World Pro Ski Tour returns to Snowmass after two decades away | AspenTimes.com

World Pro Ski Tour returns to Snowmass after two decades away

Sam Coffey hasn't been in a legitimate starting gate since his senior year of college in 2014. But with the World Pro Ski Tour making its Colorado debut, he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to see if he's still got it.

His game plan? Just wing it.

"It's been awhile. I'm not expecting much," Coffey said. "I'm just going out to have fun and race against some of my old buddies I used to compete with that are still racing. Maybe I can get lucky and win a little bit of money."

Coffey, a 28-year-old Aspen native who was an all-American ski racer at the University of New Hampshire, expects to be one of the 30 or so skiers competing this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Pro Ski Classic in Snowmass. After a two-decade hiatus, the unique head-to-head event returns Friday and Saturday. It's the second of three stops in the 2018 series and the first outside the East Coast.

There is a $10,000 prize awaiting the tournament winner.

"It's awesome to get back to Aspen. It obviously has a huge history of pro racing," said Craig Marshall, the executive director of sales and marketing for the World Pro Ski Tour. "An awesome thing we definitely prioritize is providing opportunity for as many racers as possible. But also to get in front of Colorado fans, who obviously are really knowledgeable about ski racing and are really passionate about it."

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Aspen's own Bob Beattie helped launch what was called World Pro Skiing in 1969. It lasted in some form until folding as the U.S. Pro Ski Tour in 1998. Built off those roots, the World Pro Ski Tour launched last winter with a lone event at Sunday River in Maine.

There has been one race this season, the White Mountain Dual Challenge on Feb. 10, won by U.S. Ski Team member and three-time Olympian Nolan Kasper. After Snowmass, the three-stop tour will conclude with its final race back in Sunday River at the end of the month.

"I probably wouldn't travel to go to this right now. I'm not training and I'm not seriously racing anymore. But the fact that it's in Aspen, or Snowmass, I couldn't pass it up," Coffey said. "I was super psyched and really excited when I heard the race was coming to town. It's an open registration, which makes it pretty unique and cool, meaning anyone can sign up. You'll have everyone from Olympic and World Cup athletes down to Joe Schmos and normal skiers like myself these days."

Kasper is expected to be one of the high-profile skiers competing this weekend in Snowmass, others being U.S. Ski Team member A.J. Ginnis and 2015 Nor-Am Cup champion Michael Ankeny.

Anyone 18 and older can enter. There isn't a separate tournament for women, although women are welcome to compete.

Qualifying begins at noon Friday on the Blue Grouse Trail near the Spider Sabich Cabin in Snowmass. Each entrant gets one run on each of the two courses with the best single timed run determining their qualifying position for finals.

The top 32 qualifiers advance to Saturday's 11 a.m. head-to-head tournament. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m.

"For people who don't know much about ski racing, it's really appealing because you don't need to be a tech wiz to know who is winning," Marshall said of the dual slalom format.

In the tournament, competitors go head-to-head twice, with the victor being the one with the greatest time advantage between the two heats. The clock won't start until the first racer reaches the finish.

"It can be a lot more fun for spectators to watch if you don't know ski racing rules and whatnot. It's pretty easy to understand," Coffey said. "It used to be really big in the '80s and '90s and it was a good way for World Cup racers to make some money after their World Cup career was over."

There is no cost to watch the races, although a ski pass will be needed to reach the race venue without hiking. For more information about the tour, visit worldproskitour.com.

CBS Sports Network will televise the competition on April 8.

acolbert@aspentimes.com