ANGEL FIRE — With nothing but a metal grain shovel between his rear end and the frozen ground, 45-year-old John Strader of Albuquerque traveled faster Saturday than he could have legally driven on U.S. 64 to Angel Fire.
“Every time you touch or break formation, that’s going to slow you down,” said Strader, the grand champion in the 2013 Shovel Race Championships at Angel Fire Resort. He clocked the fastest overall time of 13:07 seconds and reached a top speed of 67.74 mph. “It’s all about aerodynamics,” he added.
During the annual event, participants sit on the scoop of a standard grain shovel, point the handle downhill and shoot down a gutter-shaped race course built into a ski run.
For Strader, the hardest part of the race was stopping.
“I flipped over, and I was digging my toes, my knees, my elbows and my hands, grabbing at the ice to not slam into the net at the end,” he said.
Participants in this year’s event had two chances to compete for the best time, though many of them faced blizzard conditions for their second run. Strader didn’t even try to beat the time he set before the storm rolled in.
“When there’s like three inches of new snow and 40 mile-an-hour winds, no one’s going to win and we’re all going to go slower,” he said. “We just walked out.”
Strader said he has participated in every Angel Fire shovel race held since 1981, and he was the grand champion of the 2001 event as well. When snow conditions were better, he said, his top speed was more than 70 mph.
Though 53-year-old Paul Van Gorp of Trophy Club, Texas, maintained a slower pace at this year’s event, his top speed last year was 64 mph.
“You get used to hearing how the snow passes under the shovel. It’s kind of like a real low rumble when you take off, and when you hit the speed it gets high-pitched and you can hear it whipping,” he said. “It’s kind of a rush.”
Angel Fire Resort handed out more than $1,000 in cash, gift cards, certificates and other prizes to the top three contestants in each category Saturday. The contest was divided into six categories for participants from age 6 to 45-plus.
The Shovel Race Championships have been held in Angel Fire since the 1970s, although the event was suspended from 2005 to 2009 because of liability concerns. According to Angel Fire Resort staff, the contest started when lift operators would ride their shovels down the mountain at the end of their shifts.
The races once included a modified class, but only production shovels were permitted in this year’s event. However, participants were allowed to wax the bottoms of their shovels Saturday.
The event has become somewhat of a spectacle, as participants often try to outdo each other not only on the race course but with costumes and decorated shovels. Angel Fire Resort offered a prize for the best costume this year.