BEAVER CREEK - Ruby Black has been looking up to World Cup ski racers her entire life - all 14 years of it - and this week she's getting an up-close look at what that level of competition is all about.This week, Black joins a special group of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes as a course slipper for the Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek. Course slipping might not sound glamorous to those not entrenched in the world of ski racing, but for these kids it's pretty exciting."I think it's amazing because all these skiers that you look up to are here racing right in front of you and you see them in the start gate and you see them running down and you just want to be like them," Black said. "And it's just so amazing that they're right in front of you - people you've been looking up to your whole lives."Slipping a World Cup race course is a simple, yet complicated job, said John "J.C." Cole, the human performance director at Ski Club Vail. The job, simply put, is to clean up the track for the racers. They want to make sure the course is as smooth as possible before skiers come flying down it at speeds around 70 miles per hour.The course gets slightly chopped up in places as the World Cup athletes inspect the course in the mornings. The athletes often slide and stop in spots, forming piles of snow that need to be removed before race time. Because the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes chosen to slip the course have race experience, Cole said they know where the snow is not supposed to be."It's actually a lot more glamorous to them than you might think," Cole said. "Take a 14 or 15-year-old, for example - a chance for them to be out on a World Cup hill, especially something as legendary as Birds of Prey, and secondly, we don't just take anybody; We usually try to take our strongest, most accomplished skiers because the job requires a certain amount of physical demand, also."Paula Cooper, 13, feels honored to be a part of the team because she knows she was picked for the job because her coaches believe in her ability."And it's just good because you get to see (the World Cup skiers) ski by and you feel like adrenaline when you're slipping down - it's really awesome," Cooper said. Allison Hoerr, 14, is slipping the course at Beaver Creek for the first time this year. She, too, is honored to have the opportunity to meet the racers and to be on the same course they're on.That's why these young athletes take on the role - to get that taste of what big time ski racing feels like. Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete Colin Hayes, 18, has been slipping the course for two years and hopes to make it to the World Cup level someday. He plays it cool when he talks about his job at Beaver Creek this week. "Yeah, it's kind of fun to come out here," Hayes said. "And we get to watch Aksel (Lund Svindal) and all those guys."The course slippers have a full week ahead. They'll follow each and every athlete throughout training and racing, grooming the course every step of the way. Sometimes you'll see one slipper and sometimes more, but there will always be someone following the path of the World Cup racers - and maybe, just maybe, slipping the course at Birds of Prey will help these young ski racers continue to follow a path toward a successful career in the sport."I love it," Hoerr said. "I get this feeling when they go by like, 'Oh my gosh - I hope that's going to be me someday.'"Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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