BEAVER CREEK, Colorado - The first International Ski Federation inspection on the progress of the new women's downhill course at Beaver Creek reveals an excitement over the course felt far beyond this valley.
Atle Skaardal, the federation's women's alpine chief race director and a former World Cup ski racer, toured the construction site Tuesday and liked what he saw. The inspection was the first of several expected inspections in advance of the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek Feb. 3-15, 2015.
"There has been great work done and it is very accurate," Skaardal said. "Now we only have little things to tweak and small solutions to figure out. This course has everything in it and I know that it will be a great race course. I also know that the ladies are going to be very excited to race here."
Last year, when Beaver Creek picked up three races - one women's race and two men's races - because of a cancellation in Val D'Isere, France, Lindsey Vonn talked about the reputation Birds of Prey has within the World Cup circuit.
"I've always been so jealous of the men - they always get to race here every year - but this is my first time and hopefully not the last," Vonn told the Vail Daily. "I'm going to try to do my best to finally get a win, not only in the U.S., but in my hometown."
Vonn won the Super-G in Beaver Creek, calling it one of the best races in her career.
Tuesday was the first time Skaardal walked the course without bushwhacking his way through it, said Vail Valley Foundation Vice President of Communications John Dakin, adding that Skaardal told him he could tell what about 70 percent to 80 percent of the course will end up being like based on summer inspections.
The Federation's inspections take into account everything from the work that's being done to the terrain that is available to how a course might set up on that terrain, Dakin said.
"They're looking at a course from a competition standpoint and also a preparation and flow standpoint," Dakin said.
Course progresses quickly
Greg Johnson, Beaver Creek's senior director of mountain operations and the chief of race for the men's Birds of Prey World Cup, said the course is almost complete after just over two months of work.
The final phases of installing the snowmaking pipe - 13,000 linear feet - are underway, with just about 1,000 feet left to go. Johnson expects the snowmaking installation to be complete within two weeks, which he said is a "giant hurdle for us."
"We're really far along," Johnson said. "The entire trail is cut completely, and graded from top to bottom - it's really good progress for just a couple of months."
The new women's downhill course adds 17 new acres of skiable terrain to Beaver Creek, and another 30 acres of snowmaking, Dakin said.
The course will run in and out of the existing Peregrine run, a double black diamond trail that runs under Chair 9, and then on the lower half of the run there is a new spur trail called Kestrel, named for another bird of prey, as all of the trails in the area are, Johnson said.
"It's going to be an open ski trail this winter," Johnson said. "We hope to do some (occasional) grooming in there throughout the winter, as well."
The course will feel a lot like the men's Birds of Prey downhill, Johnson said. It starts off with a gliding section and then breaks over onto the upper pitch of Peregrine, then remains difficult and technical all the way down to Red Tail Camp, the finish.
"Two of the best downhills in the world will be side-by-side," Johnson said.
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Vice President of Events Calum Clark echoes the thoughts that this new course could be one of the top world venues for women's downhill.
"It's absolutely amazing what this organizing committee has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time," Clark said. "Standing on its own, this women's slope would be one of the best in the world with every element of modern downhill. It's a perfect complement to the men's Birds of Prey course and will carry every bit of the same reputation."
Women's World Cup in Beaver Creek?
Dakin said the opportunities remain to be seen for the course's use in future World Cup races beyond the 2015 championships, but there certainly is an option now "if it's desired and needed."
"That's a discussion the Foundation and Vail Resorts and the U.S. Ski Team and the (International Ski Federation) all have to have and come to a consensus on what the future looks like," Dakin said.
The World Cup races are already set through 2015, and Aspen is currently the only U.S. ski venue on the women's World Cup schedule aside from the 2015 championships.
Dakin was here for the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships when Centennial was turned into the downhill course, and was also here for the construction of Birds of Prey.
"This is what makes being involved in the championships a lot of fun," Dakin said. "To get out there and have the opportunity to see the newest downhill course in the world and look out my office window and be able to see it from Avon."
And while things are moving along quickly, Johnson said crews are being careful not to rush anything. They've left an island on the course on the upper pitch of Peregrine, for example, that the course goes around. After Ski Federation officials do another inspection next spring that includes setting up gates to see how the course will run, then crews will do another small widening project on that upper section.
"We're just taking some time to get it right," Johnson said. "We have a great group up there working - they have a lot of experience."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.