Eugene Buchanan: Skiing with STARS | SteamboatToday.com

Eugene Buchanan: Skiing with STARS

Forget dancing with the stars … I'll take skiing for STARS.

That's the take-home from joining a team on last weekend's annual STARS Challenge, a ski-around-the-mountain event benefitting Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports.

"It's one of our top fundraisers of the year," says event director Todd Gollnick, adding that last year's event raised $70,000 for the organization. "And all proceeds go to helping build our programming for people with disabilities."

With participants committed to raising $250, the event kicked off at the Steamboat Grand with a martini-fueled party where participants found out their teams, mingled with Olympians, met their mountain guides and picked up their bibs (I was given #69, go figure). I was assigned to the presenting sponsor, Yampa Valley Bank team, YVB STARS (Somewhat Aggressive Remedial Skiers), led by bank president P.J. Wharton with our token Olympian, none other than Nelson Carmichael. This gave us an edge in air, flair and hair.

The real action took place Saturday morning, where teams gathered at the gondola base, got a quick rundown from Gollnick and then rode to the top of Thunderhead to begin their quest, which included riding all of Steamboat Ski Area's lifts and visiting key landmarks en route. You earned points by visiting certain areas, all tracked by FLAIK tracking devices worn around team leaders' ankles, as if they were on probation.

After a group photo, like the Rope Drop of yesteryear, everyone was off, some clearly more organized about their route than others. While some teams had it all mapped out, as if they were storming Normandy, we were a bit more improvisational. After some back and forth, we went down a boilerplate Vagabond, posed for a group photo at the teepee and rode the Thunderhead lift, knocking three must-haves off our list.

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On our second run, we got more strategic, or so we thought. We arrived at Storm Peak Express before it opened, losing time. Oops. On the plus side, it allowed the snow to soften a smidgen. We made up for it with our next combo: pole-clinking the Buddy Werner statue, skiing Buddy's Run to Four Points Lodge and then Rainbow to Sundown. Ca-ching went the point tally.

Then it was over to Tomahawk, Baby Powder and Sunshine, our group still miraculously together, before the devilish organizers sent us on a knee- and teeth-rattling run down ungroomed, still frozen Westside. At least it was worth three points instead of one.

It was around this time that we began bumping into other bibbed teams skiing hither and yonder. Some were monitoring the point map and others had it perfectly choreographed. "You're going down, Nelson!" one yelled in passing.

From there it was back up top, where I began to realize that the whole thing was actually a good way to explore your hometown mountain. Ski Snooze Bar? Where the heck's that? Luckily, our ace in the hole was STARS volunteer Bill Sawer, who moved here in 1968 and helped fell the logs for the original Four Points hut. The wily Mt. Werner veteran knew that it was off to skier's left of Morningside, which we hit after air-filled hot cakes.

Next, it was time to brave the Chutes, which thankfully had softened a hair. But not so much that YVB employee Nika didn't kick off a ski and watch it plummet all the way to the bottom.

Which brings up my advice for point-earning categories to add in next year. Skiing Chute One with one ski ought to count, as should being a good Samaritan, which we did when retrieving a guest's ski. Drinking a Bacon Bloody Mary at Hazie's might be another good addition, as would earning points for rest stops, feeding the birds at Morningside and kissing a lift op.

Gifted planners that we were, we saved the worst for last: a slow, slush- and skate-filled run down Why Not from top to bottom (three points), and another even slower more tortuous pole down BC Skiway (three more). Hey organizers, what are you, sadomasochists?

When all was said and done and we ended our crusade just before the 2 p.m. cutoff at Slopeside Grill, our final score tallied 140. While respectable, it paled to the winning 161 points recorded by Paula's Posse, who must have strapped their tracking device to a lift chair for an extra lap or two. And while Yampa Valley Bank's fundraising effort of $4,500 was certainly commendable (despite Wharton's "Never Trust a Banker" T-shirt), it was local Steve Williams' team that topped the donation list at $11,000.

But the real winner, besides those owning stock in Bengay, was STARS, which raised $90,000 from the event for its year-round programs. "It was a great turn out," says Gollnick. "And we couldn't do it without the tremendous support of the community."

Now, if only I can get some similar support for my aching knees.

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