BEAVER CREEK, Colorado - With its steep pitch, gorgeous views and exciting turns, the new women's World Cup downhill course at Beaver Creek is already getting plenty of use by skiers and snowboarders during its first season in existence.
The course was constructed last summer, adding 17 new acres of skiable terrain to Beaver Creek, plus another 30 acres of snowmaking. It weaves in and out of the already existing double black diamond Peregrine run, under the Birds of Prey chairlift (Chair 9), and onto a new spur trail called Kestrel.
Beaver Creek reported 3 inches of new snow Thursday morning, but the women's downhill course skied more like 6 or 7 inches.
Travis Naibert, of Eagle-Vail, was teleskiing the course when the Vail Daily caught up with him just above Kestrel.
"I like it - I like how steep it is; I like this turn underneath the lift," Naibert said, adding that the pitch and the moguls make the course really fun. "And today, I really like the powder."
The women's downhill start is below the men's start, but instead of taking the men's route onto Golden Eagle, the women stay left and head onto Peregrine. After last summer's construction, Kestrel now cuts through the trees in between Peregrine and Golden Eagle, forming the new spur run. And just like the men's Birds of Prey course, there are all kinds of technical sections where the racers will have to be tactical and focused on their lines.
Kari Anderson, a former U.S. Ski Team Development Team member and former Vail Valley Foundation employee, was skiing the course Thursday morning and said it's going to be the toughest course on the women's World Cup circuit.
"It's probably one of the most technical courses on the circuit," Anderson said. "The women, Lindsey Vonn in particular, are so excited to not only be able to have this kind of difficult course here in the states, but also in conjunction with the World Championships."
The runs through the course are not for the faint of heart. Some pitches seem to come out of nowhere, and skiers and riders really need to stay on their A games to navigate through it all.
"You've got to pay attention," Anderson said. "There's some phenomenal steeps in there, and you've got some areas where if you haven't set up for your turn exactly where you should, you're not going to be able to carry your speed into the flats. I mean, it's just as tough as the guys' course - it's phenomenal to have that here."
The men often talk about Birds of Prey as being one of the most technical courses on the men's circuit. And, just like Anderson said, if the guys don't hit their turns just right, they often pay the price in time.
The women will have their first test run on the course in November, a week before the Birds of Prey men's World Cup races. Based on the feedback from the athletes, the resort and the Vail Valley Foundation will make any necessary adjustments during the spring, summer and fall of 2014. The 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek are scheduled for Feb. 3-15.
"Terrific. Will be fun to watch the ladies navigate the twists and turns," wrote Margaret Thomas on the Vail Daily's Facebook page.
For now, the World Cup women can only learn bits and pieces about the course. They know of the similarities to Birds of Prey - they have a race under their belts on that course from 2011 when women's races were canceled in France and moved to Beaver Creek. But they won't know the nuances until they ski the course themselves.
The test races in November will certainly test these women, but at least there's one test they won't have to face: moguls.
"It's a great run - the pitch, the moguls, the relative solitude," said Steve Givando, of Virginia Beach, Va., Thursday. "But it's a good, steep run, and when it's bumpy, it's a test."
The women will, however, fly down the icy course at speeds of more than 70 miles per hour.
That's a true test.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.