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silo kalnas
At Šilo Kalnas with Miroslavas Urbonavičius, the "bugelis" in the background.

Šilo Kalnas

I’ve never seen anything like it: A couple of dozen cars parked alongside the road, a small building housing the generator for the “lift,” police tape marking the “finish,” and through a group of people, I could see the last gates of the course. It was the narrowest slalom hill I’ve ever seen.

Well forget slalom hill, it was like a couloir coming through the trees. Every turn was banked; it was like skiing through one of those obstacle courses for kids where they use the shape of the slope to help them learn parallel turns.

There it was: my first slalom race in Lithuania. It was to commemorate the recent death of a young man, Rolandas Sėliukas, who hit a tree and died on that hill. And frankly, it was no wonder! Standing in the start, I was terrified I would hit a tree. The third gate was right in-between two trees no more than four meters apart.

But, they had the timing equipment that I acquired from CU-Boulder ski team coach Richard Rokos all set up, finish banners, and don’t forget the police tape! There were timekeepers, an announcer, and everything. We even had bibs, brand new ones that had been ordered especially large because most people wear them over their jackets instead of over GS suits. While waiting for the second run, the wives got out sandwiches, tea and of course, Starka! I was a second faster on my second run; I think it was thanks to the shot of Starka the President of the Ski Federation gave me.

In the end, I was second to Anžela Aleksandravičienė, a former member of the Ukraine National Team and a Lithuanian by marriage. I have to learn to ski old school. It’s apparently faster when you’re skiing slalom through a forest.

The ski “lift”—I am not even sure what to say about that! There is a cable going through the trees that you have to have a piece of wood attached to a rope, attached to a hook to ride. They call it a “bugelis.” You stand next to the cable, put the wood between your legs, hold the rope tight in one hand, and with the other, grab the cable with the hook, and away you go!

I was SO scared the whole way up. I thought for sure I would never make it, but somehow I did. It’s one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever seen on a ski slope. I felt like it was 1948. Apparently, there are plans to expand this hill. It’s fairly high, fairly steep, not bad really—if you cut down some trees. Investors wanted!

In the end, I think it was also one of the most fun races I’ve ever been to. There was definitely a time or two during the day that I looked around at all the people enjoying themselves on skis, the smell of the wet wood and the snow in my nose, and I thought, I love this.

Next weekend we go to Ignalina, where I have been promised there is a real lift and more than one narrow, scary run! Anžela won’t be there but my old rival, Diana, will be. Tomorrow I’m tuning my skis!

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