For The Record

Dispatches, February 1998

For The Record
Todd Balf and Paul Kvinta

Are You Sure This Is a Good Idea?

Skiers aren't the only ones banking on El Ni˜o this winter. For surfers, buoyed by last November's announcement of the K2 Big Wave Challenge — a five-month contest that will award $50,000 to the person who rides the biggest break — roiling Pacific surf is in high demand. Bruising undertow aside, however, the contest's real challenge is one of logistics: Not only must contenders use traditional paddle-out methods, but they also must have someone photograph the entire undertaking. The one consolation? Judging by the 35-foot surf that pummeled northern California's famed Mavericks break (above) earlier this winter, it seems there'll be no shortage of monstrous waves — which for some is a not-altogether-reassuring thought. "The money and hype mean that anybody who wants to be somebody is going to get involved," warns big-wave veteran Brian Keaulana, who, with some friends, submitted a bogus application to see if officials bothered with a background check (they didn't). "It just seems like we're asking for somebody to die."

How Green Is Thy Asphalt?

The Sierra Club is planning a showdown with the city of Colorado Springs this month, but its troops won't be chaining themselves to cement mixers. Au contraire, club activists are instead pursuing what at first glance appears to be a decidedly brown goal: paving 14,110-foot Pikes Peak from base to summit. Environmentalists say that more than 100,000 tons of dirt and gravel have run off the washboard, 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway since 1980, filling trout streams with slurry and burying trees in eight feet of debris — and the most logical remedy is paving. "There's no irony here," insists John Stansfield, conservation chair of the club's local chapter, who filed a "Notice of Intent to Sue" last November in hopes of expediting a solution. "That gravel road is a choking, smothering illness." City officials, meanwhile, are balking at the $15 million price tag — a stance that some at the Sierra Club claim was devised to protect the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the country's oldest "off-road" auto race. "That's not what this is about," declares city attorney John Fredell. "And frankly, the money we'll be forced to spend on litigation could instead go into erosion control."

Loaded for Bear

"My guests were awoken by gunshots at 6 a.m.," recounts Philip Henard, a chalet proprietor in the Smoky Mountains resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. "They saw a dead bear sprawled out in the driveway." Although the state has long permitted urban hunting during black bear season (one week in October, followed by two in early December), backyard gore-fests were quite uncommon until last fall, when ravenous Yogis left the acorn-lean Smokies for the scrap-laden Dumpsters of Gatlinburg. Mayhem ensued: Hunters trampled vegetable gardens and baited garbage bins with cinnamon buns, killing a record 244 bears in the first week alone and prompting distraught property owners and animal-rights advocates to petition, albeit unsuccessfully, for a halt to the second hunt. Spurred by December's defeat, activists this month are urging state legislators to prohibit the discharging of firearms within city limits — a move that may well garner the support of pro-hunting officials at the Tennessee Wildlife and Resources Agency. Concedes spokesman Greg Wathen: "Bear hunters seem not to be behaving in an appropriate manner."

You Again?

"When I walk through a city and see skyscrapers," confesses "Spider Dan" Goodwin, "the only thing I can think about is climbing them." Which explains, to a point, why Goodwin was plastered to a seventh-floor window of the World Trade Center's South Tower last November. Goodwin, you may recall, made headlines in the early eighties by swathing himself in Spider Man garb and scaling the world's tallest buildings, most notably Chicago's Sears Tower in 1981 and the 110-story North Tower of the World Trade Center two years later. Now looking to emerge from his self-imposed media exile — and perhaps taunted by the coverage his archrival George "the Human Fly" Willig recently received in these pages (see "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot," Out Front, October) — the 42-year-old Goodwin once again suction-cupped himself to the New York landmark in pre-dawn darkness, only to be intercepted by terrorist-fearing police just 50 feet off the ground. Still, criminal trespassing and reckless endangerment charges aside, Spider Dan considers his comeback anything but a failure. "A marketing company wants to put together a ten-city, ten-building tour," he boasts. "I plan to take skyscraper climbing to a whole new level."

Well, Since You're a First Offender...

Two sets of muffled shrieks can be heard at Colorado's Loveland Ski Area these days: those of lawbreaking skiers and of the resort's understandably terrified lawyers. It seems that Loveland's unorthodox approach to teaching avalanche safety has of late become the source of internal liability concerns — and for good reason. Introduced last season, the program gives boundary-violating schussers nabbed by Loveland's ski patrol two choices: You can answer to the sheriff or volunteer to be buried alive in snow and then "rescued" by a slobbering chow mix. "We put them in a totally black hole," says Loveland spokesman Rick Orwig, explaining that these "victims" are buried in a four-foot-deep pit for up to 20 minutes. "They come out with a completely different perspective." Even so, the argument that this punishment-as-personal-growth approach benefits both patrollers-in-training and offending skiers has done little to appease nervous attorneys. "When you involve paying guests in a program like that,"muses Judy Over, education director for the National Ski Patrol, "well, I'd certainly want all my i's dotted and my t's crossed."

End of an Era

After declaring that she "can't fight this thing" anymore, an emotional Juli Furtado announced last November what — in retrospect — seems to have been a long time coming: her retirement from professional mountain biking. The "thing" to which she was referring, sadly, is lupus, an incurable immune disorder that doctors didn't diagnose until last summer, but that had been wreaking havoc upon the three-time World Cup champion — by way of night sweats, painful skin rashes, and paralyzing fatigue — since 1995. "Initially I was so focused on the Olympics that I refused to believe anything was wrong with me," recalls Furtado, 30, who finished a disappointing tenth at Atlanta's cross-country event and then sat out most of the 1997 season. "I've always prided myself on my consistency, but with this there's no predicting what will happen."

Illustration by Ward Sutton

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