Wild Dash and Big Air kick off 180 Aspen Spring Jam | AspenTimes.com
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Wild Dash and Big Air kick off 180 Aspen Spring Jam

Tim Mutrie

On the final day of skiing-only on Aspen Mountain, skiers and snowboarders will showcase their talents (read: balls) in two events Saturday – the Wild Dash for Cash and the Kick Aspen Big Air Invitational.

More than $20,000 in prize money is up for grabs at the two events, which promise to be a spectator-friendly launching pad for the 180 Aspen Spring Jam festivities to celebrate (or perhaps commemorate) the opening of Ajax’s storied slopes to snowboarding.

In the Wild Dash for Cash – which will start sometime between 11 a.m. and noon Saturday, depending on snow conditions – the rules are: there are no rules. Hansi Brenninger, a native of Australia and longtime Aspen Mountain ski instructor, says “jostling and wrestling” is all part of the event he describes as a “cross between a downhill ski race and a demolition derby.”

“It’s really a rough-and-tumble event,” he said. “And this is by far the most exciting ski race you’ll ever take part in. Your heart is in your mouth at the start, and at the end, you’re so tired you’re ready to flop in a heap.”

The event pits the entire field of racers against each other in head-to-head competition over a rugged course complete with mogul fields, jumps, gates and snow walls. Starting at the top of Buckhorn, near the summit of Ajax, the entire field of about 50 racers will charge simultaneously down the twisting course over to Ruthie’s Run, finishing near Gwyn’s Restaurant. In order to claim the $5,000 first prize, the winner will need to climb atop of square of snow outside Gwyn’s, while the first four-man team to finish collects $2,500.

“The rules are that you have to complete the course and you can’t just take somebody out,” explained Brenninger, who adapted the Aspen Wild Dash for Cash from a 15-year-old event that he used to compete in at his home resort of Perisher Valley, Australia. “It’s a gladiator fight, and there’s no rule that you’ll be disqualified for pushing somebody. But usually racers are so focused on the course that any contact in just jostling.

“But when someone’s trying to climb the wall ahead of you [at the finish] … well you pull ’em off and scramble up there yourself,” he continued. “When there’s five grand on the line, you’ll clamor over anyone to get it.”

Brenninger expects a field of 50 to 60 racers, including several teams from local ski shops and teams from neighboring resort towns. Racers may register for $50 as individuals or $160 for teams of four by calling 948-3426. Race-day registration will be held at the Sundeck from 9 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Last year, Aspen resident Christian Messner won the individual prize, assisted by his winning teammates, Chris Davenport, Matt Ross and Tyler Williams, all accomplished racers and big-mountain free-skiers.

“Last year the top guys finished in about five minutes,” Brenninger said. “This year, with all the additions to the course, I think it’ll be closer to six minutes.”

“I think the start will make for spectacular viewing,” he said, “with 60-some guys charging down the hill at once. And, of course, Gwyn’s will be a nice spot to catch the action, especially if you’ve got lunch reservations on the deck.”

Going big

In 1999, J.F. Cusson’s world changed. Or perhaps he changed the world.

The unofficial member of the New Canadian Air Force – a half-dozen freestyler friends hailing from the Great White North – stuck a big-air jump after taking off and landing backwards, or switch, as it’s known in the industry. Sporting a prototype pair of the now-popular twin-tip skis, Cusson’s jump – the first ever of its kind executed in competition – launched him ahead of American Olympic mogul champion Jonny Moseley for the X Games big-air gold.

The jump also reshaped the metaphoric box that had previously defined the sport. Who had ever thought of landing backwards, let alone taking off that way?

Cusson is one of several world-class skiers and snowboarders participating in the third Kick Aspen Big Air Invitational Saturday at 3 p.m. at the base of the gondola on Aspen Mountain.

Skiers slated to compete include Cusson, Shannon Schad, Andrew Wood, Nick Mercon and Greg Tufflemeyer, as well as local residents Levy Bones, Kiffor Berg and Corey Sawer, the overall winner of the eight-event Freestyle Fridays competitions at Aspen Highlands.

Snowboarders include Doran Laybourn, Micah McGinnity, Gigi Ruff, Steve Dempsey and last year’s winner, Chad Otterstrom. Local competitors include Ryan Lougee, Mitch Stout and Jim Mangan, the Skico’s parks and pipes designer who’s building the big-air jump.

“As far as snowboarders go, I know the field is extremely strong,” said Mangan. “Two of the riders [Otterstrom and Ruff] were named two of the top 10 freestylers in the world by Snowboarder magazine.”

Debbie Moore, event marketing manager with the Skico, said skiers and boarders will compete in separate divisions, though their jumps will be intermixed throughout the competition. The field of 16 boarders and skiers will be cut in half after two preliminary jumps and then again in the second round, until four finalists remain.

Mangan said the jump – a 50-foot table-top at the base of the gondola – should serve as a fine launching pad.

“Some guys will land just over the lip – say about 50 feet,” he said. “Others are definitely going to land farther down. But everybody’s going to be going big. It should be a good time for everybody. There’s a lot of good riders, including some locals.”

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