Olympic silver medalists Bobby Julich, Alex Ferreira make Ajax Cup debuts
Like so many who grew up in and around the Roaring Fork Valley, Bobby Julich credited his Olympic aspirations to a handful of ski racers.
He fondly remembers watching Bill Johnson win the 1984 World Cup downhill in Aspen, only a month after Johnson had won Olympic gold at the Sarajevo Games. He remembers being inspired by twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Olympic slalom that same year.
Julich, who grew up in Glenwood Springs, would go on to win his own Olympic medal, although he did so in cycling, a far cry from his skiing roots.
“As soon as I saw those guys on the Olympic podium in Sarajevo, I said, ‘You know what? I want to go to the Olympics,’” Julich said. “I always thought I would go to the Olympics in skiing. And wow, that switched pretty quick.”
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Julich, who now calls South Carolina home, said he hasn’t seen an Aspen winter in more than 30 years. He was able to end that streak this week when he was invited by friend Anthony Sullivan to take part in the ninth annual Audi Ajax Cup, the largest fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Sullivan is a well-known television pitchman and Ajax Cup regular with Team OxiClean.
“Thanks to Team OxiClean with Anthony Sullivan, who is a buddy of mine from biking, I could not turn it down,” Julich said during Saturday’s private Ajax Cup event at the Caribou Club in Aspen. “Once you grew up here and you go away and come back, it is an honest treat to be here. This is truly paradise.”
After graduating from high school in Glenwood, Julich went on to become an accomplished cyclist, highlighted by a third-place finish in the 1998 Tour de France and his Olympic medal in the 2004 Athens Games. He originally finished third in that Olympic time trial, but was later awarded a silver medal after race winner Tyler Hamilton had his gold medal stripped for doping.
Julich will be part of Sullivan’s OxiClean squad Sunday when the heart of the Ajax Cup racing takes place on Aspen Mountain. He even borrowed a speed suit from big mountain skiing icon Chris Davenport, one of the 16 Ajax Cup professionals. Davenport also serves as the co-race chair alongside five-time Olympic ski racer Casey Puckett.
“The Ajax Cup is a fun event,” Puckett said. “We are not having any problem getting the pros to come here because it’s such a fun event and it’s for such a good cause.”
As chance would have it, Julich isn’t the only Olympic silver medalist on Team OxiClean this year. During Thursday’s team draw at 7908 Supper Club, OxiClean randomly landed Aspen’s Alex Ferreira as its professional. Ferreira won Olympic silver in the ski halfpipe back in February at the Pyeongchang Games.
While Ferreira is a professional skier, the halfpipe is a little different from alpine ski racing, which is what the Ajax Cup is all about. Ferreira, who claims he has never ski raced despite growing up in Aspen, had to go as far as borrowing a pair of loaner skis from a friend prior to Saturday’s handicap runs.
“I’ve never ridden alpine skis before and you can lay a real arc. It’s amazing,” Ferreira said from the Caribou Club. “Skiing is skiing. I was really nervous about the skis, though. They are way longer and way heavier, because they are more stable, so I was a little nervous, but it all worked out.”
The Ajax Cup is a dual giant slalom event, which pits racers head-to-head on the course at the base of Aspen Mountain. Beginning with 16 teams — each led by a professional skier — the competition will whittle it all down to a lone champion by Sunday afternoon. The festivities end with the VIP party in the tent outside Shlomo’s Deli.
While many of this year’s pros include Ajax Cup regulars such as Katie Ryan and Jake Zamansky, both former AVSC athletes, there are a few new names, led by 2018 Olympians Nolan Kasper, David Chodounsky and Megan McJames.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, yet another Ajax Cup regular, will also compete.
The money raised goes toward getting area children on the mountain through the AVSC. Ferreira grew up skiing with the club and knows how important those funds can be to a child in need.
“Just really happy and appreciative to be a part of it,” Ferreira said. “All the money is going to a good cause, and it went to me when I was younger, so I’m just happy to be a part of the chain and give it to the younger kids.”
Racing begins at 9 a.m. and will conclude early in the afternoon. While a ticket is required to access the VIP tent, general spectating along the course is free for the public.
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Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.