Face-off on Gunbarrel on Saturday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Face-off on Gunbarrel on Saturday

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

The Gunbarrel 25 started in 2004 as a test of endurance and a way for freestyle skiing legend Glen Plake to give back to his community.

What the event has become in recent years, however, is an opportunity to bring down face rats Janez Demsar and Dave Sannazzaro. For the past four years, no one can ski the face of Heavenly Mountain Resort faster than Demsar. Challengers will get another chance on Saturday in the sixth annual event.

Plake stopped short of saying that the community event needs a new winner.

“Are you saying like a bounty on Janez’s head?” Plake jokingly suggested in an e-mail response on Thursday. “A reverse bounty would be interesting for so-called pro riders to know exactly the game Janez plays. I have had some friends visit the event, and they are quite impressed.

“Janez has set some goals, but not without some pressure from Tom (Bork), Carl (Unterleither), Andre (Villaret), Dave and others. I think it will ultimately be someone who Janez has inspired by his past performances over the years that will challenge him.”

Demsar is a former Yugoslavian national ski team member who has competed in the X Games. Bork is the only other competitor who has won the event.

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Sannazzaro’s two-year ironman streak of completing the most runs is more modest, but it’s really not when his age ” 55 ” is taken into consideration.

“It’s pretty tough, and I was feeling it the whole week,” said Sannazzaro of the impact 40 laps had on his body last year. “I was fired up. This is what I wanted to do in my 20s. I’m glad Glen has put this competition together, and I’m happy I’m still healthy enough to do it after all of these years.”

Sannazzaro took some abuse last year after crashing during one of his runs. A competitor picked up one of Sannazzaro’s loose skis and returned it to him.

“One of the guys is still giving me crap about that, but when I got the ski back, I popped it back on and beat him down to the bottom,” Sannazzaro said. “I know four guys who have been top contenders who are shooting for me this year. I’ve surprised people the first couple of years, but there isn’t a surprise anymore.”

As a season passholder for the past 35 years, Sannazzaro tries to ski at Heavenly as much as possible. One run, in particular, keeps bringing him back.

“I still go into Mott Canyon, but I can’t get enough of skiing the face,” he said. “When we were all in our 20s, we felt it was the hardest run, and that’s why we wanted to ski it.”

Plake said Gunbarrel run has long been the social hub at Heavenly.

“The social aspect of skiing on Gunbarrel is very unique,” said Plake, a 2004 ironman winner. “We ski under the chair. We hoot and holler for everyone. We inspire each other by ability or age, and we have a lot of fun doing it. That’s just a normal day. The Gunbarrel 25 is just the official day to do it. I sometimes have a hard time calling this a competition as opposed to a celebration.”

As for Demsar, it might take a guest appearance by Daron Rahlves to end his Gunbarrel 25 winning ways. Last year, Demsar completed his 25 laps down the face in 3 hours, 10 minutes and 15 seconds ” nearly a minute off his record time.

“Once he came into town, he has shown us the next level. His skiing has improved all of our skiing without a doubt,” Sannazzaro said.

The competition, which is open to skiers and boarders, begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Competitors who are able to complete at least 25 laps receive a Gunbarrel 25 finish pin. Division winners receive a Gunbarrel 25 belt buckle and will have their names engraved on Plake’s perpetual trophy. Everyone who participates receives a T-shirt and is treated to a postrace pasta meal. The entry fee is $40 for passholders, and $80 for nonpassholders.

To preregister, phone (530) 542-5133, or enter in person at the Heavenly Race Department office, which is open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Day-of-the-event registration is from 8-9:30 a.m. in the California Bar. Preregistered competitors must check in on Saturday between 8 and 10 a.m.