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Screamin' Tele Lizard Classic

A wide variety of unusual fauna inhabits the Siskiyou Mountains, but none are stranger than the tele lizard, a species that converges annually on Mount Ashland.

The seasonal migration of these colorful creatures occurred Saturday under the guise of the 12th annual Screamin' Tele Lizard Classic.

The Classic is a telemark ski race down the mountain around traditional racing gates, with a few non-traditional twists thrown in, such as lizard tails, Elvis costumes and assorted plumage that might have come straight from Madri Gras.

The Classic draws a faithful crowd of repeat participants from around Southern Oregon, Northern California and more distant points.

A bona fide "Telvis" sighting was made. The unmistakable black beau font hair arrived on the head of Kelly Miller, a former Ashland resident now living in Jackson Hole. Jarl Berg of Eugene brought a bit of the Florida Keys and a dash of Margaritaville, skiing in a tropical shirt with a red parrot for head gear. Berg, owner of Berg Ski Shop in Eugene, was one of the event's several sponsors.

One of the Tele Lizard traditions is the lizard tail. The prior year's race winner has the dubious distinction of wearing a rather large green tail. This year Kurt Austbo wore the honor, his third year in a row dragging a tail down the slopes. The only way to lose the tail is to lose the race, and Austbo was hoping he'd be lucky enough to lose this year. He failed in his hopes by winning again, but in a strange twist he shed the tail anyway.

Women's winner Laura Pavia was given the choice of wearing the head or tail next year. She chose the tail, so Austbo will race in a lizard head next year.

The Classic is a family affair, with more than one generation of lizard often making the migration. A female lizard named "Arden Forest," who had green leaves stemming from her body, skied with her 19-year-old son, Tyler. The forest matron, also known as Arden Prehn, is well known around Mt. A as one of the original tele instructors and she is still teaching.

Tim Hill, who hails from Redding, made the trip with his 12-year-old daughter, Sara, who has been tele skiing for two years. The youngest lizard was 10-year-old Clara Honsinger.

Other costumed skiers included Pete "Le Chef" from J'ville, who tackled the slopes in a smock and chef's hat, with a rubber chicken strangled across his chest. Pete said he hoped to cook up some hot turns.

John, who in real life is the Mt. A rental shop manager, had more modest ambitions. Wearing the stove-pipe hat of the "Mad Hatter" and formal black tails, his goal for the race was to make it down in one piece and not lose his hat.

The organizer of this decidedly off-beat event is Zac Kauffman. A dozen years ago he and fellow originator, Dale Grandon, were looking for a tele skier-specific race on Mt. A. Encouraged by then-marketing director and mountain legend Gene Landsmann, the Screamin' Tele Lizard Classic was born.

Skiers race for best times in male and female age categories, but perhaps even more fun are the awards for Best Costume (won by Sunny Kolb), Best Crash (John Speece) and Best Air (Teman Erhart). The post-race crowd selected the costume winner by use of the "applause-o-meter."

The race is fun, but the big draw is the post-race award ceremony with food and prizes. Sponsor contributions make it all possible. For a review of past races and list of sponsors, check out the race Web site at www.screamintelelizardclassic.com.

When the belly laughs end and the costumes are back in the attic, the good times continue on a deeper level: proceeds of the event benefit the Special Olympics, allowing special needs kids to experience their own personal victories.

Chris Adams is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at chris@cvwahomes.com.

Three-time winner Kurt Austbo drags the winner's tail on Mount Ashland. - Chris Adams