Al Johnson

Let ‘em run! Geschmozzel!

by Than Acuff

In 1974, a group of intrepid telemark skiers gathered to commemorate the efforts of postal worker Al Johnson with the inaugural Al Johnson Memorial Uphill/Downhill Telemark ski race. Johnson was a postal worker from the late 1880s who negotiated treacherous terrain and dodged avalanches in the Elk Mountains to get the mail through.

Well, 45 years after it all started, it continues and if there were ever a year to do it, this is the one. Coverage is phenomenal so get it while you can. My sincere hope is that even some of the racers from “back in the day” show up for the 45th annual AJ. Pre-registration is available at the Alpineer until 6 p.m. on Friday, March 22. Day-of-race registration and required bib pick-up for all participants will be at the Brick Oven from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

According to Brad English’s comprehensive book on telemark skiing, Total Telemarking, Doug Buzzell organized the first Al Johnson race and it involved a Geschmozzel (German for mass free-for-all) start, a climb up to the top of the North Face extreme limits and then a 1,200-foot descent “over three pitches from 35 to 45 degrees in steepness, and conditions may range from untracked powder to crude [sic], from ruts to hardpacked alpine moguls.”

But wait, it gets better.

“The final pitch is the steepest and narrowest, and a single mistake here can cost the leader victory. In addition to the radical terrain, hazards include the fallen bodies and strewn equipment of other competitors.”

True that. Who can forget dodging Tetris, the spawning salmon among other group costumes littering the course with massive amounts of stoke, and cardboard.

Yes, you do need telemark gear, or at the very least a freeheel on the way up and down to keep the spirit alive. Don’t have the gear? Find it. It’s out there somewhere. I’m sure if you swing by Six Points or All Sports Replay or even ask any one of the several ski shops in town, they got something leaning in a corner or up in the ceiling storage area covered in dust just waiting for one last ride.

Costumes have been all the rage lo’ these past 20 years but the race element still lives and breathes and there is no better feeling then seeing stars on the way up, tasting blood on the way down, hearing a ringing in your ears and spitting out bile at the finish line.

The tag team race starts at High Noon at the base of the North Face Lift with the individual race starting at 1 p.m.

As always, the raffle and awards will be off the hook compliments of the Alpineer, local businesses and KNS reps. Free beer will be available for all participants and volunteers thanks to Avery Brewing at the after-party but you must have your ID with you. As for you party people, Vail Resorts has asked organizers to remind participants that no alcohol will be allowed on the lifts.

Speaking of the after-party, it’s at Butte 66 starting at 4 p.m. Again, you must have your ID with you to receive adult beverages and don’t forget to tip.

This will be the last year that the CBAC is involved in putting the race on so if you have a non-profit out there that is looking to host one of the greatest events ever, contact the CBAC.

Let ‘em run!