Copper Business League race series returns with regular Thursday GS races
Copper Business League ski races
What: A community race series for skiers and snowboarders scored using the NASTAR handicap system, held on the Copperopolis giant slalom course with divisions for teams and individuals
When: Thursday, March 10 and March 17
Where: Copper Mountain Resort
Cost: $25 per race
The final two races are open to skiers and snowboarders of all ages and abilities. Registration is held in-person from 8:15-8:45 a.m. at Center Village on race day. All events include two runs, followed by a post-race party at Double Diamond from 4-4:30 p.m. for prizes. To find out more, search the “competition and training programs” tab at http://www.coppercolorado.com.
If you’ve never been to a Copper Business League race, I highly suggest you get out there for at least one this spring.
For at least 25 years — the organizers aren’t sure exactly how long it’s been running — Copper Mountain Resort has hosted a weekly community race series from January through March, when the giant slalom course on Copperopolis is running at its peak. The Thursday morning races are low-key and laid-back, as in there are no prize purses or sponsorship deals for the winners. Instead, there’s backslapping, high-fiving, plenty of heckling and a surprisingly high level of competition.
Or maybe it’s not so surprising. These are mountain town locals and Front Range nomads, the same people who moved from just about every corner of the country to live in the Colorado mountains. Skiing brought them here, and if they can’t have a little fun crashing gates between powder storms, well, what’s the point?
“I guess you could say this gets me out skiing once a week,” said Tom Malmgren, who moved to Copper (yes, Copper) in 1973 and hasn’t left since. “I’ve got the big ‘S’ on my chest. Don’t know if it stands for staying power or stupidity or what.”
Maybe the former?
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“Yeah, I like to think it’s staying power,” he said. “I just can’t leave.”
Then again, the Biz League races are even more interesting when you add a little powder and wind, like the most recent GS on Feb. 18. It’s where I met Malmgren and his son, Eric, born and bred at the base of Copper. Despite the whipping wind up top at Copperopolis, the younger Malmgren was wearing a Hawaiian shirt over his shell — “I’m heading out to Montezuma after this and figured I’d wear the backcountry attire,” he says with a smile — and his wife, Victoria, was sporting pigtails under her helmet. Like their 60 fellow competitors that day, the two pushed through an inch or two of wind-blown slough during their first runs around 10:15 a.m. It wasn’t quite a storm, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
“It seems like weather always comes through in time for the races,” race coordinator Dustin Schaffer told me from his spot at the top of the course, where he stood with radio and megaphone in hand to start the racers.
Then I met Patrick Palm, a 52-year-old Denverite who’s made the trek nearly weekly to Copper since the series started in mid-January. This is his fifteenth season competing in the series (or maybe longer, he can’t quite remember) and he wouldn’t miss these people for the world.
“This is just great camaraderie,” said Palm, who left not long after the races to wrap up an afternoon at work. “It gives you goals to hit, challenges to meet. You also get to go fast and not get in trouble. What’s better than that?”
Then I ran into Jerry Karl, the executive director for Team Summit. His office was a few thousand vertical feet below us at the base of the mountain, but, like most of the higher-ups at the ski club, he doesn’t spend nearly as much time on the snow as he’d like. The Biz League races give him the chance to do the thing he does best — even if he’s a bit rusty.
“It’s just fun to get everyone together, have a little one-on-one to push each other,” Karl said from the start gate. “It’s a Thursday morning getaway, a way to get you out of the office and on the hill. We live in the mountains for a reason.”
Karl was the only Team Summit skier on the course that day, although club Masters ski coach Matt Fox usually heads out for turns with the rest. A healthy chunk of racers also compete in Masters events (or have at one point), but it’s not a requirement. The races are open to anyone and everyone, snowboarder and skier, with divisions for teams and individuals. Even though the series is more than halfway finished by now — six teams (plus a few solo racers) are vying for the overall title bragging rights — every race day ends with daily prizes, beers and food at Double Diamond.
Near the end of the day I then met Steve Jones, a Biz League veteran who’s racing in the series for his 24th season. He’s done Masters races in the past and travels to other community events, like the Vail Town Series, but the Copper scene is close to his heart. It’s where he goes toe-to-toe with other faster-than-they-should-be racers like Franz Fuchsberger, owner of Fuxi Ski Shop in Center Village, for those bragging rights.
And Jones almost came away with them this week, but after a whip-fast 45.8 seconds in his final run, he still ended more than a full second behind a newcomer to take second place. No problem, Jones said after a little good-hearted protesting. There’s always the next race.
“I like to tell people I’m like a fine wine: I’m just getting slightly better with age,” Jones said. “These are all my friends, man. We love skiing with each other, competing with each other, talking smack to each other. This is just too great.”
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