Woman takes the ski-lift to the big time Severna Park native is host for ESPN race

February 04, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Two days after she graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a bachelor's in public relations in December 1991, Jennifer Gardner left her parents' home in Severna Park and moved to Aspen, Colo.

"My parents went crazy," she recalled. "They said, 'Stay here! We'll help you find a job.' "

But moving to Aspen was a good choice. Ms. Gardner, 26, is the host of a local television show giving ski reports, and today she will make her national debut as co-host of a skiing race on ESPN.

"It's exciting," Ms. Gardner said from her home in Telluride, Colo. "I loved it."

The 1987 Severna Park High School graduate is the host with Bob Beattie of the seventh annual Land Rover 24 Hours of Aspen race. The competition, which was recorded Dec. 11 to 12, will be shown at 1:30 p.m. today by ESPN.

The race includes skiers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland and two teams each from the United States and Aspen. For 24 hours, teams of two race down Aspen Mountain as fast as they can and board a gondola that takes them back up the slope. The team with the most laps wins.

For Ms. Gardner, who readily admits her unfamiliarity with broadcasting sports events, the entire experience was unnerving.

"I thought, 'Oh God, what am I going to say?' " she recalled. "I looked down and my hands were shaking."

But Ms. Gardner handled the situation with surprising ease, said Kris Snyder, coordinating producer for the telecast.

"She was fabulous," Ms. Snyder said. "Even though this was her first time doing something like this, she was a real natural."

Ms. Gardner originally didn't want a career in television. Her first job in Aspen was answering phones for Aspen Skiing Co.

Eight months later, Ms. Gardner moved to the company's public relations department. A year later, she became the host, director and producer of a local TV ski report show. From 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., seven days a week from Thanksgiving to Easter, she gave daily reports on skiing conditions.

"It was all live," Ms. Gardner said. "I would go on every five minutes and give an update on the weather and the slopes.

"At first, I was scared," she said. "I never did it before. I had to learn by doing."

But working every day helped Ms. Gardner overcome her nerves.

"As I got more information, I became more comfortable," she said. "I got used to it."

Then in July, Mr. Beattie, a commentator who had worked for ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and ESPN, called Ms. Gardner and asked her to be a co-host for the ski race coverage.

Ms. Gardner said she hopes to be the co-host of a show in Telluride this year. But for now, she will sit back with her family and watch the broadcast today.

"It's pretty exciting," Ms. Gardner said. "Of course, I cringe whenever I see myself. But it was fun."

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