The brothers Swenson
BRECKENRIDGE – Pete Swenson ponders the question, a simple, to-the-point, can’t-mess-this-one-up “How old are you?””Thirty-seven,” he says confidently.”No you’re not,” the man sitting next to him says. “You’re 38.”Taken aback, Swenson turns toward the disputer. It’s his brother Carl.”Yeah, you’re gonna be 39 in October,” Carl reiterates.Pete realizes and admits his error all in one long groan: “Nooooooo.”So begins an hour with the Swenson brothers, a pair of the best and most versatile endurance athletes in the country, who just happen to be pretty funny, too.Although they do their best to hide it, the Swensons boast quite the athletic resumés. Beginning with winter: Carl, 36, is an 11-time national champion and three-time Olympian in Nordic skiing. He specialized in skate events and helped the U.S. relay squad finish fifth at the Salt Lake Games in 2002. His career-best individual result came at the 2003 World Championships, where he took fifth in the grueling 50K skate. He retired this year shortly after his third and final Olympics.Pete, in turn, earned his defining result this winter, when he won a national championship in the ever-growing sport of ski mountaineering, or randonee racing. He also led an American delegation with a very respectable 30th-place finish at the world championships in Italy, testing himself against the vaunted Europeans.As for summer, both brothers were once national-caliber mountain bikers. Carl, who boasts a VO2 max around 85, won a short-track NORBA title in 2000, and was among the top five or 10 riders in the country in the mid- to late-’90s. Pete, meanwhile, finished in the top 10 at a pair of World Cups in his heyday, and once took third in the NORBA national championship cross country race.These days, Pete, a Colorado College grad, splits his time between Boulder and Breckenridge, where he lives with his fiancé, professional adventure racer Monique Merrill. Carl, a Dartmouth alumnus, is currently deciding where to begin his second life – the one after sports. He will tackle law school in the fall, at either Utah or CU-Boulder, once he moves out of his friend and 1994 Olympic teammate’s home, that of U.S. cross country ski head coach Pete Vordenberg.
With Carl flanking Pete after an early morning backcountry ski excursion to the east side of Mt. Baldy last week, the brothers sat still long enough to talk about their athletic existences, where they see themselves going next, and how in the world Carl became known as “The Mangler.”Summit Daily News (to Pete): So what’s the deal – are you gonna defend your national title?Pete: At 38, I’d rather do more event promoting next year. It would depend on a lot of things – on work, and everything. I mean, if I have the time to train, and if I want to … But if it was a choice between putting on an event or going to a race I’ve already done, I’d rather put on a new event.Carl: No, you gotta defend the title. Get on a serious training program now.Pete: Not at 38.Carl: Whaddya mean?!!Pete: Aw jeez …-SDN: Do you think ski mountaineering is going to continue to get bigger?Pete: Yeah. I think the sport right now is where mountain biking was in about 1990. And so I feel like I have an opportunity to kind of help shape and help grow backcountry ski racing. I went over to Europe this year, did a World Cup, did a World Championship, just learned a lot. Everything’s there. I think if more Americans see it, they’ll get into it. I get a call every week from somebody going, ‘Hey, tell me about these bindings. Do I need these?’ Literally, it’s like mountain biking – you know, when your buddies got mountain bikes, you were like, ‘Ah, I should get one of those. What do I need?’ People lift my skis, and they’re like, Wow.-SDN: What kind of a sibling rivalry was there between you two?Pete: We raced head to head a little bit on mountain bikes, but it was more that there was one guy who I didn’t care if I beat.
Carl: We were both so inconsistent, so up and down. (Turning to Pete) I was either way behind you, or … And as kids, Pete got into alpine skiing and cycling, and I was more into running and cross country (skiing). So we didn’t compete much at all.- Carl points out that the only reason he took up mountain biking was because his older brother tugged him into it. And off they go.Pete: Carl was so raw in mountain bike racing. I think I made him race ‘expert,’ and I’d realize he didn’t have a spare or any tools underneath him. So he’d come around on a lap, and I’d put stuff into his back pocket, because he had no tube, no food, nothing. Which is fully legal (both brothers laugh).Carl: That was just so I could finish those races. It was a rental bike, too, because Pete was working as a bike mechanic in Telluride.Pete: Every weekend he’d get a new rental bike.Carl: And the guys at the shop called me “The Mangler” (laughs). Because I would destroy every bike that I’d take. I didn’t even have my own bike.Pete (to Carl): When you finished at Crested Butte, and the guy said, ‘Well, how’d it go, Carl? Did you crash?’ And you go, ‘I lost count of the number of times.’ That’s probably why I had to move across the street and work at a different shop.-SDN: So if you guys don’t get to see each other much, you must keep in pretty close touch, right?Pete: Carl is some sort of luddite. Carl has no cell phone.Carl: I do have a computer now.
Pete: That’s big for Carl. Really big. He’s hard to reach.Carl: Pete doesn’t seem to e-mail that much, either. It’s probably because he’s on the computer at work all day.Pete: Well you never e-mail me! I e-mail all the time. You gotta e-mail me!-SDN: So what’s next?Carl: I’m just gonna keep following Pete’s lead. This backcountry thing, it’s pretty cool. It’s really fun.Pete (trying to interject): Well, it’s not -Carl: I mean, those skis that he has? And the boots? Pete (trying again): Well, it’s -Carl: I got a blister today, but it’s more an ankle defect, I’m afraid.Pete (finally successful): Well, it’s not like you have a choice, Carl.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at email@example.com.
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