Each year, I attend the VOHK open house. Erik Woog, his family, and employees open up their shop, even behind the scenes, and invite everyone to help him kick off the season. Lunch, as well as a variety of drinks and snacks, including homemade cookies, are available throughout the day. The event is well-attended, and usually include a presence from the Boondockers, Chris Burandt, and other local legends, who come not only to celebrate the upcoming season, but to reflect on seasons past. Many of Erik’s sponsored riders present him with signed posters or other thoughtful memorabilia, as a sledder’s way of saying “thanks”. This year was no different. And, after the event, everyone heads to the Rocky Mountain Bar and Grill to the Boondocker’s Movie Premiere, benefiting the Avalanche Education. It is one of my favorite events of the year, possibly because of the complete lack of responsibility on my part, to participate, organize or work; it’s just good fun.
The next day, a chosen few generally get to ride with Erik and some of his crew, as he puts the final touches on his tuning packages for the real VOHK-tuned experience. Riding with Woog is generally one of two scenarios. The first results in spending most of the day around the parking lot as he hops from sled to sled, races across the field or trail, and returns to instruct his mechanics on specific changes, or perhaps he makes some changes to the programming. It’s very influencing to watch the time and care he puts into this process, but the activity level is usually pretty low. The second scenario is the Yang to the first’s Yin. It is a high-energy race to follow and keep up, and if you can’t, you likely won’t be invited again, and Erik is a phenomenal rider.
This day was scenario number two. Comprised of Erik Woog, Adam Onasch, Kim (then Long, now Onasch), Blaine Klawaiter, myself, and Tim Flemming (one of Erik’s mechanics), we were surprised to find over-the-bumper fresh snow atop the ‘Ears. Erik was riding one of his newest creations, “The Incredible Hulk”, an aptly named big-bore turbocharged lime-green ‘Cat. Dashed between the punishing but rewarding ride, Erik was perfecting his tune, making minute changes to the tuning through the Boondocker fuel controller.
Then, all at once, the ride was over. Still, I don’t know if Erik had another commitment, or was just happy with the tune, but it was time to go, and we didn’t argue, although it had only been two hours on the snow. Back at the trailer, we helped Erik and Tim load sleds. While they took off their gear, I looked at Adam and said “we’re not done, right?” He nodded, not wanting to speak the answer.
As we watched Woog’s Burandt-edition Trails West trailer head back to Kremmling, I gazed across the parking lot and noticed an unusual sight. A large race trailer was hidden amongst piles of freshly plowed snow, glass double doors facing me. I curiously walked around, trying to see who could be up this early (few people ride before Thanksgiving in Colorado). I noticed that it was Scheuring Speed Sports, a Klim sponsored team. I figured I should get a few pictures, if only to rub in the face of the folks at Klim, ha. Before I could reveal my intentions, Kim Onasch, always the most social of the group, started knocking on the doors. Three racers emerged, and I snapped a quick photo, before they returned to their chores.
Never expecting that photo to be used, we thanked them, and returned to our sleds. As the sunlight faded, we returned in the same direction we had been with Erik, racing back to the first hint of untouched snow, trying to capitalize on the alpenglow. But, sadly, we were minutes too late. As we sat in a line, admitting defeat, we all looked at each other, recognizing it was time to ride.
While the fresh snow was bumper-deep, the total accumulation was not enough to throw caution to the wind. Landmines were everywhere, and you could feel your skis, spindles, and track jar your sled from side to side as you grazed stump after stump. We started out quite gingerly. I distinctly remember having a conversation that we wouldn’t open the sleds up, just putt around. However, the tunnel-vision of darkness seemed to ease our fears, and it was only minutes later that we were climbing through the trees, turbos fully spooled.
We spent hours alone on the mountain and completely isolated. My conscience was clear and my mind was free. My body was one with my sled as I pulled back, extending my wheelie up the entire mountain, gracefully carving between the well-spaced trees, skis never touching the ground. After each ascent, we navigated our way back to the bottom, moved ever-slightly to the North, and again, made the ascent, illuminated only by our Frankensled lights.
Until now, I had forgotten about this ride, but as I write this, it was truly one of the great rides of the year. It’s not often that I get to ride ‘for me’, but this was one of those days. I still smile when I think of the grace and elegance that we each displayed in our maneuvering, leaving an endless sea of serpentine-shaped single track lines sans ski marks. To our credit, nothing was wrecked that day. Although, Adam Onasch later told me he went back to that same spot the next day to attempt to relive that glory, and his exact words were “I cannot believe we made it out of there alive, that place was a minefield.” The trenches left were littered with stumps, the tops of boulders, and other hazards, despite over six feet of snow.