Ajax Cup, AVSC’s largest fundraiser and ski race, back for its 10th year in Aspen
Aspen’s Alex Ferreira is among the world’s best when it comes to halfpipe skiing, having won X Games gold only a winter ago. Ski racing, on the other hand, is a whole different world for the Olympic silver medalist, but that hasn’t stopped him from giving it a try.
Ferreira grew up with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and when it asked him to take part in the annual Audi Ajax Cup last year, it was an easy yes.
“I don’t come from a racing background,” Ferreira said. “I come from moguls, and it was definitely a little scary because I was flying and I had such sharp edges, so I wasn’t typically used to that. But overall it was an amazing experience. I’ll do anything to support the club and support the kids.”
Ferreira, who will try to defend his X Games title only a month from now in the Buttermilk superpipe, is set to return to the Ajax Cup for a second time Monday as one of the professionals.
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary this winter, the Ajax Cup is a team-based, dual giant slalom ski racing tournament at the base of Aspen Mountain. However, that’s just a small part of the truth, as it’s also the club’s largest fundraiser that helps support the roughly 2,400 athletes under its watch.
“It’s a big milestone for the event and for the club and the trajectory of the fundraising continues to move in the right direction, and that’s what we want,” Chris Davenport said. “We were somewhere over $800,000 last year and, boy, I’d certainly like to see this event get to a million dollars. There is nothing like it in the country in terms of a youth-based winter sports organization raising this kind of money and providing this kind of opportunity.”
Davenport, a big mountain skiing icon who has long called Aspen home, is the Ajax Cup’s race co-director alongside five-time Olympic ski racer Casey Puckett. The two have been running the show since the event was started a decade ago and they have watched it become one of Aspen’s biggest events of the holidays.
“It’s something the community expects and looks forward to,” Davenport said. “We get a lot of teams that keep coming back year after year and they participate as part of their holiday week, whether it’s with family or friends. We try to outdo ourselves every year with the après ski party and make that something that is really the event of the holidays, whether you are a local or you are someone from out of town.”
Race day is Monday, with the skiers taking to the giant slalom course set up on The Little Nell run at the base of Aspen Mountain. It’s head-to-head racing, meaning the first one to the bottom wins. The Ajax Cup has a unique handicap system in place that keeps things competitive and makes for tight finishes at the bottom.
There will be 15 or 16 teams when it all goes down Monday, each team led by a current or professional skier. This year’s list includes many Ajax Cup and World Cup veterans, such as Daron Rahlves, A.J. Kitt and Megan McJames, who led Team SuperG! to its second straight Ajax Cup title in 2018. Puckett, Davenport and Ferreira are all among the pros as well.
The event also tends to draw in some celebrity-types each winter, such as NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan.
“It makes it super exciting for the crowd and the spectators, because every single finish in this format is really close because of the way the handicapping works,” Davenport said. “We’re all competitive people, but at the end of the day, you know that everyone really comes out a winner because it’s that number at the end of the event that we try to elevate.”
Racing takes place from roughly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, with the after party slated to go from 3 to 6 p.m. at Scarlett’s Aspen. Guest DJs Charly Jordan and 3LAU will provide the beats during the notorious post-race event that includes the handing out of the Gorsuch Cup to the winning team.
General viewing of the races is free alongside the course and from part of the base of Aspen Mountain. However, the VIP viewing tent and entrance into the post-race party does require a ticket, which can be purchased at http://www.teamavsc.org/ajax-cup.
“It’s not a cheap ticket,” Davenport said, “but the money is tax deductible and the money goes toward providing opportunities for kids that wouldn’t necessarily have them without this.”
A big part of the fundraising is the event’s auction, which for the first time is being done online at charityauction.bid/audiajaxcup. Anyone, even those not in Aspen for the event, can bid on one-of-a-kind items, including a VIP NASCAR experience with Jimmie Johnson, a week of skiing in Chile with Davenport and a round of golf with Justin Leonard, winner of the 1997 British Open.
As unique as the event is, it still all goes back to raising money for the club and its young skiers and snowboarders.
“What drives me to give back is the club gave me so much and it really gave me my start and it led me on my path to where I am now,” Ferreira said. “Anyway I can return the favor I’m happy to do so. But it’s just fun being around the kids. It’s supporting a great cause and I think a lot of people are going to benefit out of it. Not only the people donating, but also the receivers of the donations. I think it’s a win-win on both sides.”
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This past season brought with it Hailey Swirbul’s greatest individual result as a professional cross-country ski racer. But any real satisfaction she received always came when racing alongside her teammates, notably during world champs.