BEAVER CREEK - The Birds of Prey downhill course is one of the most respected courses on the World Cup calendar, and Friday's downhill proved why so many racers call it one of the most difficult races to win.
Racers commended course conditions all week, with American Marco Sullivan calling it "unmatched" and teammate Andrew Weibrecht calling it the standard in terms of both snow and course preparation.
And while conditions remained great Friday, there were changes that threw some skiers off a little bit.
"It definitely changed a little bit," said American Travis Ganong. "It just got a little bumpier, a little icier, maybe even a little faster in some sections, but the bumps are slowing us down."
Ganong said he "got a little tossed" around the Pumphouse section but was happy to score points with a 16th-place finish.
Most racers, including Ganong, said the bumps weren't anything more than what's expected after 80 skiers take four runs on the course throughout the week. Many of the mistakes at Birds of Prey Friday were just a result of, well, Birds of Prey.
"The course, if you ski the proper line the entire way, it flows really nicely and you can carry your speed the whole way," Sullivan said. "As soon as you get offline anywhere, you're battling to get back in the rhythm. Especially after you get off the pitch, you go by the Pumphouse section, that's you're last bit of speed before a long flat so that's really critical, and that's where I think you see a lot of guys make small errors and that just compounds for the rest of the course."
And while mistakes obviously hurt ski racers on any course, many racers say Birds of Prey seems especially unforgiving.
Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished second Friday, said you can correct a mistake and gain back speed at Birds of Prey as long as the mistake is on the top part of the course, where it's steep. The problem with a mistake up there, though, is the line.
"If you lose the line, you can't slow down to get back in your line because that's going to cost you too much time and you can't win the race that way so once you're late up there you just have to go with what you go," Svindal said.
Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who finished third, said Birds of Prey is challenging "all the way, except for the top 20 seconds."
"It starts off real steep and just keeps on taking you through technical terrain, and then as soon as you get down off the steep the speed is so high and it's still turny, so you know it's two minutes of hard work. I think this is one of the hardest courses on the tour," Jansrud said.
American Ted Ligety, who finished one spot shy of scoring World Cup points at 31st, said racers make mistakes on any course because they're going 80 miles per hour and trying to be the fastest guy. He said all ski races are unforgiving to mistakes.
"Every hill, I think, is difficult in that sense," Ligety said. "Here, if you mess up coming after the pitch, you have a lot of moderate terrain with no turns really to make it up, so you just pay hard. That's how downhill is - you make mistakes and that speed just carries out the rest of the way, and unless you are by far the best guy, you don't make up for those (mistakes)."
In Friday's downhill, the win wasn't entirely about who made the least mistakes, though. Winner Christof Innerhofer, of Italy, attributes at least part of the reason why he won to his lack of nerves.
"I had no pressure," Innerhofer said. "I was 100 percent relaxed."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.