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March 22, 2013
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Snow doesn't slow American Ski Classic

Snow on the course wasn't nearly as much of a concern as snowflakes in the champagne glasses at the American Ski Classic on Thursday.

While the sporting aspect of the annual celebration of ski racing began with amateur competition on Wednesday, a more marquee feature of the event -- drinking bubbly and socializing with celebrities and ski legends - kicked off on Thursday with the welcome party and Volvo Legends Giant Slalom (GS).

"Probably my favorite aspect of the American Ski Classic is getting together all the ex-Olympians and guys who used to compete against each other on the World Cup, such great camaraderie," said Scott Henderson, a former Olympian from Canada who has been coming to the American Ski Classic since the '80s.

"Another thing I always look forward to is meeting all the new legends, and all the people who come out to support it every year," he said.

In the finish coral area, champagne flows like water, and the announcers are often hard to hear over the many conversations happening simultaneously.

But that's not to say the crowds aren't interested in the action.

The format of the races -- in which two skiers compete against each other at the same time in an elimination format -- is among the most exciting in the sport for spectators, says former racer Sarah Schleper.

Schleper, a four-time Olympian, competed last year, but is sidelined this year and watched Thursday's Legends GS from the sidelines.

"I love the head-to-head format," she said. "One of the best ways to watch a race."

Olympic silver-medalist Billy Kidd said the great thing about the American Ski Classic is it's a blast for the casual ski racing observer, the hardcore fan, and the absolute novice.

"You learn who these people are with some great stories and anecdotes along the way," Kidd said on Thursday. "People have heard the names, but here they are in person, come see how they ski and talk with them."

By the end of Thursday's action, blizzard-conditions were making it more difficult by the minute for spectators to see how those Legends ski, but not many seemed to mind.

"I wish it would snow more," longtime local and former ski racer Pepi Gramshammer said, watching from inside the VIP tent.

Olympic gold medalist Anja Paerson skied away with the win on the women's side. Former World Cup podium finisher Killian Albrecht, competing against last year's winner Patrik Jaerbyn, won for the men.

Perhaps the most exciting race of the day came from the contest for men's bronze, where it came down to a photo finish between Olympic silver medalist Steve Mahre and bronze medalist Andi Schifferer, with only .06 seconds separating the pair.

But while the former Olympians and World Cup athletes are competitive out there, the real fun comes on Friday and Saturday, says former Italian ski team member Marco Tonazzi.

"The intensity of the amateurs is incredible," said Tonazzi. "It's my favorite part of the Ski Classic."

Billed every year as "North America's Original Pro-Am Ski Event," the Korbel Ford Cup takes place today and tomorrow and pairs one ski "Legend" from Thursday's Legends GS, one "celebrity" including former Olympians who aren't skiers (as well as television and movie stars), and three other racers.

Tonazzi's team will feature himself as the Legend, former U.S. Track and Field Team member (and sister of Carl Lewis) Carol Lewis as the celebrity, and racers John Martin, Jim Likin, and Fred Tresca.

"It doesn't matter where you are, it doesn't matter that it's only 10 or 15 seconds, it's the Olympics for these guys," says Tonazzi. "Everybody is really competitive and wants to do anything they can to win."


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 22, 2013 12:17AM Published Mar 22, 2013 12:13AM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.