Karen DeSousa, dressed up like Princess Leia, turns down the giant slalom course Saturday during the annual Screamin’ Telelizard Classic at Mount Ashland. - Andy Atkinson

Snow Wars

Darth Vader and his stormtroopers officiated. Chewbacca was there. So was Princess Leia.

These were but a few of the costumes worn by telemark skiers at the 13th annual Screamin' Telelizard Classic at Mount Ashland Saturday, held as a benefit for the Special Olympics. The theme for this year's competition was — you guessed it — Star Wars.

"Sixty-four people showed up — the weather held out for us," said Zac Kauffman, race founder and director for all 13 years, who was dressed as a Jedi Knight in a belted tan robe and carried a plastic light saber.

"Costumes are a big part of it. A lot of people need a reason to dress up at this time of year," Kauffman added.

Each competitor navigated two runs around the gates of a giant slalom course that ended with an optional jump.

The lowest combined time of the runs determined the winners in the speed competition. During the morning run, one of the gates was placed at a higher elevation than the previous one, forcing competitors to climb back up the slope to ski around it.

"You needed to slingshot uphill. It was really challenging," said Keith Ray, who was among several participants who drove from Siskiyou County, Calif., for the event. Others traveled from Eugene, Bend and Sisters. Ray received many compliments for his costume: he constructed a rebel fighter plane out of Legos and attached it to his hat with duct tape.

The winners in the men's and women's time division, for the second straight year, were Ashland residents Kurt Austbo and Laura Pavia. Austbo wore a lizard headdress over his costume. Pavia wore a lizard's tail over hers. The lizard accessories are worn every year by the previous year's winners — much like the yellow winner's jersey in the Tour de France.

Times are getting faster every year.

"The equipment allows more aggressive skiing. The boots and bindings are beefier. It used to be leather boots you strapped on (your skis). Now it's like alpine (technology)," said Karen DeSousa of Phoenix, who wore a white robe and a wig with hair coiled in two buns like Princess Leia.

Speed was a small part of the overall competition.

A team of judges, dressed as stormtroopers, sat in a booth near the bottom of the run, scoring participants for the best wipeout, best air — for the jump at the end of the run — and for best costume.

Providing commentary on each run over a public address system was Gabriel Lipper, dressed as Darth Vader.

"This was a fast day on the mountain. The dark side was with us," said Lipper, interspersing his commentary with snippets of Star Wars theme music.

Following the competition, participants gathered at the Mount Ashland Lodge for the awards ceremony. Door prizes and refreshments were provided by the Ashland Outdoor Store, Full Sail Brewing and the Rogue Ski Shop: sponsors for all 13 years of the event.

The stormtrooper judges announced their three choices for finalists in the best costume division. Their choices were Rochelle Chambers of Central Point, as Princess Leia in her Jabba-the-Hut slave outfit, Karen DeSousa as Princess Leia in a white robe, and Michael Thirkill with a giant lizard head.

The audience applaud-o-meter chose Thirkill as the clear winner.

"This is actually a 15-year-old costume, but I added a helmet inside with a strap so it wouldn't fall off (while skiing)," Thirkill explained.

Next year's costume theme was also chosen by the audience applaud-o-meter. We can expect to see elves, wizards and hobbits at the 14th annual Screamin' Telelizard, because the theme will be "Lord of the Lizards."

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at

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