BEAVER CREEK, Colorado - A handful of ladies from the U.S. Ski Team spent this week sampling the new world championship downhill course at Beaver Creek, including hometown hero and slalom overall winner Mikaela Shiffrin.-
The course, which was cut during the summer of 2012 and will make its debut at a World Cup test event in December, will allow the women to compete in the downhill and super-G at the same spectator venue as the men during the next World Alpine Ski Championships at Beaver Creek in 2015.-
Shiffrin, an Eagle-Vail native who made a huge splash this season during her sophomore year on the World Cup circuit, said while she's not a speed skier, she found the course to be both fun and challenging.-
"It seems to flow together really nice, there's a lot of terrain, there's a lot of different elements to the hill," she said.
The course goes from the Flat Tops run, to Peregrine and an area between Golden Eagle and Peregrine near the Golden Eagle pumphouse, crosses Westfall Road and ends with a gliding section near the Red Tail jump where the course merges with the men's.
Course architect and Beaver Creek director of mountain operations Greg Johnson said that for the last decade or so, he had been thinking about an area of the mountain where a good downhill format could be held for both men and women.
"When you look around our mountain, there are very few places that fit the criteria for terrain, vertical drop and goes into the same finish," he said. "That's extremely difficult to get that all together."
The end result, downhill and super-G courses that were officially "set" (gates put in place) this week by World Cup Ladies Speed Event Race Director Jan Tischhauser, was everything Johnson had been envisioning.-
"It's really great to see the ladies here and finally see some gates set on the hill," Johnson said. " ... It was great the last couple days, because when Jan Tischhauser set the downhill, it was fun to see that his course-set matched up to our vision of it turn for turn. All the way through the-rhythm of the-course is exactly how we were thinking it would be set."
The actual ski run that the women's downhill and super-G courses will take place on has been named Kestrel, after a bird of prey.-
"We think it's one of the, if not the, steepest super-G courses in the world," said Johnson. "We think it's 34 percent average top to bottom, which is very steep for a super-G course."
Shiffrin said she didn't find the steep parts too intimidating - but with a big, sweeping left footed turn coming off the steepest, most technical part of the course, trees and A netting to filling the view and only a narrow slot to turn into, she may have been feeling more fearless than the average ski racer.
"It's not really scary ... I'm not really scared of speed," she said.-
Speed skier Stacey Cook said while the course,-especially the aforementioned section her and the other racers are calling "the slot," is intimidating, having the advantage of skiing it a few times before the World Cup test event next year will be a big advantage to her and her teammates who were out there this week.
"It's a big confidence booster," she said. "To know what we face now instead of two days before the race is big."