2005 Countrywide American Ski Classic starts Wednesday, March 16 | VailDaily.com
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2005 Countrywide American Ski Classic starts Wednesday, March 16

Daily Staff Report
Daily file photoFormer President Gerald Ford, center, serves as the host of the 2005 American Ski Classic.
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VAIL ” Ski racers and wannabes from all walks of life will crank down the bindings and turn up the competitive intensity meter today through Sunday as the 2005 Countrywide American Ski Classic descends on Vail Mountain’s Golden Peak for five days of thrills, chills and spills.

America’s original celebrity pro-am ski event, the American Ski Classic will celebrate its 23rd anniversary in 2005 with on-hill competitions including Legends Giant Slalom and Downhill, Ford Cup celebrity team racing and the Future Legends Race.

There are festivities off the race course with the weekly Budweiser Street Beat free concert, Legends of Skiing Banquet and the Mountains of Hope benefit dinner and auction.

“The Countrywide American Ski Classic is a true celebration of the sport of skiing,” said Vail Valley Foundation President Ceil Folz. “You have some of the greatest names in ski racing history reunited for the Legends competitions, while celebrities from stage, screen, television and corporate America continually prove in the Ford Cup that their collective decision not to give up their day jobs was a good one. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, which is the true essence of skiing.”

Hosted by former President Gerald Ford, the 2005 edition of the American Ski Classic will kick off on today with the Legends Giant Slalom, a head-to-head competition that will culminate under the lights at Golden Peak.

The Budweiser Street Beat free performance, featuring rock legends Little Feat, along with the entire venue will be moved for the evening from Vail Village to the American Ski Classic Finish Stadium at Golden Peak, with the band providing live musical accompaniment for the racing.

“In the past,” said Foundation Vice President of Operations and Sales Terry Brady. “We’ve tried to incorporate the Countrywide American Ski Classic and Budweiser Street Beat by having some of our legends help with the raffles during the performance. This year, we’re literally taking Budweiser Street Beat to the Legends for one gigantic party.”

The legends will need to rein in their party instincts to a certain extent as Thursday will be highlighted by the Legends Downhill competition, a two-run race featuring some of the most decorated speed merchants of all time.

Once the Legends Downhill action has concluded on Thursday, the focus will shift from the fastest time on the race course to the amount of money raised for charity as the Mountains of Hope benefit gala and auction ushers in the Ford Cup races, which will also be a fund-raising source for the four charities: Rebuilding Together, Waterkeeper Alliance, Hole in the Wall Camps and the Vail Valley Foundation.

“While everyone thinks of the Countrywide American Ski Classic as a fun event,” said Brady. “It also has a very important and serious side in terms of helping to raise money for some very deserving charities. We are incredibly fortunate, not only to be able to live and play in the Vail Valley, but to also be generally healthy. Not everyone is as blessed as we are and it’s important that the Countrywide American Ski Classic give back to those that don’t have these same opportunities.”

The Legends will move into the role of team captains for the final two days of the Countrywide American Ski Classic as the Ford Cup celebrity team competition takes center stage at Golden Peak on Friday and Saturday. The five-member teams will attempt to work their way through a maze of head-to-head competition over the course of the two days, emerging with not only the team title, but additional money raised for their designated charity and a year’s worth of bragging rights to boot.

“It’s amazing how the competitive juices start to flow once the Ford Cup starts,” Folz said with a laugh. “People that would normally be pretty reserved all of a sudden adopt a good-natured ‘win at all costs’ mentality on the course. When all is said and done, everyone really has a good time, no matter what the outcome of the final results.”

Although there are no final results for Friday’s Future Legends Race, the ultimate outcome is much the same as the children of legends, celebrities, participants and sponsors have the chance to race on the same course as their parents.

A special ceremony will round out the Countrywide American Ski Classic social festivities as one of the most prolific downhillers in history will be honored Saturday evening as Switzerland’s Bernhard Russi is inducted into the International Ski Hall of Fame at the Legends Banquet.

The Olympic downhill gold medalist in Sapporo, Japan in 1972, Russi also mined downhill gold at the 1970 World Championships in Val Gardena, Italy, while collecting the silver medal in downhill at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. During the course of his World Cup tenure, the Swiss star also recorded a total of 10individual wins en route to the 1971 and 1972 World Cup downhill titles.

Continuing to give back to the sport, Russi currently serves as the downhill technical expert for the International Ski Federation and has assisted in designing and building downhill courses around the world, including Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey.

“This will be a very special evening for all of us,” said VVF Director of Operations Katrina Ammer. “Because Bernhard is a true friend of the Vail Valley. Many of us at the Foundation and Vail Resorts have had the pleasure of working closely with him over the years and he is very much deserving of this great honor.”

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