Peter Shelton

High Lunacy in Savage Basin

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on June 14, 2012

Apparently the craziness at this year’s Lunar Cup ski race got so crazy that one of the revelers was bucked off his bike and now lies in a coma at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.

It’s a shame it happened, and it has generated word on the street to the effect that now is the time, maybe, finally, for the Lunar Cup to be permanently retired.

This is understandable, especially from the point of view of those volunteering to produce an end-of-season party high on the remnant snows of Savage Basin. But it would also be a shame.

In the old days (listen to the old man), 35-plus years ago, the date for the Lunar Cup was picked for a full moon around the Fourth of July. This year, thanks to a low-snow winter, they had to move it up to early June. I haven’t attended in many years, so I can’t say if recent incarnations have devolved into drunken bacchanals (as I have heard), while the gate skiing itself slid inexorably toward a costume show. But I do remember what it used to be like.

Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the 1980 Lunar Cup, presented in part by the Telluride Ski Area, the Town of Telluride, Pacific Skis Unlimited, directed by Ned Mulford and Michael “Bombay Lou” Cooper, engineered by Nick Kyle, Omega timing with Dave Mazza . . . Professional ski racing at twelve thousand, five-hundred feet in Savage Basin, Colorado!

I remember because I wrote about it for Powder Magazine. It was a full-on pro race, the highest, steepest pro race of the season. There were $1,000 purses. Glib-lipped professional surfing emcee David Stanfield manned the microphone.

We’re in the round of 32. Head-to-head eliminations. On the red course, Duncan Cullman, three-time Lunar Cup champion, former U.S. national team member, Junior National champion in 1965. Stowe Cup and Eastern Senior Champion in 1966. 1969 second in the Roche Cup slalom, first place Mt. Washington Inferno. Twenty-first on the WPS in 1972, second on the New York Pro Tour in 1978, top three twice in his last six pro starts . . .

New Hampshire native, Telluride part-timer and poet/enigma, Duncan Cullman, dreamed up the Lunar Cup in 1974. The first one may or may not have been contested at night under a full moon. It was strictly local at first, but then it began attracting pro racers from all over: from the Sierra/Tahoe Pro Tour, the Coors and Southwest pro tours, and finally from the big leagues, the World Pro Skiing Tour, run by U.S. Olympic hero Bob Beattie.

This was the golden age of pro racing in America, never to be repeated, when the best skiers in the world, following their World Cup careers, criss-crossed the continent for humongous weekend paychecks, busting out of the horse gates in the new dual (side-by-side) racing format, soaring over the “pro jumps,” riding the deeply grooved ruts mano-a-mano on network TV. And Telluride (minus the television cameras, but with a wrenching, high-speed rope tow) was the unofficial last stop.

Cullman was still involved, though he wasn’t able to win his own race anymore. He did manage a podium in 1979 when he pumped himself up, saying, “I’m runnin’ on boa! Squeal the tires! Go out an’ chase the snakes!” He finished third against competition a decade younger than he.

It was still a party. And still an adventure to get there, high above the real world. As I wrote in 1980: “The road up to the caved-in mining town of Tomboy features six creek crossings, two wooden bridges, one rock tunnel and approximately 133 terrifying drop-offs in six miles.” It was a world unto itself.

On the blue course, Mark Mason, the only man ever to drive a Datsun 280Z up to the town of Tomboy . . .

Maybe it was the fact that Telluride was new to skiing then, and vice versa. Maybe it snowed more, and stayed whiter, and lasted longer. There was a seriousness, and an innocence. The work – and it was a lot of work – would pay off somehow, for the town, for the ski area, in karma, in the press, in gas money home.

Ladies and gentlemen! Coming up, the final run of the 1980 Lunar Cup. On the red course, Scott Mackie, 22, Lake Eldora Pro tour, sponsored by Rossignol, Caber, Look; Southwest Pro Tour champion in ’79, fifth overall Coors Pro Tour in ’79, seventh overall CPT this year . . . On the blue, Paul Carson, sponsored by Kathy, Spud, Salomon, Head, Caber, Scott; eleventh on the World Pro Tour in 1977; 1978 Lunar Cup champion. He’s got to make up 1.2 seconds . . . While we’re waiting for the racers to get back up the hill, let’s talk about Ned Mulford. Ned’s the kind of guy who walks into an antique store and asks, “What’s new? . . .

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