Ski season is upon us!
The 25th Christine Cato Memorial Ski Race at Timberline on Saturday was as lively as always, with the usual goofy costumes, high-speed wipe-outs and good-natured cheers. But the event also conveyed a bittersweet feeling, because it marked the last running of one of the most popular high school ski races in the country.
The Cato Memorial grew out of the tragic death of 16-year-old Christine Cato on Mount Hood in 1989. With major help from Cato family and friends and Timberline employees, it evolved over a quarter century into a great Mount Hood tradition for the Oregon racing community. About 8,000 young racers ran the gates over 25 years of Cato races.
Conditions for the final running of the Cato race on January 3, 2015 were excellent, with good visibility and plenty of snow for setting a slalom course. Make that four courses, actually: one for J.V. girls and boys, one for varsity girls and one for varsity boys - plus a short course for the 50 or so alumni racers who returned to the ruts for one final Cato hurrah.
41-year-old Portland home remodeler and Cato alumnus Alan Siler heard about the final race at the last minute through Facebook, and immediately decided to pack up his skis and his orange polka-dot race suit to drive up and join the festivities. "I ran the course 4 times," he said. "We were running it and hiking back to the top to run it again. It was a blast. I felt like a little kid again."
Siler competed in the first Cato race in 1991 and went on the ski for the University of Oregon and to serve as an assistant racing coach for Glencoe High. "I always loved the Cato," he said. "It was always the funnest race of the year."
With four courses set up, all of them accessible from Timberline's Pucci lift, the action moved quickly, and so did the 380-plus racers counting alumni. Here is Lucy McLean of Hood River Valley High School, racing to first place for the second year in a row:
And here is William Lamer, also of Hood River, shredding his way to third place:
Once the racing was finished the high schoolers fanned out to enjoy the mountain, then congregated at Timberline Lodge for the traditional turkey feast and awards ceremony. Here is a shot of their racing skis stacked up in front of the lodge:
Unfortunately, I wasn't quite quick enough with my camera to capture the perfect image from the awards ceremony — when Judy Cato and RLK President Jeff Kohnstamm embraced. That hug symbolized 25 years of good will between Timberline and the Cato family that could have gone in a very different direction. The Cato family opted to keep the matter out of the courts after Christine's tragic death in an accident involving a snowcat, and instead worked with the resort to turn something terrible into something lasting and good.
Longtime Cato race supporters like racing coach and videographer Robin Cressy are going to miss the event. "There will be a void next year on that first Saturday in January," said Cressy. "Mostly, I will miss all the people that were part of Cato."
Judy Cato told me before she took the podium that she was exhausted from all of the emotion leading up to the last race honoring her daughter's memory. But she kept her composure and got the festivities off to a nice start with kind words for Timberline events manager Ricky Hower, operations manager Logan Stewart, dedicated friends Davey and Laura Porter and many others who worked to keep the event going all these years.
Christine Cato's friends Barry Jackson, Erick Bjorge and Davey Porter took the podium next to present the Spirit Award. "This race has been an incredible healing for us all, and it has kept us together," said Porter.
Jackson, Bjorge and Porter presented the Spirit Award to the racers of Lakeridge High, with their impressive Kiss costumes.
After the Spirit Award came the team and individual awards.