These were not ordinary blokes, even by Mammoth standards.
For one thing, they were military. For another, they were British. But most of all, those fast-fast-fast skiers at Mammoth Mountain on Monday, Jan. 14, dressed themselves in head-to-toe, bright, pink jumpsuits.
“We got an awful lot of attention,” said Flight Lt. Alex Drysdale, a Scottish ski instructor and the leader of a four-man team of Royal Air Force airmen based at Creech Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas.
“I think we put a smile on every chairlift operator’s face.”
It wasn’t just in Mammoth that smiles abounded.
To challenge themselves this winter, the members of the small, 39th Squadron set their goal to ski the vertical height of Mt. Everest (29,035 feet) on three consecutive days in three states—Nevada, Utah, and California.
The team completed its goal with the California leg in Mammoth on Monday, having spent the two previous days lapping run after run in sub-zero temperatures at Mt. Charleston Ski Resort outside of Vegas and at Brian Head in Utah.
In addition to just skiing for the fun of it, they raised money for Breast Cancer Research, learning earlier this winter that one of the squadron member’s wife has what Drysdale called “a very aggressive form” of breast cancer.
“Plus,” said Drysdale, “this has given us an opportunity for an adventure.”
What may have started out as a fun idea last summer, when Drysdale hatched the idea, did not turn out to be altogether amusing. Rather, the squadron members had a battle on their hands against the elements.
Mostly that was because of the bone-chilling cold snap that moved into the western U.S. and California this past week, pushing temperatures to well below zero.
“It was very, very difficult,” he said, “and at the end of one day, one of our team came down with early-stage hypothermia, it was that cold.”
The team didn’t exactly account for the slow lifts and short runs at both Charleston and Brian Head, either.
“At both Charleston and Brian Head, we were the first ones on the lifts and the last ones off,” Drysdale said. “It was just up-and-down, up-and down: seven minutes up a lift and eight minutes to ski down, over and over.
“The hardest part was mental, because we had to ride the same lift and ski the same run.”
At Charleston, it took the team six and a half hours to make their Everest goal, and they might not have made it at all had not the ski area allowed the lifts to run an extra half-hour.
For Drysdale, along with team members Lt. Ben Spoor, Lt. Steve Todd and Master Sergeant Mark Sant, there were neither breaks nor lunches along the way.
“We were quite dejected,” he said, “but the chairlift operators and the ski areas let us jump the queues, so that helped a bit.”
By the time the squadron reached Mammoth, Drysdale said the airmen wondered if they had the leg strength to take on California’s biggest, baddest ski mountain.
That’s when they got a welcome surprise.
Although Mammoth is at much higher altitude, it offers high-speed lifts and plenty of ski options. Immediately, he said, the members of the team latched onto Stump Alley and nearby mid-mountain runs, completing their one-day task in a half day of fast lap skiing.
It wasn’t just the ski part of it that gave the boys a lift, though.
In explaining their pink jump suits to the skiers and snowboarders on the hill, they were constantly reminded of why they were doing this at all.
“Here we are, 6,000 miles away from home,” he said, “while our team member’s wife was back home, waiting for the start of her chemotherapy.”
Pretty in pink? In the case of the 39th Squadron of the RAF, really not so much.
Donations to help pay for his mate’s wife’s ordeal, Drysdale said, may be placed at uk.virginmoney.com by visiting the squadron’s website, http://tinyurl.com/a67ugzs.