BRECKENRIDGE - So much for "together forever." Or, for that matter, practice time.Rick "Pup" Ascher and Tom Riggins have seen plenty of each other as powder 8 enemies over the years, perennially competing for the top of symmetrical skiing's totem pole. Each has done so with a stalwart partner, Paul "Frosty" Krause for Ascher and Tom Truss for Riggins.Yet with their venerable right-hand men unable to compete, Ascher and Riggins went from foes to friends on Thursday, teaming up to win the 25th annual Colorado Powder 8 Championships at Breckenridge by a hair over comeback kids Dave Gelhaar and Jared Mazlish.The sun-drenched finals matchup was improbable: Thursday was the first time Ascher and Riggins had ever skied together, and it marked the return to powder 8 competition for Mazlish and Gelhaar after a decade removed.
Mazlish and Gelhaar upset defending champions Randy Veeneman and Jim Grotemeyer in the semis, and Riggins and Ascher took care of longtime contenders Mike and Todd Saemisch to set up the all-local showdown."Hopefully rivals will revel," Riggins said before the semifinals. They did, but just barely.The two teams' lines on Peak 7's Y Chute in the finals were as symmetrically similar as could be, leaving it anyone's guess as to who would win. (Winners weren't announced until the postevent party at Fatty's later that afternoon.)"It could go either way," the four competitors agreed at the finish, where they congratulated each other on a run well skied.
The judges almost concurred, but awarded the win to Ascher and Riggins in a rare majority decision. Powder 8 titles are almost always decided unanimously."Usually there's one team that's definitely more outstanding than the other, but this was really tough," head judge Dean Marts said, noting Thursday's final was the closest he's seen in his four years of judging.Mazlish and Gelhaar finished second despite their custom-made, surfboard-like skis, which Mazlish said was a "tremendous advantage." They designed the latest advancement in fat skis this year together, a 140-centimeter-underfoot monster labeled "Fat-ypus."On Thursday's heavy snow - "funky, punchy, a little weird here and there," said Liam Doran, who took eighth with his wife, Jess - the Fat-ypus skis helped Mazlish and Gelhaar remain steady at all times.
"They turn everything into nice, carvable powder," Mazlish said. He and Gelhaar also said they hope the promotional power of the Powder 8's will help their sales next season.As for the rest of the field, the Czech twin sisters team of Jitka Drizhalova and Lenka Erny finished fifth, missing out on the semifinals by half a point. The duo finished second among women at last year's world championships.All 19 teams took one run on their own to decide the semifinalists, who then competed head to head. The qualifying runs began from the summit of Peak 7, straddling the hiking route. After a crowd of about 60 cheered each team from below, the semifinals moved over to the Peak 7 bowl, which would have hosted the prelims as well if not for some hefty slides after Monday night's snowstorm.For a competition sitting in limbo right now - insurance issues and the need for a new organizer remain unresolved - Thursday's 25th annual event brought smiles to competitors and spectators alike, just as the 24 previous editions have.
Proof of the good-natured competition was most evident in the costumes worn by the skiers. From Jay Frazier and Freddy Santen donning all-Carhartt uniforms (the "Oil Rig Team" one onlooker dubbed them), to ski instructors Janet Manley and Wendy Yocca in their bright orange hunting suits ("We were hoping to blind the judges to the point of turning away," Yocca joked), color was everywhere, and not just in the visual form.Finish line: Krause, with whom Ascher has won four Breck Powder 8's, was in Florida this week ... Truss, Riggins' usual partner, lives in Utah and couldn't make it to Colorado. Still, Riggins and Truss will try to improve on their third-place finish at last year's world championships this weekend in Canada ... Ascher, who also organizes the event, said he had to turn away four teams due to a limited field size.Devon O'Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.