Hawaiian shirts and polyester decorated little racers-in-training on the mountain Saturday, as Mount Ashland Racing Association's 17th annual Sloan Cup brought the racing season to a close.
As many as 125 skiers, ranging from 5 years old to adult, participated in the Giant Slalom race on the Winter slope. At the end of the race, MARA organized a big barbecue and awards ceremony that capped off the season.
The Sloan Cup is both a family race and a fundraiser for MARA. The race was created in honor of David Sloan and his father, Jim, who both lost their lives in a plane crash outside of Grants Pass in 1991. David Sloan was an avid skier; his passion for the sport got his dad involved in skiing at the mountain and it soon became a regular family outing. As a memorial, his mother, Kathy, donated a considerable amount of money to MARA for scholarships for young skiers to pursue the sport, and MARA created the Sloan Cup.
"It's a family race," said Mike Dadaos, Mount Ashland's special events manager. "It's encouraged that the kids who have been in MARA all season get their parents and older siblings take part in it, too."
MARA is a nonprofit organization separate from Mt. A. Started in 1966, the group helps develop kids into junior racers. Typically, racers start off slowly in their age group, while competing in one or two races every season.
"Racing is not, at this age, a huge part of it," said Wes Norton, president of MARA. "It's developmental skills we are teaching them — getting them comfortable with gates and turns and being in races."
While MARA also stays separate from the high school teams in the Rogue Valley, it's where many of the local high school skiers receive their initial race training. In fact, every skier on this year's Ashland High School boys' squad came up through MARA.
"It's been great training ground for the high school teams," Dadaos said. "The kids that grow up here are very strong skiers historically. Mt. A. is a more difficult mountain, and it prepares them for any kind of terrain."
There is some competition involved. Last week, the MARA girls team took home second-place honors after competing in the Buddy Werner regional championships at Mt. Spokane. The event invites the top seven racers, ages 12 and under, from every ski area in the Pacific Northwest to compete both individually and as a team.
"It's huge. Huge," exclaimed Norton. "I can't tell you how big of a race that was. We had some phenomenal kids this year. That is what the '12-and-unders' train for all year — to make the Buddy Werner team. To score like that against these bigger areas — it's the biggest race for the Pacific Northwest — and for them to take second is pretty cool."
While the Sloan Cup was a race, it's a family one, which centers more on being outside with loved ones than fastest times.
"Last year, we had three generations of skiers here," said 45-year old Kirk Austbo, who raced along with his 5-year-old daughter, Kari. "She had her first race at the age of 4 last year. My dad races up here, as well. He'll be 83 in November."
"As far as I'm concerned they should have a Sloan Cup every weekend," said Jeff Olverton, former assistant head coach of MARA, who coached David Sloan many years ago. "When you go up there and you see families having fun together, engaging in an outdoor sport in the wintertime and challenging themselves, I mean, what more could you ask for? It's a healthy, wholesome family thing that we all need more of."