| By Daniel Gibson |
| Top image: Doug Bell carves up a race course in training in Park City, Utah. Photo by and courtesy Bobby Skinner. |
“This fall I decided that it was time for me to get back into ski racing again and dig into it with gusto. For many years I’d thought I had the ability to keep up with the very fastest skiers I faced, like those who grew up in Colorado skiing every day. Growing up in Santa Fe, I was more of a weekend warrior, and lacked a certain edge. Now is the time, I felt, to close the gap, to ‘live the dream.’”
So Doug Bell said to me recently as he was preparing to head off to a multi-week ski-racing program in Utah. Though now in his early 60s, the competitive fires of the former high school and college racer still smolder. The speed bug bit him early and bit him hard.
His January foray to Park City, Utah, is actually his second of this season. He spent three weeks there in early December training in a master-level ski racing program. He was on the snow from 9 a.m. to noon, then again from 1 to 3:30 p.m. The return trip will include racing against skiers from in the USSA’s Inter-Mountain Region, which includes many of the best, older racers in the nation.
Asked if he saw improvement in his style in the December program, he responded, “I’d like to think so! I culled some bad habits I picked up in the ‘70s and now know what to do. The question is, can I execute? It’s all about the athletic stance these days, the posture, the fore and aft body angles, building a good basic foundation.”
It was his first time to train in Utah, but “I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go to South America three times, where we went at it seven days a week with really good coaches, like former US Ski Team member Marco Sullivan.” The sessions include extensive video training on slalom, giant slalom and Super GS courses, conditioning, drills and racing. The races are part of the formal international Masters level ski racing circuit supervised by FIS, with points accrued for one’s finishing status. Races are held in Europe, North America, and South America, with an overall champion crowned annually.
“It’s the real deal, and is basically dominated by the Europeans. They live and breathe skiing, but I was fortunate to podium a few years back, placing third in the giant slalom, my favorite discipline. I was quite surprised and very happy! One of the other two European guys next to me has a wife who is an Olympian and he is a professional instructor who skis for a living.”
The South American sessions have been held in August and September in Chile at Valle Nevado (Tres Valles), La Parva, and Colorado. Over 10 to 12 days, he took in the ski program, followed with a bit of sightseeing in and around Santiago, and some samplings of Chilean wine.
Lisa Ballard, a former U.S. Ski Team member, Dartmouth University race team graduate, and author, organized the most recent Chilean sessions.
Doug Bell’s Ski Santa Fe Roots
Bell began skiing in second grade at Ski Santa Fe in the Santa Fe public school program directed by Marge Veneklasen. “My mother was also kind enough on weekends to give me money for lunch and to buy a baby poma lift ticket, and take me down to the La Fonda to catch the shuttle they ran to the ski area. By the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, I began using the lunch money to upgrade to the chairlift ticket. As soon as mom found that out, she enrolled me in the Roadrunners ski team. She was worried about me doing something really dumb. So, that’s how the racing began.”
Racing became his winter life, with competitions and training every weekend, right through high school and into college. By high school, only a few Santa Feans were still racing, and so they had to go to Colorado most weekends to compete. “It was frustrating, as we were up against kids who trained almost daily and were on their home courses. We felt we were potentially as good but usually came up just a bit short.”
His college years were better, despite competing in the very challenging Rocky Mountain Division. On the Colorado College team, he trained two days a week at the Broadmoor ski hill, and competed every weekend. He secured an early starting position, due to some good finishes early in the season, and that boosted his results. He raced freshman, sophomore, and senior years.
“Every kid had delusions of grandeur but after college I put those to rest,” and for several years was out of racing altogether. Then he became involved in the Corporate Cup series for 20 years or so. This was a fundraising program for the University of New Mexico Ski Team and consisted of older skiers racing on teams in events held almost every weekend at various New Mexico ski areas. While strictly for fun, the ability level was quite high and participants took it seriously. It attracted the best of New Mexico’s many former racers and leading skiers. It was disbanded when the UNM Ski Team was shut down a few years ago by the university — despite the fact it was the only athletic program at UNM to win a national championship.
He spent many years on the Custer Basarich Limited team. “We called it the Beer League. It was not nearly as competitive as some other series, but it was a lot of fun and kept us on the race courses. Today, with the Corporate Cup gone and COVID, it is just not a major interest here. You have to go to Colorado or Utah to race.”
“Why spend so much time and money on it? “What I love about ski racing is that if you are not one hundred percent focused on what’s in front of you, you won’t do well or you’ll get hurt. It allows me to not think, or worry about bills, family, issues, or whatever happened that morning. It requires you to deal just with what is right in front of you. There’s a whole lot of moving parts in ski racing and as we get older our own moving parts may not move as well! Your ankles need to speak to your knees, which need to speak to the hips. Your upper body cannot be leaning or tilting improperly. Not to mention you are going as fast as you can move on earth, some 45 to 50 miles an hour on a GS course. It requires focus. Ideally, it should be quiet, as you are concentrating so hard on what you’re doing. If you notice the wind, you aren’t dialed in. It’s kind of a Zen thing. My personal guiding philosophy is, don’t get hurt.”
Yet despite that mantra, Bell was injured a few years ago while competing in skiing’s fastest discipline, the downhill. “I’ve replayed that over in my mind probably thousands of times and still have no certain idea what happened. I think I was lifted by wind, as I got light and caught air. I came down like I was sliding into second base, feet first. I was headed toward the fence, and tried to slow down using my edges. I caught an edge and flipped. That’s the last thing I remember. I managed to walk off the course and made it back to the hotel in Leadville (Colorado). I stayed in bed for a day, nursing my left knee, the meniscus, which I’d injured before playing soccer. I was in shock but that wore off and I returned home, and basically was in denial for six months. I even skied three times last year, but it felt off. This year I got serious about conditioning and have been riding my bike a lot and it feels like its back to full strength.”
Thus, the foray to Utah and his goal of finally standing on top of the podium. The thrill of speed, the intense concentration required, and the satisfaction that comes from doing something with near perfection still beckon. ¡Bueno suerte, amigo!
events and SKI CONDITIONS as of 1/26/22
A little storm moved through Northern New Mexico on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, bringing a bit of much-needed snow. Light snow may continue through Friday.
Ski Santa Fe picked up six inches, taking its base to 33 inches. Some 80 of its 86 runs are now open. This Saturday, enjoy live music from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Totemoff deck from the excellent band Lone Piñon. The Sandia Peak Tramcar bar will be serving Ex Novo brews.
Taos Ski Valley also saw six inches of fluff fall, boosting its base to 41 inches at mid-mountain. All lifts but the Kachina chair are now in operation, and almost all runs are open. Still closed are Ernie’s Run and North American on the frontside, and El Funko, High Noon and Walkyries Chute on the backside. All of the West Basin hike-to runs are open, and about half off Highline Ridge.
On Jan. 30, TSV will host the Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol, a day camp for intermediate to expert skiers/snowboarders ages 8 to 17 who identify as female. Participants will learn mountain safety and first aid while working with the strong women of the TSV ski patrol community. It costs $45. For details visit the TSV website, under events.
Wolf Creek gained 3 inches, taking its base to 77 inches at mid-mountain. It is 100 percent open. The free Wolf Creek Challenge Race Series returns on Saturday, Jan. 29. The 40-plus-gate giant slalom course on Middle and Lower Charisma is open to teams and individuals. For Nordic skiers, its free Meadow Loop and the Lake Spur trails were groomed and track-set on Jan. 26.
Angel Fire Resort received three inches, and reports a 22-inch base. All lifts are running and 28 of 81 runs are open. Both of its terrain parks are functioning, but only two expert runs are open.
Sipapu got an inch and reports an 18-inch base, and 25 runs open.
Red River saw two inches fall, and has a two-foot base. All but one lift are running (the Silver Chair remains closed) and 49 of 64 runs are skiable.
Pajarito, Ski Apache, and Sandia Peak all received at least a few inches of new snow but remain closed.
Crested Butte picked up six inches over the past week, and now has a 57-inch base. Its High Lift T-bar has been open but is closed as this is written. The entire mountain is now skiable, including its famed and expansive “Extreme Limits” terrain, and the Twister Terrain Park.
Monarch Mountain picked up three inches, taking its base to 52 inches. All runs are open, including the sublime trees and steep headwall of the 130-acre hike-to Mirkwood Basin.
Telluride gained four inches and has a 48-inch base. About 127 of 148 runs are open, with only the hike-to Gold Hill chutes and steeps off Palmyra Peak still closed.
Purgatory just received a dusting but reports a 40-inch base, with all runs open.
Arizona Snowbowl has a 50-inch base, and 88 percent of its terrain skiable.
Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). His new book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico, was recently released from Arcadia Publishing with 183 historic photos. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead