Megan McJames returns to slopes in Audi Ajax Cup | ParkRecord.com

Megan McJames returns to slopes in Audi Ajax Cup

Austin Colbert
Aspen Daily

Former World Cup ski racer Megan McJames celebrates after leading "Team Super G!" to the Audi Ajax Cup championship on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, on Aspen Mountain. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN, Colo. – The Audi Ajax Cup is less of a race and more of a reunion. The annual Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club fundraiser certainly involves a bit of skiing, but more so it brings together a group of people that probably haven't seen each other in quite some time.

"We are a tight-knit family. It's a small world, ski racing, and we all want to keep it going and we want it to thrive," said Ajax Cup race co-chair Casey Puckett, a five-time Olympian and former World Cup ski racer. "It means a lot to the event to have U.S. Ski Team athletes fresh off the World Cup. We continue to bring in the top talent from our country, and for them to come in and support AVSC — I think most of the U.S. skiers want to give back, no matter what club they are giving back to."

This includes three-time Olympian Megan McJames, a product of Park City, Utah, who only stepped away from the World Cup circuit this winter. While she doesn't have any Aspen ties, McJames understands the importance of an event like the Ajax Cup and what it means in creating the next generation of ski racers.

With a little extra time on her hands this winter, making the trek to Aspen was an easy decision.

"It's a great group of people here. I wanted to come hang out and ski fast and see what it's all about. And raise money for Aspen," McJames said. "The cool part about doing well is you got to take more runs. It was just really fun to get back in the gate, get a couple butterflies, and just try to ski as fast as you can. That's what I told my team — just ski the best you can."

While at heart a fundraiser, the ninth annual Ajax Cup concluded Sunday with a day full of ski racing. Beginning with 16 teams, the dual giant slalom tournament came down to "Team Super G!" and "West End Hillbillies" in the final. And that final came down to the very last race, with McJames facing off against Patrik Jaerbyn for everything.

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It was close, but McJames just edged the former Swedish World Cup racer to win the Ajax Cup for "Team Super G!" It also made Ajax Cup history, as "Team Super G!" became the first team to win the event in back-to-back years. Pro Jonas Nyberg led the team in 2017.

"It is pretty sweet. I can't say enough about how excited I am and how proud I am of my teammates," said team captain Edouard Gerschel. "And not only that, the whole cause is really special to me in my heart. I grew up here and all the money goes to getting kids to be great ski racers and that's what it's all about."

The "West End Hillbillies" included many members of team "M.A.G.S." — Middle Aged Guys on Skis — last year's runner-up. That group is highlighted by the presence of seven-time NASCAR champion and part-time Aspen resident Jimmie Johnson. While Johnson wasn't overly excited about finishing as runner-up for a second straight year, the 2018 version was much more fun as his oldest daughter, 8-year-old Evie, was part of his team this time.

"Last year we were on different teams, and that wasn't any fun. We had to race our kids," Johnson said. "It's so fun. The courage it takes just to get in the gate and start puts that parental pride inside of you. And then she won a couple of races and it fills you up full of joy."

Johnson hinted that his youngest daughter, 5-year-old Lydia, could join in on the fun next winter. Both girls have spent time as part of the AVSC program in past years.

Sunday's races, held at the base of Aspen Mountain, concluded with the notorious after party in front of Shlomo's Deli. Puckett, race co-chair Chris Davenport and OxiClean pitchman Anthony Sullivan led the auction, which included opportunities to go to a NASCAR race with Johnson and a one-on-one lesson with tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who was also in attendance, among other auction items.

While McJames ended up stealing the show with her final run, she was actually one of a handful of recently retired World Cup ski racers and Olympians who competed in this year's Ajax Cup. Among them was Crested Butte native David Chodounsky, whose wife lived in Aspen for about six years.

Like the others, getting to take part in the Ajax Cup was a way to again get involved with the ski racing community.

"I feel like I didn't skip a beat," Chodounsky said of getting back in the starting gate. "Casey gave me a call and it worked out with my schedule and I was happy to come. These are a lot of fun, for sure."