to put together matching outfits.”

Recalling her appearance at the starting line, Johnston lets out a howl of laughter. “I was equipped like a commando, with Hammer Gel hanging off me like bandoliers of ammunition. And I was wearing big alpine ski goggles. What a dork!”

Racers typically warm up before a race, doing accelerations and easy skiing to raise their heart rate and prepare their muscles. But, between final adjustments to their outfits and numerous runs to the latrine, Raff and Johnston found little time to prepare properly. They nearly missed the start of the race.

Jittery and distracted, Johnston had been expecting to hear an announcement; instead, she just happened to notice that the waves of skiers were moving. The seventh wave was on its way, and the eighth wave—theirs—was preparing to leave. She rushed to the starting line and anxiously searched the crowd for Raff, who, she realized, “was in the ‘head.’ Again!”

Finally, standing together at the start, nerves crackling, the Remedials indulged in a little comic relief. “We looked at each other and proclaimed, ‘You look good!’” Johnston says. Raff laughs, “Yeah, that’s all we could say: ‘You look good . . . your outfit, your hat.’”

When the horn sounded Raff sprinted off, leaving Johnston behind, frozen to the snow. “I couldn’t move my legs!” she says. “I just stood there, waiting for someone to call me names or run over the back of my skis. I was petrified that I was going to crash. But then I said to myself, ‘If there is anything I have, it’s technique!’”

And with that, Johnston launched herself into her race. Realizing that she was finally skiing the Boulder Mountain Tour, she relaxed and enjoyed herself. “It was a blast,” she says, “and a huge accomplishment. I know now that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. Once you take ownership of that, it lives with you throughout your life.”

As Raff and Johnston crossed the finish line, they joined other racers crowding around a large outdoor buffet, feasting on bread and orange slices, spoonfuls of steaming soup and sips of hot chocolate. Faces aglow with effort and satisfaction, the racers recounted their individual tales as the music cranked. Handshakes, pats on the back, and peals of laughter spread through the fraternity of finishers.

The racers’ abilities were widely varied, but they had skied the course together and shared the experience: Olympians and novices, young and old, the serious and the not so serious. They had embraced the challenge of the Boulder Mountain Tour, each competitor striving to ski his or her best. As they congratulated each other, the gathering around the buffet seemed more like a reunion than a competitive event. And in a sense it was, since many racers were veterans of several Boulder Mountain Tours.

Race Director Kevin Swigert says he’s impressed with each competitor’s effort, from the seasoned Olympian to the first-timer. He measures the success of the race based on each skier’s experience: “I think it’s important that the average racer walks away at the end of the day saying, ‘That was really fun, really worth it.’ That is the single most important goal for me.”

Taina Raff and Karen Johnston wholeheartedly agree that Swigert achieved his goal in 2004. And it’s almost certain that he’ll find the same success this winter, in the thirtieth running of the Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour.

The 2005 Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour will be held February 5. All registration fees and forms must be received by January 31, 2005. Space is limited to 1,000 skiers. For additional information, check out the Web site www.bouldermountaintour.com or email info@bouldermountaintour.com.

Greg Wilson, a former professional mountain guide, has spent the last quarter century guiding clients on mountains all over the world, including the highest peak on each continent and two successful ascents of Mt. Everest. Greg is no longer guiding, but embracing new challenges as a writer, and working toward a Master’s degree in English Education. He lives in Hailey with his wife Liza and stepson Dawson.

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