Among the stars at the American Ski ClassicSheika Gramshammer, right, takes an interest in the 2005 Ski Classic. |

Among the stars at the American Ski ClassicSheika Gramshammer, right, takes an interest in the 2005 Ski Classic.

Special to the DailySheika Gramshammer, right, takes an interest in the 2005 Ski Classic.

The Countrywide American Ski Classic returns to Vail Mountain for its 24th consecutive year. Running Wednesday through Sunday, the event brings celebrities, politicians, business folks and bona fide ski racers to the slopes for the annual spring celebration. The Ski Classic will once again feature on-hill competitions including the Legends Giant Slalom and Downhill, the Ford Cup celebrity team racing and the Future Legends Race.

“I think we’ve got a lot of people from different walks of life,” said Vice President of Communications for the Vail Valley Foundation John Dakin. Some of those expected to be running the gates and walking along Bridge Street are NASCAR legend Bill Elliott and Robert Kennedy Jr.

The Ski Classic, sponsored by Countrywide Financial Corporation, doesn’t stop at the slopes, although it’s centered there. This year’s event features music by the Gin Blossoms, a Gorsuch Tea Party at the Vail Lodge and the closing Legends of Skiing Banquet.

The Gin Blossoms, who hit critical and popular acclaim in the ’90s with their country-rock sound and hits like “Hey Jealousy,” will headline the Bud Light Street Beat concert at Golden Peak. Their performance will be in conjunction with the Pioneer Legends Giant Slalom Finals.

As per tradition, there will also be plenty of fund-raising opportunities, anchored with the Mountains of Hope benefit dinner on Saturday to benefit the Vail Valley Foundation. The Vail Valley Foundation’s educational initiative, Destination Discovery, gets kicked off this year through the Ski Classic. The initiative helps pre-kindergarten students get a head start by exposing them to the valley in which they live.

In conjunction with the Eagle County School District, the Vail Valley Foundation will be raising the initial start-up money at the Mountains of Hope dinner at the Marriott in Lionshead. The dinner will also honor German 1976 triple Olympic medal winner Rosi Mittermaier.

An international assortment of names and faces is the norm each year at what Dakin calls “a skiing rite of spring for the valley.” He sees the Ski Classic as a yearly chance to spread the word about Vail’s slopes and nightlife to those who may never have been here.

“It brings a good deal of exposure to the valley both with the TV aspect and bringing in new people to the valley that potentially don’t know what it’s all about,” Dakin said.

Just as the Ski Classic exposes visitors to all Vail has to offer, the event gives locals and tourists a chance to see and meet high-profile figures.

For Eagle-Vail resident Austin Richardson, an avid tennis player who will never be found with ski boots or poles in hand, the American Ski Classic offers more than watching gates. In 2005, he interrupted a conversation between a man he didn’t recognize and John McEnroe. Richardson said, “Meeting McEnroe was definitely a highlight.”

Vail Colorado

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