A super-sized Owl Creek Chase | AspenTimes.com

A super-sized Owl Creek Chase

Casey Ward catches his breath after finishing second in last year's 25-kilometer Owl Creek Chase from Snowmass Village to Aspen. (Aspen Times file)

ASPEN When it comes to the 20th annual Owl Creek Chase, bigger is better.Just ask local Natalie Ward, the repeat women’s winner of the formidable 25-kilometer Snowmass-to-Aspen nordic race in 1997 and 1998.Saturday morning’s race represents an unprecedented experiment in nordic skiing – a unique “Super Event” that pairs elite national racers and top-tier juniors on the same course with recreational skiers and serves as a stop for no fewer than five different cross-country series.

Ward said everyone she’s spoken to – from 2005 men’s champ Ivan Babikov, of Russia, to the most casual recreational skiers – have all praised the grand vision of race organizers.”I’ve gotten a positive response from the whole gamut,” said Ward, who finished sixth in last year’s women’s elite division. “Everyone really likes it. I was talking with some [citizen racers] from New Mexico who said it was the toughest race they’d ever done, but they said they love it because it’s so beautiful and it’s so challenging. I think everyone likes it. The only people I know who don’t like it as much, in some respects, are a lot of the elite racers because they say it’s harder than the races they’re used to doing.”This year, race organizers have added a 15-kilometer option for the citizen’s race to attract a bigger field and to host a Junior Olympic qualifier. For the various competitive tours aligned to the event, the same 25-kilometer course that loops around the Snowmass golf course before joining the Owl Creek trail and winding toward the Aspen Cross Country Center is in place.

The USSA SuperTour – the country’s top national nordic series – has again made Aspen a stop on its calendar. The FIS Marathon Cup is also affiliated to the event, as is the recreational Colorado Cup citizens’ series and the newly-formed recreational Bappa’s Tour. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior Olympic qualifier.”We really tried to use our imagination this year and expand the Owl Creek Chase to include juniors, families and recreational skiers as well as the top level elite racers,” said race director Bob Wade in a news release. “Our goal with this event is to bring junior racers and citizens together with their skiing heroes, the aspiring Olympians that come to town for the SuperTour. I think this is really taking cross country events to the next level and we’re extremely proud to be the hosts here in Aspen.”The SuperTour will bring the top pro team in the country, Team Subaru, to Aspen, including defending women’s champion Kristina Strandberg of Sweden and two-time NCAA Champion Jana Rehemaa of Estonia and 2006 U.S. Olympian Abigail Larson. Last year’s men’s elite champion Zack Simons of Team FSX is also slated to return.

The Owl Creek Chase is the 10th stop out of 12 on this year’s SuperTour, formerly known as the NorAm Cup or Continental Cup. National racers compete on the circuit for cash prizes and national ranking.Following Saturday morning’s race – which begins at 9 a.m. – there is a post-race celebration planned in downtown Aspen, including drag races at Wagner Park on Saturday night. Pitted head to head, racers will drag race 80 meters under the lights and through single-elimination tournament brackets. There is also a free clinic on Sunday where recreational racers can learn tips from pros.For more information about this weekend’s activities, or to register, go to utemountaineer.com, contact Paul Perley or Mike Trecker at The Ute Mountaineer at 925-2849, e-mail Paul Perley at paul@utemountaineer.com, call the Aspen Cross Country Center at 925-2145, or e-mail the Aspen Cross Country Center at axcc@utemountaineer.com.

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