In my wildest dreams, I would never ski in the same race with former American Olympians Scott Macartney and Libby Ludlow. It took the Bavarian Race at 49 Degrees North for that to happen.
Macartney and Ludlow grew up skiing at Crystal Mountain near Enumclaw, Wash. They joined a rowdy rabble with a broad range of ages and abilities in bright sunshine last Saturday for the 36th annual Bavarian Race. The event combines two great things that go great together: beer and skiing (not necessarily in that order).
Participants are drawn at random to form four-person teams. My luck landed me on a team with Eric Alm and Bill Reinbold, the guys who founded this celebration of suds in 1974. Our roster included Trinda Rieck from Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, an event sponsor. She skied in a long denim dress festooned with spangles.
“We wanted to have an event that combined a couple of things we loved,” said Alm, principal of the Columbia Virtual Academy in Valley, Wash. “The format has changed over the years, but the basic ingredients are the same.”
In more innocent days, the Bavarian Race was called the Beer Race. Alm’s vision was a poker run/beer chugging hybrid that hopped around the mountain. The resort’s liquor license didn’t extend beyond the lodge, so the race became a team effort to drain a pitcher at the lodge before and after a slalom. Later it received a more politically correct moniker.
This year the resort’s insurance company put down its foot. Instead of teams polishing off a pitcher to start the clock, each individual pounded a can of non-alcoholic brew. The real stuff came after the slalom.
Reinbold, a Davenport, Wash., wheat grower who has been on the winning team six different years, had a strategy.
“It’s a long way down,” he said. “Hyperventilate before you start your run so you have enough oxygen to keep your legs from burning too much. At the finish, only fill the cups half full so you don’t chug any foam.”
I guzzled my can of near beer, but it may as well have been barley wine. At chair one I hooked a tip on a pole and sprawled into the loading area. I rolled out of the way to avoid getting brained by an oncoming chair while my teammates got on board.
After recovering from my embarrassment on the ride, I brought up the rear down a course that ran from the top of chair one, down Silver Ridge and out on Silver King to the lodge. I fumbled with my bindings and ran to the table where my teammates waited before a brimming pitcher.
Not realizing how out of breath I was, I inhaled a lungful of foam, choking and gasping while the others chugged away. Reinbold, noting my distress, snatched the cup from my hand, downed it, flipped over the pitcher and yelled, “Time!”
We finished guzzling at 18:30, ninth out of 19 teams – respectable despite my bumbling performance. The winners, about a minute ahead of us, were Scott Weimer, Ben Ludlow (Libby’s brother), B.J. Dotson and Jeff King.
After the race, Reinbold and Alm threw a big party with their neighbors just down the road at the summit of Flowery Trail Pass. Dan Harris, a cattle rancher from Tyler, Wash., had The Kelly Hughes Band rocking in his garage. We ate chili and washed it down with more beer, watching the sunset – thus ending an unforgettable first day of spring.