Monday, April 11, 2016

22- The Day I Out Raced Billy Kidd

The Day I Outraced Billy Kidd

In March of 1987 Aspen hosted the Winternationals, with a World Cup Downhill and Super G, both races won by Pirmin Zubriggen.
I was working freelance with Sandy Santucci for ESPN. We were to shoot interviews on Friday and then race coverage Saturday and Sunday. We drove up from Denver on Thursday and checked into the Limelite Lodge, ready to start work early the next morning.
The old hotel was a magnet for every ski bum in Aspen. It was the cheapest in town and always full of party people. It was loud at night but you could deal with it if you had earplugs.
World Cup means lots of nightlife, that is, if you can keep up with it. Dinner that evening, at a local steakhouse, was topped off with a bindle of blow, presented on a tray with the bill and, purchased with a credit card. I remember an Aspen shoot where one crewmember was listed in the credits as “Line Producer”, because that was one of the most important things he did, and by the second day of the shoot he had nearly everyone’s per diem money to prove it. I remember another time helping an on-camera person dig for a packet of Peruvian Marching Powder he’d dropped while doing a standup in new fallen snow. We never did find it. That was Aspen in its wildest days and we loved it. Party on Garth…
First thing Friday morning Sandy and I went over to the press center to pick up our credentials. While there, we both signed up for the Subaru Press Challenge, a media ski race slated to start at noon. We had interviews to shoot that morning but thought we’d finish in time to ski in the race. Sandy, a one time pro mogul skier, was eager to run the course because the event sponsors sometimes put up pretty nice prizes. It wasn’t uncommon for 1st place to win plane tickets or a few days lodging at the ski area. Sandy figured he might be good enough to win something. I could get down the steepest of slopes, even with gear, but I wasn’t much to look at and speed wasn’t usually a part of the equation. However, I figured there’d be some free beer at the finish line and that would serve as prize enough for me.
Although freelancing had gone on at channel 9 for years before I started working there, new management didn’t like the idea of staff photographers taking on outside work and attempted to stop the practice. A rule requiring prior approval from the news director was enacted and the first time I asked permission to shoot a freelance job, he said no. Well, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. A growing part of my income was made up of this outside work and the news director, who made a lot more money than I did, was the person deciding if I could work or not. He didn’t respect my marketplace value or my financial situation so I didn’t pay much attention to his new rule except to try to fly under the radar hoping the issue wouldn’t come up. Because of this guy and his policy, for a few years, I had myself listed, in the credits of films and videos projects I worked on, as Chuck Ikigami, taken from the name of a Japanese TV camera. Working under a different name didn’t matter to me. The pay was the same and, for the most part, it kept the station off my back.
So, trying to stay on the down low, I signed up for the press race as Lynn Richardson hopping not to attract attention to my name.
It was a warm spring day, and a long, hard morning, that ran well into the afternoon, before we wrapped the ESPN shoot for the day. It was three o’clock, we’d missed the noon media race and, Sandy and I, both whipped, were still half way up the mountain.
Aspen had installed a new gondola that season which I was eager to take a ride on. The ski day was nearly over but Sandy was kind enough to schlep all the gear back to the hotel so I could make a last run by way of the new gondola. I traversed the face of Aspen Mountain to the racecourse and found only the starting gates remained. The poles marking the course were long gone and no one remained from the race.
I skied on down to the finish line, located just outside the new gondola building loading area. As I approached the bottom I saw a small stage and podium with a standing crowd. Over the PA system I could hear a voice announcing race results:

 …”and the winner in the Men’s National Press division… Lynn Richardson”… WHAT? Now almost to the lift line, I made a quick turn to the right, skidding toward the crowd and the stage. The announcer repeated himself, and when I felt sure no one would speak up, I raised my hand, yelled, kicked out of my skis and ran up on stage accepting my unexpected trophy.
Thankfully, there was no mention of any 1st place prize to complicate things so, plaque in hand, I grabbed my skis and hurried off to the gondola line before anything more was said.
I made the ride up the mountain and hurriedly skied back down to the hotel.
Excitedly, I handed over the 1st Place plaque and told Sandy about my amazing race:

“I got there just as the last race was called. They'd let my start position slide to the end when I didn’t show up for my slot against... against…. BILLY KIDD…”, I said.  (I’d had time to work on my story on the way back.)
“I got there just in time to slide into the gate next to him when they called my name. I didn’t even have time to say anything more to Billy than hello. The count down began and we were off. It was fairly close for the first two gates, until he really turned it on and began to pull ahead. Then, I don’t know, he must have caught a tip on the third gate, or something, because he shot across the course almost hitting me.
Racing against such strong competition must have inspired me. I was haulin’ and, gate after gate, I just put a good run together.
Sandy, I can’t believe it. I won the damn thing.”
Sandy’s mouth hung open as he stared at the 1st place trophy I’d handed him.
I went on… “and…, get this, 1st prize is a week at the Aspen Lodge...
 and, a free round-trip on Frontier anywhere in the US…
 and,”… his head tilted down in amazement now leaning toward disbelief… “Subaru is giving me a car... for 6 months”…
I would have gone on but that last one put me over the top. We both fell on the floor laughing.

What happened? I don’t know, but the next week a letter arrived at my house for Lynn Richardson with a picture of him making his winning run, and he looked pretty darn good. He had the over-all 2nd best time of the contest, losing only to US Ski Team member Andy Mill by 38 hundredths of a second. I was so proud for us…  And it was the closest I ever came to beating Billy Kidd in a ski race too…

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