Ajax Cup brings together generations of skiers as Gile outduels Maple in final | AspenTimes.com

Ajax Cup brings together generations of skiers as Gile outduels Maple in final

Led by U.S. ski team member Bridger Gile, bottom right, team Aspen Supports Kids celebrates with the Gorsuch Cup after winning the Audi Ajax Cup on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, from the base of Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

A few days ago, the only skiing Cheyenne Brown had to focus on was her own as she pursued her World Cup dreams. Then she got a last-second invite to be one of the 16 professionals to compete in the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s annual Audi Ajax Cup, and suddenly she was coaching others while eyeing ski legends across the race course.

“I raced Bode Miller today, who has been an idol of mine since I was tiny, since I was a child. I’m standing in the starting gate and I look over and that’s Bode Miller, and I was like, ‘Ahh, man, I better ski fast. I better get on it,'” Brown said Friday during the Ajax Cup finals from the base of Aspen Mountain. “It’s so awesome to see all these amazing athletes — Daron Rahlves, Wiley Maple, Bode, Abby Ghent, Katie Ryan — they are amazing ski racers that had amazing ski racing careers. And they still shred. They are not out for the count. They come off the couch and they are ready to kick your butt.”

The Ajax Cup, a head-to-head, team-based giant slalom that has become AVSC’s largest fundraiser over its 13 years of existence, was expected to bring in more than $1 million — an event record — for the club this winter, according to longtime club supporter and former Ajax Cup organizer Chris Davenport, who called the action from the base of Aspen Mountain on Friday.

The 16 teams, each led by a skiing pro, battled it out throughout the day on The Little Nell run at the base of the mountain. The final came down to “Aspen Supports Kids,” led by Bridger Gile, and team “Indy” with 2018 Olympian Wiley Maple as its pro. Gile, who like Maple is an Aspen native, proved to have the best team in the end with Aspen Supports Kids rolling to the victory to claim the coveted Gorsuch Cup.

As was the case with Brown, Gile was a last-second roster addition to the Ajax Cup and a first-time participant.

“Coming into this there was no plan of winning, really. I was just going to see what happened and we just kept winning and kept winning and we won,” Gile said. “Two guys that are currently racing on the World Cup or have been in the most recent years … racing against each other in the final is probably the most exciting it could have been. Trying to beat a legend like him on Aspen Mountain is not easy, so I guess I’m pretty happy.”

For the 32-year-old Maple, who still seems to have some ski racing left in the tank, it was an impressive run to the finals with his team, but it still left him short of the elusive Ajax Cup glory.

U.S. ski team member and Aspen local Bridger Gile celebrates after winning the Audi Ajax Cup with his team Aspen Supports Kids on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, from the base of Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“It was definitely the furthest I think I’ve ever been in the event, so that was nice,” Maple said. “I was skiing well, I thought. I think that was my best winning record. It sucks to be that close, but that’s (life as) a ski racer.”

Gile, a current member of the U.S. ski team, and Maple, a former member, had to navigate through an impressive list of pros to reach the final. On top of Miller, whose 33 World Cup wins are the most all-time among American men, there was U.S. downhill legend Daron Rahlves, Chad Fleischer, Jake Fiala and Canadian standout Dustin Cook.

This to go with a long list of local talent, like Olympic halfpipe skiers Alex Ferreira and Hanna Faulhaber, and five-time Olympian and current AVSC coach Casey Puckett. Local products Elle Murphy, Katie Ryan, Galena Wardle and Tristan Lane helped round out a lineup that included Vail’s Abby Ghent, who came in as the defending Ajax Cup champion.

The Aspen Supports Kids roster this year included Chad Oppenheim, Ted Freedman, Avery Freedman, Hendrix Oppenheim and Jasper McBride, with Gile.

“It was so fun. It was so cool to see everyone that is super into ski racing,” Gile said. “My teammates, watching them, they don’t really ski race. They did when they were little, but haven’t in a while, and they were crushing it, absolutely making great turns. And that was cool to see. I think one of them wants to get into the race program again, which is what this is all about, spreading the love of ski racing.”

Gile, 23, plans to return to Europe next week for Europa Cup races, with the ultimate goal of returning to the World Cup.

Then there is Brown, also 23, who grew up in the Tahoe region of California and spent three years racing collegiately at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs before joining AVSC’s post-graduate program this winter. She gets to work with Puckett and Alpine program director Johno McBride, a former U.S. ski team coach who also worked with Miller back in the day.

Brown, who prefers to race in speed events, took third in the women’s downhill at U.S. nationals on Dec. 7 at Copper Mountain, a Nor-Am race won by Olympian Tricia Mangan. That strong result has Brown in position to compete for a Nor-Am title this winter, which will open doors for World Cup starts and a possible spot on the U.S. national team.

Before that, however, she was ecstatic about getting to race with her team, “Papa and the Padawans,” during Ajax Cup.

“They were so fun,” Brown said of her team. “They are asking questions, they want to get better, they are always asking for advice. We went and skied some powder (Thursday) and they were like, ‘Let’s ski some more.’ It was really fun to be around people that wanted to ski and wanted to learn.”