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Down hill racer

The fault that the U.S. lost one of the greatest ski racers in history lies again with my mother. She went to school with Buddy Werner and according to her they were boyfriend and girlfriend for a while. Had she taken it a step forward it would have been Mt. Werner still, but named after Butch Werner the quickest skier who ever lived. My grandfather certainly believed after that spring day I possessed the stupidity to be a world famous skier.

No one considered it spring until my granddad plowed the road from the ranch to the highway. Such was that spring day in 1956 when my cousin Donald and I went with granddad to the ranch. We snowshoed from the highway to the ranch which took the better part of the morning. Granddad owned a dozer, the equivalent of a D-2. While he was getting it started I noticed the skis in the shop and asked him if I could use them. Donald chose to ride on the dozer. Laboriously I made the trek up the snow-covered road that went to the top fields. One mile above the ranch house I picked the steepest decent I could find to make my world record run. Telling the story later my granddad would say it was closer to 600 feet, which I concluded must be further so I beamed with pride.

Fastening my skis to my over shoes I noticed a crowd of fans gathered below me. My granddad and Donald were shouting while furiously waving their arms back and forth. I could not understand a word they said but I think it was go, go, go! The skis were telemark, about 8 feet long. I pushed over the bank, fell flat on my back and began my record making run. Granddad said later as he wiped the tears from his eyes, I believe you would have broken the record but the oak brush and bob wire fence slowed you down considerably. I knew they were tears of disappointment so I said if I had more clothes I’d give it another try.



My granddad would rather build something than buy it, thus the Hornet came to be. It was a bike built from junkyard parts and hand-painted yellow and black. I loved the Hornet because I had always dreamed of owning a 10-speed. The joy of a 10-speed is the way you can peddle backwards because the brakes are on the handlebars.

Granddad lived in Craig, Colo., at the top of Colorado Street, the steepest hill in town. It plummeted down until it joined highway 40. The only semi-level spot was a mile down where you could turn down Park Street and you guessed it, go to the pool. I could never get the brakes to catch so by that time I was at Mach one. By the time I got to the highway my cheeks were pressed against my ears. I crossed the highway and hit the heavy gravel around the A&W Drive Inn flashing by my granddad eating his lunch. The gravel slowed our speed to around 10 mph before I and the Hornet landed in Fortification Creek. I lay wallowing in the mud, when I heard laughter from the bank above. I looked up to see my granddad and his friends laughing their heads off. Still shaken I asked them if they thought it was all that funny. Granddad calmly replied no, but my superman yell as I went over the 10 foot bank was.



There are only two sports on Colorado Street in the winter. Watching cars try to drive up the snow packed street and then sliding back down, or sledding. Both are equally fun but sledding is the more dangerous of the two. We all had the best of sleds built from various wrecked sleds from previous years. Granddad was a master sled builder, especially since they did not require brakes. The only brakes involved were overshoes dragging on the frozen slick snow. I did not want to be called a sissy by my cousin so I never drug my feet. At the precise moment I would twist my handles forcing the front of the runners to the right and then drag my right foot to make the turn on to Park Street and slide all the way to the skating rink, a distance of about a mile. I only remember making the turn once, usually I flipped off the side of Park Street. 

The time I made it should have gone down in history, but alas the press once again were on some less historical assignment. I made the turn at mach one lifted my right foot back to the sled and looked back for my cousin. When I looked back again to decide my course of entry there were two trucks stopped on the bridge. The owners were talking out the window and I had to make a bad decision. I cranked hard to the right, shredded through a bob wire fence and landed in the deep snow on the frozen Fortification Creek. As I staggered off the sled and turned, my cousin Donald hit me solid on both front shins, then ran over me. I am not sure what kind of a sound I made but it soon attracted a large crowd. My cousin stood beaming with pride; he said my superman yell was the best yet. Someone loaded the two of us into the back of a pickup and took us back to granddad and grandmothers. 

We entered the house in a loud state. Donald was yelling to call the hospital and I stood in the middle of the room bawling and bleeding. My mother slapped me for crying. Donald’s dad slapped him for yelling, and granddad was yelling for grandmother to bring the camera.

Later at the hospital while we waited for me to get stitches, I looked at Donald and said if this was the kind of treatment record breakers get then we were through. Reluctantly at the age of 8 I retired as a downhill racer. Granddad tried to talk Donald and me into several more records but we refused. Well there was the cliff diving incident and the wood cart racing incident but we kept those to ourselves since granddad was not there to defend us.

Butch is an ol cowboy, Marine, big game guide, horse and Border collie trainer, Iditarod sled dog racer,etc. He lives in Fruita Colo., with his lovely wife Beth and loves to share his life adventures.

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