AVSC hosts annual Audi Ajax Cup fundraiser
AUDI AJAX CUP
The excitement continues to build for the sixth annual Audi Ajax Cup ski race on Aspen Mountain, set for Wednesday and chaired by Aspen-based professional skiers Chris Davenport and Casey Puckett.
Both are competing as team pros and have recruited a talented and accomplished field of friends and rivals to join them, including ski-racing stars Daron Rahlves, Sarah Schleper and Thomas Vonn.
Festivities feature a day-long apres-ski party hosted on the VIP viewing deck at the new Nello Aspen restaurant, located on the west side of the Aspen Mountain gondola.
Beginning at 1 p.m., AVSC supporters are invited to lunch while watching the teams compete on a pro-style dual giant slalom course.
“Daron is the only American in the last 50 years to win the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel, Austria, the most terrifying downhill venue on the World Cup circuit, said Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Executive Director Mark Cole. ‘Let’s see what he can do on Little Nell.”
This year’s Audi Ajax Cup also features professional athletes from other sports.
Racers will include Martina Navratilova, seven-time Women’s Tennis Association tour player of the year; Jimmie Johnson, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion; and professional golfer Justin Leonard, who has 12 PGA Tour wins and was selected for the Ryder Cup team three times.
The Audi Ajax Cup is AVSC’s largest fundraising event of the year, crucial in making AVSC’s programs possible for more than 2,300 children each year.
“Support for the Audi Ajax Cup has grown every year,” Cole said. “The event is an evolving and dedicated community of team captains, pros and supporters, and it personifies everything AVSC represents — camaraderie, competition, excellence and fun. AVSC very much appreciates Aspen Skiing Co.’s ongoing support of the event for allowing access to the Little Nell run on one of the busiest days of the year.”
In addition to the 16 teams that each represent a $25,000 donation to AVSC, the race allows participants the opportunity to join AVSC’s National Council on the spot.
Additional funds will be raised through a trio of experiential live auction items, consistent with the experiential fun of the Audi Ajax Cup, Cole said.
The special auction items are
Clip-in with Christian Cycling Camp — Receive five-star accommodations at the Little Nell Hotel, ride stages of the U.S. Pro Challenge and train with former pro cyclists Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie and Craig Lewis.
Portillo Ski Adventure with Chris Davenport — the Portillo Superstars Camp in Chile features a week of skiing with pros like Davenport and his coaches.
NASCAR Course Drive with Jimmie Johnson — Experience true road speed with a champion driver.
This signature event of the Aspen holiday season is chaired by Karim and Erika Souki, John and Jackie Bucksbaum, Russell and Melissa Wight and Pam Alexander.
The race is set to kick off at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Little Nell race course.
Teams will compete head-to-head in a round-robin elimination round with the top four teams continuing to the semifinals, which are scheduled to start at 12:45 p.m.
The finals are expected to start at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The mission of AVSC is to provide all youth in the greater Roaring Fork Valley the opportunity to excel as athletes and as people through winter sports.
As the valley’s oldest and largest youth nonprofit, AVSC has taught generations of locals the same sports that revitalized the Aspen/Snowmass area. Through AVSC, children and teens experience the mountains in winter, build character, challenge themselves and make new friends.
AVSC Ability Coach — Casey Puckett spent his early years in Crested Butte, moving to his hometown of Aspen at the age of 10.
The sport of alpine skiing runs strong in Puckett’s family. His mother was on the development team for the 1968 Winter Olympics, raced for the University of Colorado and was a head coach at the Crested Butte Ski Club.
“I started racing (at the Crested Butte Ski Club) when I was 7 years old and never looked back,” Puckett said. “I began as a slalom skier because I was quick. After some injuries I started moving into the speed disciplines.”,
He later went on to join the U.S. Ski Team, where he and his brother Chris both competed in the 1992 Albertville Olympics.
Puckett, a five-time Olympian and two-time Winter X Games champion, recalls Crawford Pierce as one of his favorite coaches and mentors he worked with at Burke Mountain Academy and then again at the U.S. Ski Team.
“Winning the World Junior slalom and getting seventh in the Olympic slalom was big, but winning the X Games Skier-X was a great memory as well,” Puckett said.
In 2002, Puckett retired from the U.S. Ski Team and coached for AVSC from 2002 -06.
After the 2010 Winter Olympics, he retired from skiing again and acted as director of U.S. Skicross, helping raise money for athlete travel and competition.
Not too long after, Puckett returned to AVSC, where he is currently an ability coach, in his fifth year of coaching with the club.
“What gives me the most satisfaction is working with the kids (at AVSC) and watching them improve, both as racers and as human beings,” Puckett said.
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The Aspen Rec Center is beginning to reopen for indoor use after the coronavirus pandemic effectively put a bolt on the door in March. The ARC staff hopes to have the facility — or at least most of it — open to its members as soon as Oct. 5.