Conversations about the Talon Crew often begin like this:
Q: You’re working a ski race, starting daily at 6:00 am, standing for hours in the cold, shoveling snow, installing fence, and all the while skiing over the scariest, iciest ski slopes you’ve ever seen? Wow! They must pay you a lot!
A: No, they don’t pay us at all. We’re volunteers.
Q: But they fly you out for the races, right?
A: No, we buy our own plane tickets.
Q: But it’s Beaver Creek! They must put you up in really posh lodgings.
A: No, we pay for our own lodging.
Q: But you get a season pass, right?
A: No …. we are volunteers.
Q: Really, so why do you volunteer?
Every year we, along with hundreds of skiers, spend our vacation time and pay our own way to Beaver Creek in order to volunteer for the Birds of Prey ski races. We work on the toughest piste imaginable, a World Cup downhill racecourse. Collectively known as the Talon Crew, we build and maintain the racecourse.
The work is physical, brutal sometimes. But something deep in the human psyche craves this sort of challenge. For most of us, work usually means staring at a computer screen. We rarely toil with our hands, our backs, and our bodies.
If physical labor is rare, true communal labor is even rarer. Out on the hill, hundreds of members of the Talon Crew all focus on a single goal, building the course! Crewmembers shout and laugh, good-naturedly teasing each other. Many jobs require multiple workers, and we work intensely together. Nightly gatherings forge a deep community as we swap stories about our day’s adventures. The experience of communal work and shared food feels very ancient and very real. The mind easily measures progress when the body labors. Tired, we share a great feeling of accomplishment.
Working on the Talon Crew means more than earning a crew jacket identifying us as members of this special community. We love the sport; we support the athletes. We know that the athletes relish racing on this course because they thank us, in person. Some join us on the crew after they retire from the white circus.
Our love of skiing and a closeness with the racers means that the Talon Crew works harder, striving to make our racecourse surface better than any other on earth. The crew believes that the first racer, the 20th racer and the last racer should all have the same chance to win.
As we work to maintain that course surface during a race, we watch the battle of muscle, sinew and nerve unfold feet away. Each of us on the hill watches, cheers and hopes as a favorite racer speeds past us on the course. And when that special racer rockets past, blending raw aggression and grace, we hope. When that racer crosses the finish, we hold a collective breath. And then, a roar from the finish rolls up the racecourse like a wave, and we know. We know our boy’s won.
And that’s why we volunteer. It’s about being a part of something bigger than ourselves while celebrating the sport we love. We’re a community that’s one week long and a thousand friendships deep. We are the Talon Crew.