VAIL — With head-to-head competition, high-speed crashes and copious amounts of Korbel, Thursday’s ski races had it all.
And in a field stacked full of ski racing’s greatest names from generations past, the American Ski Classic’s annual Legends GS race lived up to its name once again this year, proving why those big names keep coming back year after year.
“It’s the best event of the season,” said Franz Klammer, the Olympic gold medalist from ’76 who never misses an appearance at the Ski Classic. “Seeing all the old guys again is why I always return.”
While Klammer didn’t advance past the first round in Thursday’s race, some of the old guys he enjoys seeing went deep in the tournament-style race. Featuring skiers racing head-to-head out of barge gates, the dual format of the race creates a bracket-style competition, exciting for both spectators and racers alike.
“It’s definitely good competition,” said Thursday’s winner from the men’s side, four-time Olympian Casey Puckett. “Racing against all these great skiers, these legends of the sport, you just gotta ski as hard as you can.”
With the racers attacking the course simultaneously, an element of danger is omnipresent, and that was exemplified Thursday as ’84 Olympic silver-medalist Steve Mahre and Swedish racer Patrik Jaerbyn collided upon crossing the finish line in their race for third place. Slow to get up, both men walked away OK, with Mahre taking the win.
“I wasn’t as good as my crash from the 2010 Olympics,” Jaerbyn said with a smile afterward.
At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Jaerbyn crashed in spectacular fashion. But the Swedish racer who now lives in Edwards is probably best remembered as the oldest person ever to podium in the World Cup, taking third at a super-G in December of 2008, just a few months shy of his 40th birthday.
Last year’s winner, Kilian Albrecht, went on to knock Mahre out of Thursday’s competition en route to finishing second to Mahre’s third. Mahre was racing with no hat, a trademark he became known for in his career.
“It’s aerodynamic,” Mahre said of his bald head, with a laugh. “All my hair follicles must’ve froze during my racing days.”
These days, Albrecht’s connection to the Vail Valley runs much deeper than his appearances at the American Ski Classic. Now a manager for Eagle-Vail native and 2014 Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, Albrecht says even a veteran like him can learn something from young Shiffrin’s skills both on the slopes, and off.
“Everybody was expecting gold of her, silver would not have been good enough,” he said of the 19-year-old Shiffrin. “It was really interesting to see her live up to the expectations.”
‘HAVEN’T RACED THIS HARD IN YEARS’
On the women’s side, Swedish Olympians Ylva Nowen and Martina Fortkord dueled it out for first, with Nowen coming out on top.
Annamarie Moser-Proll, after spending the afternoon freeskiing with Warren Miller film star Chris Anthony, competed in the legends race for the first time on Thursday. Moser-Proll is the winningest female ski racer of all time, with 62 individual World Cup victories during her career.
“It was very funny for me, I haven’t raced this hard in many years,” the Austrian legend said through the aid of a translator.
Moser-Proll will be inducted into the International Ski Hall of Fame from Vail on Saturday.
‘Honored To Be Here’
“It’s a very fun event; I’m honored to be here,” she said.
Fans Michael and Susan Humphreys, along with their granddaughter Daysha McClendon and friend Cindy Mable, said the event is one of their favorite to attend as spectators.
“I remember watching it in 1984,” Susan Humphreys said. “It was great fun then, and it still is today.”
Head-to-head ski racing action continues today and Saturday with the Korbel Ford Cup, beginning at 9:30 a.m. both days at Golden Peak.