Skiers have raced in Red Lodge since Finnish miners strapped on home-made skis, schussed down fields, and jumped over the barbed wire fences at the bottom. More than 25 years ago, skiers at Red Lodge Mountain formed the first Town Series race teams. For six weeks in January and February, Friday is race day.
As a racer, I only knew what a rush it was to push off at the start, run the gates down Bobcat, drop into a tuck past the finish, and stop in a spray of snow. On a recent Friday, I was on the Triple Chair at 8AM to follow the race crew and see what happens behind the scenes.
Led by Bob N. and Toni D., the congenial crew of volunteers (Paul, Gretchen, Drew, Tanner, Kristen) went to work at simultaneous tasks: roping off the race course; connecting the starting gate; setting the course by placing gates; drilling holes for gate poles; twisting threaded pole bases into the snow; stretching blue and red banners between poles; aligning timing eyes at the finish line; roping off the bottom boundary; placing the exit gate; revving up the generator that powers the race shack; and plugging in and testing the timing clock.
Well before the 10AM start, racers line up to make two timed runs for teams with names like Fighting Marmots and Slow Old Guys. "Have fun!" is the advice Bob gives when asked about how to race the course. The timers in the shack read and record times and watch the racers, making sure they don't miss a gate. It takes attention and communication by walkie-talkie between start and finish, sending a racer onto the course and announcing a clear course for the next.
The course alternates weekly, straight or curvy, with safety in mind for the slowest, least-experienced racer, the different turning styles of tele-skiers and snowboarders (regular or goofy), while keeping it a challenge for the fastest downhill skiers. One safety consideration is eliminating obstacles. A recent exception was a squirrel that ran out from the trees toward a racer, turned back into the trees, and ran out again. The racer lost time, but the squirrel made it across Bobcat. The last safety consideration is, as one crew member pointed out, "We don't go into the Stube until we're done."
At 2PM the crew dismantles the gates and boundaries, disconnects the timers, submits results to the front office, and assembles in the Stube to celebrate. The winning or losing is not up to them. They set up a safe course and a well-run race, enjoying the work and each other.