Retrofitted: Doc PJ’s vintage Imperial Challenge skins, skis and bike
It’s about 8:15 a.m. the day of the April snowstorm and Doc PJ has already earned his turns.
Earlier that Friday morning, just as the first rays of spring sun were trying to break through the grey-white clouds, the longtime Breckenridge local strapped his 1980 Rossignol Randonee skis and poles to the homemade rack on a vintage Shasta mountain bike, pedaled from his home on French Street to the base of Peak 8, skinned up Springmeier to the top of the T-Bar lift, and then turned around for the descent back to his bike.
It’s nearly the same route followed by hundreds of athletes for the Imperial Challenge, a rite of passage on closing weekend that tends to chew skiers up and spit them out. But for Doc? It’s just another morning, yet one with hopefully better snow than he fought earlier.
“Eh, it was like a cheesegrater,” says Craig Louis Perrinjaquet, aka Doc PJ, when we shake hands in front of his morning haunt, Amazing Grace, found on the corner of Lincoln and French in downtown Breck. But the conditions hardly mattered. Few things get between the career medical doctor (yes, it’s more than a catchy nickname) and his winter morning ritual: Wake before dawn, bike to Breck, skin up, ski down, bike to coffee, bike back home, change, and be ready for his first patients by 9:30 a.m. or so. Some days he finds powder, other days he finds chop, but there’s nowhere he’d rather be as the town far below him is waking up.
Still, if he had to pick a perfect day for the perfect trip, what would it be?
“When there’s enough fresh snow to make powder turns but not so much that they can’t clear the bike path,” he says, his eyes and nose still rimmed red from the chilly morning ride. “You have to find that middle ground.”
Before coffee — and just a few hours before town was blanketed in a freak 15 inches — we stop to snap a few photos in front of Amazing Grace. Even if he didn’t park there most mornings, the bike and skis and Doc himself would look at home silhouetted against the historic cabin with yellow siding. It all fits, like the retro leather touring boots he cinches every morning, or the PVC ski holder he bungeed to the rack on the Shasta. He bought the pipefittings for about $10 when he got the bike, a replacement for a ’70s-era Fisher he had to abandon when the headset cracked and it was too old for a replacement.
“A little duct tape and a bungee cord is all you need,” he says in a tone somewhere between sly humor and matter-of-fact honesty. “Anyone can figure it out.”
Doc PJ and I walk up the steep concrete steps and sit down at a short, stout table just inside the front door, close to where the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center once kept a running tally of pre-dawn vertical feet for guys and gals like Doc. Before he can order coffee, another regular tells the barista he’ll buy breakfast for his friends and “whatever Doc is having.”
“I’ll just have a coffee and a scone,” Doc PJ says.
“That’s all when I’m buying?” the man replies. “You’re a cheap date.”
“In that case, I’ll have 10 scones,” Doc PJ says with a smile and the two laugh before getting back to their respective morning routines.
“There’s about a dozen goofballs who are out there (on Peak 8) most mornings,” Doc PJ tells me when he sits back down, referring to friends and occasional touring partners like former town mayor John Warner. “Well, probably not that many. You might see 30 total on any given day in January and February, and maybe five or six of those that are there every day.”
You can almost guarantee that no one is there on gear as old as Doc’s — even if they happen to recognize the faded brown topsheet. He’s had the 1980 Rossignols (210 cm) since 1981, when he drove to a barn outside Steamboat and bought them from “some guy.”
“They were that first transition from true cross-country skis — it’s double camber, so you can kick and glide — but this was really made for touring,” he says between mentioning he hasn’t waxed them in about five years. “That was state-of-the-art back then. I have a lot of old guys see them, tell me, ‘Oh, I had those! I used to love those skis.’”
Attached to the vintage skis is an equally vintage pair of cable bindings, which mesh almost perfectly with his Solo Sport Extreme Pro boots. From another table, yet another regular points to the boots and says he hasn’t seen a pair in years. In fact, he says, he’s pretty sure Solo isn’t in business anymore. (The company isn’t.)
“They’re incredibly comfortable, but the one downside is the soles,” he says, pulling at the sole to show how it’s starting to separate, again. “I might have actually found these on eBay. I can’t imagine I bought these new.”
Even Doc’s skins are originals: He’s had the same ’80s-era Black Diamond skins since he bought the skis, and even though the glue is starting to separate they still work just fine.
“I guess I’ll just replace it all,” he tells me when I ask what happens when this gear starts to give out. “Somebody’s garage has some s—-y old stuff I can buy off them.”
But why? I wonder aloud as we finish our coffee and Doc stands to start his workday. Why travel daily — in snow, in shine, in slush, in wind — on a combined setup that’s over 100 years old?
“I think it’s just because it’s comfortable and light,” Doc says. “And you’ve got to get that last run out of them. I think if I priced it down I’m to about 10 cents a ride by now on these. I’ve made them worth it.”
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