Breck patrollers get on-the-job training |

Breck patrollers get on-the-job training

BRECKENRIDGE – What’s left of Max Forgensi’s Elk Mountain Grand Traverse ski is on display at the patrol shack on Breckenridge Peak 9.

Forgensi, 28, and his teammate, fellow Breck ski patroller Jeff Ferragi, 30, finished the frigid 2003 Grand Traverse in 11 hours and 35 minutes, taking 11th place despite a broken ski.

The Grand Traverse, which took place March 28 and 29, is a 40-mile, overnight traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen that included about 7,000 feet of elevation gain, and brutal subzero temperatures that cut the finish ratio in half.

About 120 teams started the race, but only 64 finished. Vail’s Mike Kloser and Dan Weiland won the race in eight and a half hours, and Ferragi and Forgensi might not have been far behind if it weren’t for a delay that came when Forgensi had to trudge through the final 12 miles of the race on the stick of duct tape that replaced his ski.

“We were between the Friend’s Hut and the Barnard Hut and we didn’t see a single team. We were looking down the line and thought we could see everything, but there was this breakover,” Forgensi said. “I saw Jeff go through it, and he blew up more than anything. I saw him fall, and to avoid crashing into him, I fell. Right there, just before the Barnard Hut, I broke one of my skis in three different places. The binding was all that was holding it together.”

Luckily, patrolling for Breckenridge for five years has taught Forgensi and Ferragi some resourcefulness. Fellow patrollers Jim Levi, Burl Hudson and Mark Beardsley (who went on to take fifth place in last weekend’s Imperial Challenge), were also among the bedraggled few at the Grand Traverse finish line in Aspen. The group’s every day labor of hiking up slopes, stringing fences and snow control work at Breckenridge is inherent mental and physical training for an endeavor such as the Grand Traverse.

“It’s a mental thing,” Ferragi said. “You just have to keep talking yourself into continuing when you think you’re at your limit and you’re freezing and you’re asking yourself, “Why are you still outside?’ So, you tell yourself, this is just like what we do at work every day. You freeze up there some days at about 13,000 feet.”

Up to that ski-breaking point in the race, Forgensi and Ferragi had overcome challenges such as frozen water and food, and frostbite – obstacles that eliminated many other racers – and were in seventh place. Although their objectives changed then, they forged on with three skis and a few twigs held together with duct tape underfoot.

“We thought, now our goal is to finish the race,” Ferragi said. “It wasn’t so much position at that point. In our hearts and in our heads, we started out thinking, top 10, let’s try for it, let’s try. Then, we got passed by the last team not even 300 vertical feet above the finish line.”

Although it’s more than two weeks later, Ferragi and Forgensi still can’t feel their fingertips. This didn’t stop them from undertaking Saturday’s Imperial Challenge, where both finished well under two hours (Forgensi in 1:46:49.3 and Ferragi in 1:49:16.8) and among the top 20.

Although both admitted the Grand Traverse “03 was the most difficult thing they’ve ever done, they have no doubts that they’ll take another crack at it next year.

As far as training, the two only take one day off every week from physical activity, and, have natural help to stay motivated.

“My dog is a good guide in keeping me trained,” Forgensi said of his German shepherd. “He’s always wanting to go out and run around. Through the whole winter, he’s the one that gets me and makes sure, “C’mon dad, let’s go for a hike.’ In the name of the race, we call it training, but we’re really out there doing this stuff for fun.”

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at

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