Out of time | AspenTimes.com

Out of time

The 24 Hours of Aspen, one of the most grueling endurance events in skiing, will take a rest this year.

The Aspen Skiing Co. announced yesterday that it was canceling the race this year because it couldn’t find a title sponsor.

“We basically put [the announcement] off until we ran into a dead end with every possibility in terms of a sponsor,” said John Rigney, Skico director of event marketing.

The announcement came after six months of looking in vain for a new title sponsor, after Audi stepped down from the event’s top marketing slot.

“We had no more warm leads, the race is just six weeks out, it was time to pull the plug,” Rigney said.

The decision means the race, which has always been used to raise money for local and national charities, will not be scheduled for the first time in 15 years. (Weather conditions have forced cancellations in the past.)

Rigney said there were no plans to fill mid-December with another major event. On Tuesday, the Skico released its winter event schedule without any plans for mid-December.

The 24 Hours of Aspen is the second race crossed off the Skico’s event calendar this year. The women’s World Cup races that in recent years have been held on Aspen Mountain over Thanksgiving weekend are also off this year’s event calendar.

Although Skico officials have said the women’s World Cup will return next season, that may now be in jeopardy too.

The Nov. 4 issue of Ski Racing Magazine reports the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association may cancel the 2004-05 women’s World Cup race in Aspen due to its own sponsorship problems.

With negotiations for the 24 Hours, Rigney said money was the primary deterrent. The Skico was seeking a $350,000 annual commitment – an amount that only represents a third to half the total cost of title sponsorship, once all the other marketing costs are added in.

Katie McBride-Puckett, one of the most committed and winningest competitors in the race’s history, thinks the change in race format last year also contributed to the cancellation.

For its first 14 years, the race involved two-person teams racing for the entire 24 hours. Also, there was no cash out for the winner. Last winter, the teams were replaced with solo racers, and a sizable cash prize was added.

“I think changing it to individual racers and giving prize money changed the dynamics,” McBride-Puckett said. “The cause wasn’t as important. And it wasn’t as exciting for the television audience.”

She reckons the two-member teams and amateur racers added context and perspective for television viewers that made it more interesting than a single, often professional racer bombing down the mountain.

“I’m sorry to see it go – as you know, I’m a 24 Hours addict,” said McBride-Puckett, who won the women’s competition six times.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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