19th annual Owl Creek Chase on Saturday | AspenTimes.com

19th annual Owl Creek Chase on Saturday

Aspen Times Staff
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly

The 25-kilometer Owl Creek Chase from Snowmass to Aspen returns Saturday for its 19th year.

The freestyle race, which starts at 10 a.m. at the Snowmass Golf Club, is one of 11 stops on the USSA SuperTour ” the national pro tour for nordic skiers. The USSA SuperTour has been the top-level U.S. nordic racing series the past few seasons. This is the second consecutive year that the Owl Creek Chase has been part of the circuit.

Last year’s defending champion, Ivan Babikov of Russia, will not be in Aspen to defend his title after earning a spot on the Russian Olympic team. Last year, Babikov skied the Snowmass to Aspen course in a record time of 1 hour, 7:03 seconds. Austria’s Irene Eder also set a course record in the women’s race, with a time of 1:17:17. Eder will also not be on hand Saturday.

With so many of the top Nordic skiers in the world competing at the Olympics in Turin, Italy, this year’s Owl Creek Chase is wide open, but there are favorites emerging. Maine’s David Chamberlain and Switzerland’s Karin Camenisch ” the two current leaders on the tour ” are expected to compete.

Chamberlain was involved in a controversy earlier this month when the U.S. Ski Team failed to name him to the Olympic squad after several top finishes at the U.S. Championships.

The top local favorites will again be the brother-sister combination of Casey and Natalie Ward. Casey finished second to Zack Simons at the last SuperTour race, in Sun Valley, Idaho. Natalie has been away from Owl Creek for two seasons but is a definite possibility to finish on the podium Saturday.

To go along with the pro race, the Owl Creek Chase citizens division will bring many of Colorado’s best citizen skiers to town as part of the Colorado Cup. Last year’s citizen winners were Pierre Willie of Basalt and Annie Richardson of Grand Junction. Both are expected to return to defend their championships.

The race is a freestyle format, although classical skiers may compete. The classic track will be set only where the course is wide enough to accommodate it.

The race begins with a large lap of the Snowmass trails before traversing Two Creeks and onto the Owl Creek trail itself. Once on the Owl Creek trail, racers will climb over Sinclair Divide ” which is the highest point of the race.

From there, the course rolls along the hills and meadows between Snowmass and Buttermilk before descending into Tiehack and across the Maroon Creek Bridge. Once off the hills, racers will circle the Moore loop and the Aspen Golf Course before finishing at the Aspen Cross Country Center.

In addition to the race, the Aspen Cross Country Center will host a “Skate with the Pros” clinic, free of charge, Sunday.

Walk-up registration for the Owl Creek Chase is available this week at the Ute Mountaineer in downtown Aspen. Information and registration are available at utemountaineer.com. Cost for early registration is $35 until 5 p.m. Friday at the Ute. Online registration closes at 2 p.m. Friday.

Racers are encouraged to take a shuttle bus to the start on race day. Shuttles will begin departing the Aspen Cross Country Center at 8 a.m. and continue every 15 minutes ending with a 9 a.m. shuttle to the Snowmass Golf Club start.

Preregistered racers still need to check in at the start for a mandatory timing chip pickup. Any racer may enter the Elite division, but only those with the appropriate USSA and FIS licenses will be eligible for the top-10 prize money and accompanying national ranking points.

Citizen winners will earn commemorative plates. For more information on the Owl Creek Chase, go to utemountaineer.com or call the Ute Mountaineer at 925-2849.