This article was originally published in the Aspen Times.
For many ski clubs around the country, January marks the official start of the on-snow season. Mother Nature rules the roost in late November and early December, delivering early snow and cold temperatures in some years and making teams wait in others. Vacation crowds dictate training space through the holiday season — as the volume of people on the hill increases, space is a precious resource that’s not given to a ski club. This means that some clubs are forced to travel across the country, even internationally, to get necessary training days before competition season is in full swing. This can be a huge, often last-minute burden financially, academically and logistically for athletes and their families.
In Aspen, that’s not the case. Aspen Skiing Co. is dedicated to providing outstanding early season training to our athletes right here at home. This removes barriers to participation — if athletes don’t have to pay to travel in early season or take time off school to do so, more can position themselves for a great season. Many of you likely are aware that Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club maintains a training venue at Aspen Highlands — the Stapleton Training Center. This fall, we were faced with some tough decisions regarding opening the training center due to the lack of natural snow, the high temperatures in November and the resources that it would require for us to get things up and running. Aspen Skiing Co. wouldn’t hear of us delaying our start, and worked around the clock to get the venue not just open, but in incredible shape. Without having to leave home, our athletes have been training for well over a month on some of the best snow in the country, and it wouldn’t have happened without the commitment and support of Aspen Skiing Co.
Switching gears, this past weekend AVSC hosted the Audi Ajax Cup, our biggest fundraiser, on Little Nell. The event is a dual GS team race, with 16 teams competing for the Gorsuch Cup. Each team is paired with a pro racer — this year, in addition to event co-chairs Casey Puckett and Chris Davenport, we had an incredible roster including Daron Rahlves, AJ Kitt, AVSC alumni Katie Ryan, Alice McKennis, Jake Zamansky and more. The finish came right down into Gondola Plaza, where our supporters and racers enjoyed food from Shlomo’s and The Little Nell. On one of the busiest days of the year, the stairway up to the gondola donned the Audi Ajax Cup logo and our 80th anniversary balloons flew proudly. AVSC U10 athlete Jasper McBride raced against seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. Erik Schlopy and Casey Puckett duked it out in a grudge match (maybe next time, Casey!). Kristina Koznick edged out Sarah Schleper’s Coldwell Banker Mason Morse team to bring home the win for the Hildebrand’s team,“Kick Some Wax,” composed entirely of young athletes.
The Audi Ajax Cup is paramount to our ability to provide $1 million of scholarships and subsidies to young athletes in the Roaring Fork Valley each year. The fact that we’re able to host this event on Aspen Mountain on one of the busiest days of the year is a blessing. The energy on Little Nell was electric — the pros were fired up about providing access to youth sports programs, something that has brought so much to their lives, and for many of them, their children’s lives. AJ Kitt took his kids up to Ruthie’s to show them where he won America’s Downhill, and later at Shlomo’s showed them the famed Roch Cup. All were excited to spend time together, reflect on the community that ski racing has provided, and pay it forward to the next generation.
Aspen Skiing Co.’s dedication to giving AVSC opportunities to bring more kids into the winter sports world, and improve the experience of those already in it, is inspiring. We’re incredibly fortunate to have a partner that is as committed as Skico. As we turn the calendar to a new year, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club is excited to continue this partnership. We’re thrilled to celebrate Aspen’s legacy in ski racing during World Cup Final in March, where our athletes, coaches and community will work with Skico to make it an extraordinary event. Hopefully a few of our alumni will have a chance to compete in front of their hometown crowd. We hope to see you all there, and in the meantime, enjoy a healthy and happy start to the new year.