BEAVER CREEK - There are 792 days left until the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, but who's counting?
The Vail Valley Foundation is certainly counting the days, and more immediately, the organizing committee is counting the days until next year's Birds of Prey race week. That's when the fastest women in the world will get their first taste of the brand new downhill women's course that was built next to Birds of Prey this past summer.
Women raced in Beaver Creek last year on a modified Birds of Prey course because races in Vail d'Isere, France, were canceled due to a lack of snow. The cancellation put men and women in Beaver Creek at the same time, providing an early preview of what the championships will look like in 2015, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Lindsey Vonn picked up a win in super-G that week, but she was disappointed the course for the women was routed around the Golden Eagle jump.
Vonn, who picked up her 54th and 55th World Cup wins this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, has said she's always been jealous of the men because of Birds of Prey. The course is legendary, but the women will now have their own "counterpart of Birds of Prey" right next to it, said John Dakin, vice president of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation.
"(The women's course) is very similar to Birds of Prey - I walked it this fall," Dakin said. "There are some amazing similarities."
Vail Valley Foundation President Ceil Folz said those who have seen the course up-close - from International Ski Federation chief race director for the women Atle Skaardal to some World Cup men racers - "would say that in a lot of ways it's going to be a Birds of Prey equivalent for the women."
"We expect it to be one of the more difficult speed courses and we're excited about that - we love the idea," Folz said. "It's got unique pieces just as the Birds of Prey does, it's got some really steep stuff in there, which I think is going to be exciting. It's got a little bit of everything, a lot like Birds of Prey, where you've got some gliding sections, some flats, then you've got some crazy turns and some great jumps in it."
Dakin said there's an area by the super-G start where you come out of the trees and overlook the valley. He compares it to coming to the end of the Flyaway and over the Brink on Birds of Prey where "the world just kind of drops away and the whole valley just opens up."
"There are some really technical, really challenging sections of it, I think," Dakin said.
With the women's course built, there will be a couple of more International Ski Federation inspections on it next year. During construction season, crews will make any necessary adjustments in preparation for the test run next year.
Folz said the 2015 organizing committee has surpassed every Ski Federation deadline, putting the event ahead of schedule in every way. Next year, Folz said the women's inspection - scheduled immediately after Birds of Prey race week - will not only be a test of the course, but also of the organizers.
"That'll be a challenge. ... To build two downhill courses, early season, nowhere could do that except for, of course, Beaver Creek," Folz said. "So that alone will be a challenge, but we feel like we're up to it."
Next year's Birds of Prey schedule will also test volunteers. Folz said the Foundation has gone from having 350 Birds of Prey volunteers to about 750-850 volunteers who are on schedule to work next year and for the championships in 2015. Folz said the committee has been building up that volunteer base ever since it won the bid in 2010.
All eyes will be on Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley Foundation those first two weeks of December 2013, and eyes will certainly be on the women and how they race on the newest downhill course in the world.
Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway, dates American World Cup racer Julia Mancuso. Svindal said Saturday he has seen the women's course from afar this weekend and it looks really steep. He thinks the course will suit Mancuso, who is really good at turning, he said.
Some early-on excitement over 2015 could be heard throughout the weekend. American Marco Sullivan said he's not sure he'll be racing at the championships, but he said it's been great seeing signs for it around Beaver Creek and hearing the hype continue to build.
Folz loves seeing it, too. She said it's amazing how time has flown by since winning the bid in 2010, but the Foundation, organizing committee and the valley are all ready.
"The cake's been baked so now we're starting to do the icing of the things that will make 2015 really special and unique," Folz said.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.