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Outdoors Outpost
Zero Brakes
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 • Posted February 28, 2013

People do stupid stuff. I know, because I’m a people, and I do stupid stuff sometimes. But not as stupid as the stuff other people do.

The stuff I do is usually pretty safe, as long as nothing goes wrong. Canyoning in Mexico and Colorado, skydiving, and ordering chalupas at random Mexican food restaurants can be dangerous, sure, but most of the time everything comes out OK. Unless it doesn’t.

I will admit that the trip Leret and I made last year to the Zero Gravity amusement park (other people’s amusement, obviously) in Dallas was pretty risky. Not the park so much, but driving through Dallas, which is on my top ten list of things never to do again, until every driver in Dallas County takes an Anger Management Course. Or at least a Quit Trying To Run Over Kendal Course.

Zero Gravity, itself, was a lot of fun. There are only five rides, and although one of them is sort of tame, the other four are each pretty much like jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet. And cost-wise, Zero Gravity was a lot cheaper than skydiving, as long as you don’t count laundry expenses.

But money is no object when it comes to having fun, judging by sports such as snow skiing. People will shell out some big bucks for the priviledge of sliding down frozen mountain trials with snot freezing on their upper lips, not that they can feel it, since their faces are frozen anyway. When you consider that Americans generally spend their vacations either on a hot beach or a cold mountain, it seems that what they’re after may not necessarily be the scenery or the activities, but an escape from tolerable temperatures.

Actually, I enjoy snow skiing, myself, although the older I get, the less snow it takes to satisfy me. And the less skiing. Sitting in the lodge, now, I can handle a load of that. As long as there’s plenty of firewood and hot chocolate, a ski vacation is the berries.

But then I’ll hear about some stupid thing people do, for fun, at a ski resort, and I end up wanting to go do it, too. Which is what happened recently, when I got an email from Outdoor Hub that had a story in it about shovel racing.

As stupid, dangerous, unpleasant activities go, you’d have to set up and spur hard to find anything that fits the bill better than shovel racing. Not that it isn’t possible, but if you’re looking that hard, there’s probably something wrong with you. But then, there’s probably something wrong with anyone who would go shovel racing.

The whole thing started back during the 1970s, at Angel Fire ski resort, in the Land of Enchantment, which ought to tell you something. Ski lift operators and other resort employees started using their scoop shovels to travel downhill, which was a lot quicker than walking. They would sit on the shovel part, their feet pointing down slope, with the shovel handle between their legs, and just slide.

Before long they were having impromptu races down the mountain at the end of the day. Well, those that didn’t hit lift poles and distribute various body parts along the ski trails. Before long the management decided to make an actual competition of the game, and the annual Shovel Race was born.

People heard about it and started coming from all over to enter. They’d wax their bottoms to make them slide faster. Some of them would also wax the bottoms of their shovels, so they’d slide faster even BEFORE they fell off the scoops. And the sport grew.

About 1997 shovel racing was added to the lineup in the X Games, or maybe it was the Y or Z Games. It was some games, I’m pretty sure. But that only lasted two years, because they allowed highly modified shovels, which gave rise to highly modified humans. So many people got hurt they decided to scratch the scoops.

Angel Fire even quit the games about 2005, due to liability concerns (not humanitarian concerns, you’ll note), but the sport was brought back about 2009, with a ban on modifications. All a racer needs to compete is a pair of high-speed, low-drag long underwear, a shovel, and an idiot hat.

Prizes are passed out for best times in several divisions, ranging from age six to infinity. A special prize is awarded to those who show up with their first spouse.

Shovelers reach speeds of up to 70 mph, which is a lot faster than it sounds. The overall winner gets a one week vacation in Bakersfield, California. The second place winner gets a two week vacation in Bakersfield, California.

I have to admit, shovel racing sounds like a lot of fun. I would have entered this year, myself, but my helmet is still at the cleaners after that trip to Zero Gravity . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who always carries a clean shovel, in case he’s in an accident. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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