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Racers not the only winners

Cheering on the U.S. racers were Basalt High students Katie Gruen, left, and Dayle Duran. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Sure Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen and the Aspen Skiing Co. were big winners during the Aspen Winternational World Cup ski races, but Aspen High freshman Sam Coffey really scored big over the festive weekend.Coffey and a couple of buddies were among more than 1,000 spectators watching Friday’s giant slalom race. After American racing star Kristina Koznick finished her second run, Coffey went up to the plastic mesh fence separating the racers from the crowd and caught Koznick’s ear. The attractive Koznick flashed a big smile, then took off her racing bib and flipped it to Coffey.Coffey instantly hammed it up with his buddies and sniffed the bib while turning away from the fence.Coffey later explained to a witness how he scored. “When she came out of the finish area I told her she was hot,” he said with a smile. He asked her for the bib and she obliged without hesitation – proving that it never hurts to ask.So what’s Coffey going to do with his trophy? “I’m going to hang it on my wall.”Coffey wasn’t the only person basking in the glow of a small victory over the weekend. The Aspen Skiing Co. won on at least three accounts.

The Skico, often a convenient target for Aspen’s crustier element, probably was never more popular than after Saturday night’s free outdoor concert by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, which was especially cool because of the snowstorm that ultimately dumped 18 inches on Aspen Saturday and Sunday.Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said he couldn’t walk through town after the concert without people slapping him on the back and giving kudos for the show. The Skico covered the cost.”I had so many people say ‘I don’t know how much you had to spend to do that, but you should do it more,'” Hanle said.The Skico’s good deed was repaid many times over. The company’s marketing department couldn’t have written a better script than having so much snow fall before Sunday’s slalom race.An estimated 30 million-plus Europeans watched live television broadcasts of the race and became aware that Aspen was receiving a big dump. The Skico hopes the combination of the snow and a weak U.S. dollar leads to bookings. International guests account for about 15 percent of the Skico’s business. Hanle noted that domestic skiers who follow racing and who will see rebroadcasts in December on NBC and the Outdoor Life Network will also know about the snow.But it’s not all about exposure.

Numerous Skico officials, World Cup volunteers and race fans were overjoyed that the three races and affiliated activities came off so well. Crowds were sparse Friday and Saturday mornings, but the stands, which held about 1,000 spectators, were filled both afternoons. Hundreds of additional spectators stood at the finish area and at the concession tent. The crowd was lighter Sunday afternoon.Usually fans ski down and climb up to line the fence along the course, but that wasn’t possible this year because of a lack of snow.Nevertheless it was a raucous crowd throughout the event. Scores of Aspen Valley Ski Club kids were clanging cow bells that were sold, in part, to benefit the U.S. ski team. Aspenite Jeanette Odelberg, who moved here from Sweden a decade ago, was cheering on her former countrywomen by waving a Swedish flag and wearing an eye-catching Viking-like hat. One of the largest contingents of screaming fans was the extended family of U.S. ski team racer Julia Mancuso. Her sister, Andrea, said 23 members of her family came to Aspen to cheer, including her grandparents, who took the train from San Francisco.Members of the Mancuso gang were waving American flags that included a picture of their hero. Needless to say, they went wild when she logged a 10th-place finish in Saturday’s slalom.The Croatian fans put on an equally impressive display – and they traveled a lot farther to do it. They proudly waved their flag, sang songs in the finish area and generally created a widely held impression that they were super nice people.

There was no bigger fan among the Croatians than Marica Kostelic, the mother of star racer Janica Kostelic. Janica finished third in the giant slalom and first in Saturday’s slalom. Marica stood alone at the front of the grandstand for both runs of all three races. She was the consummate good sport – cheering hard for all racers, even the few who topped her daughter.Marica gave a sign of the cross before each run of her daughter. She grimaced in the type of agony that only a mother could feel when Janica fell on the second run of Sunday’s slalom after leading on the first run.Marica said she had visited Aspen twice before, cheering for her daughter and her son, Ivica, who is a World Cup racer with the Croatian men’s team. Ivica won the men’s slalom in Aspen in 2001. Janica won the slalom in 2000 and finished second in the slalom in 2002.”My children here have good success,” Marica said in an understatement.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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