Mark Engel (L) and Robby Kelley (R) fly off the first jump during the finals of the Pro Ski Challenge at Sunday River. (Lisa Mutz-Nelson)
The Pro Ski Challenge launched its comeback event at Maine's Sunday River March 11, the start of a full tour in 2018 that will include four to six stops across the U.S. and Canada.
The event was part of the rebirth of the World Pro Ski Tour, which has been dormant for 17 years. Racers from across the U.S. and Canada attended, with athletes coming from as far away as Argentina and France.
David Chodounsky of the U.S. Ski Team skied through zero degree temperatures and high winds on Sunday River's Monday Morning Trail to win the $10,000 grand prize of a total $31,000 purse.
Sponsors, athletes, and fans bonded throughout the weekend during the Ski with the Pros Day and at parties in the area. Fans had the opportunity to mingle with Olympians, NCAA champions, and World Cup competitors.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to win this race," Chodounsky recalled. "It was amazing to race against these guys, I had a blast, so it feels tremendous to win. It was a good old-fashioned drag race."
AJ Ginnis, who is ranked sixth in the U.S. in slalom, qualified in the top position for Saturday's final slightly ahead of first ranked Chodounsky, second ranked Mark Engel, third ranked Robby Kelley, and fifth ranked Michael Ankeny. Ginnis experienced a heartbreaking defeat as he slid on his hip past the final gates, shocking the spectators on the deck of the Sunday River base lodge. Despite the agony, he treasured the experience, "It was still an unbelievable event and I'll remember it forever."
The World Pro Ski Tour will immediately begin planning a calendar for the 2018 season, including Sunday River and other potential sites such as Vail, Colorado; Sun Valley, Idaho; Stowe Mountain, Vermont; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Bretton Woods, New Hampshire; and Boyne Highlands, Michigan.