On track for the main event | AspenTimes.com

On track for the main event

John ColsonAspen Times staff writer

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoEL JEBEL Noel Crawford of El Jebel is reticent to say much about the fact that for the past four years he has turned over one of his family’s fields to a brace of roaring snowmobiles for a couple of days of noisy practice.Crawford, whose family founded the El Jebel community decades ago, provides a practice track each year for the Blair Morgan Team, based in Canada, to get ready for the Winter X Games. He’s been doing so since 2003, the second year the event took place in Aspen.Given that it must cost a fair amount to create and maintain the track using farm equipment and a borrowed snowcat, Crawford gave a quizzical glance at a reporter’s question why he does it and asked in return, “How much revenue does the X Games bring to this valley?”He would say no more on the subject, other than to declare he has “no idea” how much it costs him to shape the track and to confirm that he does not charge the team for its use. But instead of chatting about his role, he urged the reporter to talk with the men piloting the machines around the track.Crawford got involved when the Blair Morgan team talked with a friend of Crawford’s, valley resident Dave Mikulyuk, whose son, Shawn, raced on the amateur snowmobile circuit for the past four years.The Mikulyuks met Morgan and his team at events around North America, Dave Mikulyuk said, “And they gave us a lot of help” preparing for the races.So, when the Morgans asked Mikulyuk if he knew any place they could prepare and test their machines on snow near Aspen, Mikulyuk thought of Crawford.

The track, roughly 300 feet by 200 feet, is in a meadow behind the Basalt and Regional Fire Department’s El Jebel station. With jumps, banked turns and a straightaway, it is what Morgan called a “miniaturized” version of the real track at the base of Buttermilk.

Another group of racers, the Warnert team, is practicing at a similar track in a field at Aspen Valley Ranch in Woody Creek, according to ranch caretaker Chad McIntyre. This is the first time the ranch has made the track available to the team, McIntyre said.

Morgan said the main value of the track is to tune the high-performance Ski-Doo snowmobiles to operate as efficiently and as powerfully as they can at this elevation.”You lose a lot of power” up higher, said Morgan team member Jamie Anseeuw, estimating that the machines lose perhaps 28 percent of their horsepower at the Aspen track. The tuning runs, the two men said, are vital to making sure the machines are running at peak efficiency.

So Crawford’s offer of the practice track, Morgan said, is “awesome. We’d be totally lost without something like this.”Morgan, at 30 among the oldest competitors in the sport, won his fifth Winter X Games gold medal last year, putting him one away from the six-medal records of Shawn Palmer and Shaun White.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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