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Vail legend John Dakin passes the torch, and his microphone, after 40 years

VAIL — John Dakin is so good with a microphone in his hand that he can weave such words as “plastic pants” into his World Cup ski racing call and make it sound seamless.

Dakin’s rich baritone voice has been part of Vail and of U.S. ski racing for four decades. After more than 30 years with the Vail Valley Foundation and around 10 more with the Colorado Snowsports Museum, Dakin has called it a career.

“It’s overwhelming to be part of it. It’s been a great ride,” Dakin said.

He joked that his epiphany had nothing to do with filing for Medicare, deciding to take Social Security or noticing that three-quarters of the mail in his mailbox was from AARP. It was really the day he decided to pull out one of his old U.S. Ski Team uniform tops and wear it to work at the Snowsports Museum.

“I realized that what I was wearing was older than some of the artifacts I was looking at. I didn’t want to scare anyone into thinking I had escaped from an exhibit,” Dakin said.

Always winning the word game

During Dakin’s retirement reception at the Snowsports Museum, Jen Mason decided that in addition to having a speech prepared, they would revisit an old Vail Valley Foundation tradition. When Dakin announced the World Cup ski races, his colleagues would come up with some oddball words like “arugula” or “plastic pants” — nothing to do with ski racing — and challenge him to weave it into that day’s race call.

During Dakin’s retirement soiree, he was charged with incorporating the word “aardvark” into his speech. If you know Dakin, you know that “aardvark” rolled through his narrative seamlessly.

Do not envision him in retirement on his couch in his bathrobe, “curled up like an aardvark,” Dakin said as the crowd laughed with him.

Dakin is an amazing photographer. He’s headed to Yellowstone with the World Wildlife Foundation to follow wolves around and take some pictures. In May he’ll head to Botswana for a photo safari. And maybe he’ll get another dog.

“I feel that I have been truly blessed in my professional life to find something I was passionate about, ski racing, and to be in the right place at the right time to start and expand my career, it’s been head and shoulders above anything that any kid coming out of Grand Junction, Colorado, could have ever thought possible,” Dakin said.

Taking a look back over his long career, he thanked the board and staff of the Colorado Snowsports Museum, the members of the University of Colorado ski team, U.S. Ski Team members, World Cup racers, Hall of Fame members. … The list is long, as it should be for someone who has enjoyed such a long career.

“You are all truly special to me. Without you, I would not be here. Thank you so much for giving me so much,” Dakin said.

Dakin credits Bill Marolt from the University of Colorado and the U.S. Ski Team for his start in the industry, first with the CU ski team, then a call from Marolt in 1981 to recruit Dakin to the U.S. Ski Team in Park City, Utah.

“Marolt’s involvement with the U.S. Ski Team, the FIS, the World Cup and World Championships enabled me to continue that friendship. It’s not a stretch to say that without Bill, I would not be here,” Dakin said.

About those 1989s

Dakin was part of the team that successfully lobbied the International Ski Federation to bring the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships to Vail, the event’s first trip to the U.S. since Aspen in 1950 when Europe was still too bombed out from World War II to host it. It kicked Vail’s international marketing into hyperdrive.

After those 1989 World Championships, Dakin’s role and most of the Vail Valley Foundation’s role in events like that was supposed to disappear, in a return to what was then the status quo. It didn’t.

“Vail and the valley would never be the same after the 1989 World Championships. I’ve been blessed to be part of all three World Championships. That has to be some kind of record,” Dakin said.

It was Dakin’s baritone voice that called U.S. Ski Team great Tamara McKinney’s gold and bronze medals in 1989, and Vail native and U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown’s last run.

Dakin also smilingly explained to a 1989 worldwide television audience that, while Europe was contending with a multi-year snow drought, the night before Vail had been pounded with so much snow that the downhill had to be postponed.

At the other end of that spectrum, Dakin and others told the world about the bizarre and untimely death of FIS board member Archduke Alfonso de Borbon of Spain before the 1989s even started.

“It was a terrible accident. It was one of the toughest things any of us have ever encountered,” Dakin said.

During all those events over all those years, with the world demanding his attention, Dakin walked through countless media centers, greeting old friends and new acquaintances, shaking hands while his eyes smiled at you, remembering names. No matter the clamor around him, you could ask him for one moment and he would happily give one, and one was enough.

At the end of those 1989 Worlds on closing day, a glorious bluebird Sunday afternoon, Dakin was resplendent in his Descente parka and boots. He paced back and forth across the finish corral carrying what was then a new-fangled wireless microphone … talking to the world.

Mikaela Shiffrin resets, and the rest tremble?

Call it the Mikaela reset.

After a what for Mikaela Shiffrin was a disastrous 17th-place finish in a World Cup giant slalom — most mortals would call it Tuesday — in Courchevel, France, she ditched her plans to race speed on the French slopes of Val d’Isere before Christmas.

A little time off, a little refocus and she body-slammed tech events on consecutive days in Lienz, Austria, after the holiday and all is right with the world again, as Shiffrin starts a World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, today.

This shows two things — how hard it is to compete in the overall by competing in a ton of events a la Slovenia’s Tina Maze in 2012-13 when she scored a record 2,414 points in a season and how self-aware Mikaela Shiffrin is.   

Tina’s wisdom

This may be stating the obvious but there’s a reason the overall World Cup championship is so difficult. It’s hard because you’re switching up from tech in both Levi Finland, and Killington, Vermont, doing speed in Lake Louise, Alberta, the next weekend and flying across the Atlantic to compete in super-G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the next week.

Three days later, Shiffrin blew out of the gates in giant slalom.

I get tired typing that.

It’s not like Shiffrin did poorly during that stretch. She won the Levi slalom, was third and first in Killington, took 10th and second in the Lake Louise downhills, was 10th in the Canadian super-G and third in the Swiss one.

That’s two slalom wins, a tech podium, two speed podiums, and 10th in a World Cup downhill, a finish with which fans of any racer not named Shiffrin would be perfectly delighted.

It just catches up with you. Shiffrin didn’t say much aside from a tweet after finishing 17th in Courchevel, but just looking a the schedule leading up to that event, she couldn’t have been on GS skis, if at all, before that race and it showed.

Remember that Shiffrin’s first full season on tour was Maze’s record-setting year.

Not only did Shiffrin have a front-row seat, watching Maze start all 31 World Cup and the five FIS Alpine World Ski Championships events, but the Slovenian offered her a bit of advice.

According to Bill Pennington of the New York Times, Maze told Shiffrin, “Don’t do this. This one season alone may ruin me.”

Shiffrin first disclosed this moment during last year’s worlds in Are, Sweden. In an attempt to compete in all five Alpine events in the 2018 Olympics, she admitted that she overdid her schedule, leading to disappointing tech results — her last DNFs in both GS and slalom.

Shiffrin learned from that and didn’t try to do all five at worlds the next year, despite the suggestion from Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller that she go for it.

In the 40 starts — both World Cup and world champs — between the 2018 Olympics and the Courchevel GS, Shiffrin won 23. What’s more in 35 of those 40 races, she was on the podium. Four of those five “non-podiums” were speed races.

Future plans?

As an interruption to our paean to Shiffrin’s greatness, let’s remember that she’s just 24. It seems like she’s older because she already has 64 World Cup wins, five worlds golds, two Olympic victories and all the globes and a partridge in a pear tree.

Every instinct after a bad outing tells you to work harder and compete more. Shiffrin, at various points during her early 20s, has done the opposite by stepping back and regrouping.

How self-aware were you during your early 20s? (Saying, dude, I could go for a beer doesn’t count as awareness.)

This maturity is one of her underrated qualities.

And it begs the question of what’s ahead? The theory was that the 2019-20 season being the only one in the four-year cycle without worlds or the Olympics that Shiffrin might do more speed.

Now? Not so much?

Yes, after today’s slalom the tour heads to Zauchensee, Austria for downhill and combined next weekend. The combi favors tech skiers and Shiffrin is the best tech skier in the universe.

But the following week is the Flachau, Austria, night slalom and giant slalom and parallel slalom in Sestriere, Italy.

Given the reset, Shiffrin probably sends her polite regrets to Zauchensee. With five speed stops in six weeks from Jan. 25-March 1, there might be an opening for some downhill and super-G, but not as much as we might have anticipated at the beginning of the year.

As much as 17th in Courchevel might have been a low point for Shiffrin recently, the rest of the field might come to rue it if she’s back on her game as it seems.

The year in snowsports: Lindsey Vonn says goodbye and Mikaela Shiffrin reigns

So, did anything happen on snow in 2019?

Yes, Lindsey Vonn retired — and some of us really believed it when she didn’t unretire to start in Lake Louise, Alberta, one more time in December.

Mikaela Shiffrin pillaged and plundered, while Tess Johnson bumped and jumped to her first FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships medal and an American returned to the top step of the podium at the Xfinity Birds of Prey for the first time in five years.

Vonn bows out triumphantly

The 2018-19 World Cup season was meant to be Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant victory tour, complete with the five victories that would vault her (82 career wins) past Ingemar Stenmark (86) for all-time World Cup wins.

Who wouldn’t conservatively presume that Vonn would win one or two out the three annual races in Lake Louise in December 2018? With 18 career wins on that hill, there’s a reason they call it Lake Lindsey.

Before those races, ironically, she injured her left knee in training over at Copper. Her left was the “good” one after her right knee pretty much exploded back at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.

Lindsey Vonn hugs a U.S. team staffer in the finish area of a World Cup super-G in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy. Mikaela Shiffrin won the race while a hobbled, emotional Vonn broke down after she failed to finish on knees so worn down that she describes them as “bone on bone.” Shiffrin then came down nine racers later and won her first speed race at the premier stop on the women’s circuit.
Andrea Solero | AP

In January, Vonn gave it a go in Cortina, Italy, finishing 15th and ninth in two downhills. While those were good results, not only did they pale in comparison to her previous greatness on that piste — 11 wins, 20 podiums and 31 top 10 finishes there — her body was simply not up to it.

After scratching from races in Garmisch, Germany, Vonn made it official on Feb. 1, that worlds — or more specifically, the super-G and the downhill — in Are, Sweden, would be her finales.

Vonn crashed hard during the super-G, won by some lady named Mikaela Shiffrin. Yet, in the typical fashion of her career, she recovered and went on to take bronze in the downhill, a finale worthy of her career.

Stenmark was there to greet her at the finish, as were family and friends. Plaudits from the ski community flowed, as it was a happy ending.

“I’m happy that I could finish strong. I’m happy there are so many people here,” Vonn said. “I wish my mom and my brother and my sister could be here, but half the family is here so that’s good. I soaked it all in. I waved to the crowd one last time. Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”

Lindsey Vonn smiles in the finish area after taking the bronze in her final race of her record-shattering World Cup career, the women’s downhill at the alpine ski World Championships in Are, Sweden, on Feb. 10, 2019.
AP | AP

Shiffrin reigns

The apropos question for Shiffrin’s 2019 is “What didn’t she do?”

Technically, Mikaela did not win a downhill. Feel shame, Mikaela, and go sit in the corner. (For those in social media, we are joking.)

Among the many accomplishments, Shiffrin broke Vreni Schneider’s record (14) for most World Cup wins in a season with 17. Shiffrin won her third overall World Cup title. She won her sixth globe in seven years in the slalom, captured her first giant-slalom season title, and even won a globe in super-G, for crying out loud.

Mikaela Shiffrin turned in a World Cup season for the ages in 2019.
Alessandro Trovati | Associated Press file photo

Then there was world championships, where she won gold medals in super-G and slalom. She added bronze in giant slalom.

She’s already rolling in the 2019-20 season with slalom wins in Levi, Finland, and Killington, Vermont. Knock wood, she’s on her way to her fourth overall and will likely finish the year third on the all-time World Cup wins list behind Stenmark and Vonn.

Keep your eye on this youngster. Shiffrin, 24, might just be a pretty good skier if she sticks with it.

Tess breaks out

Speaking of youngsters — yes, this is starting to sound like the sports department yelling, “Get off my lawn” — Tess Johnson, 19, has already been to the Olympics and has world champs bronze medal.

She also has her own Wikipedia page. (OK, that’s it … GET OFF MY LAWN! I covered this kid when she was playing high school soccer. She was pretty good at that, too.)

Johnson already has three podiums, including a World Cup win back in 2018, but some podiums are just more equal than others. She is probably a better moguls racer than dual moguls, but she had a night to remember at worlds in on Feb. 9, capturing bronze in the latter in Deer Valley, Utah.

Dual moguls are eventually decided head-to-head in a tournament-style bracket. Johnson came down the hill in the small final, aka the bronze-medal race, and saw the No. 3 flicker next to her name.

“I was overwhelmed with happiness,” Johnson said. “The crowd roared and I was immediately on cloud nine.”

In other snow news in 2019

  • At the Burton U.S. Open, Scotty James and Maddie Mastro ruled the pipe, while Red Gerard and Zoi Sadowski Synnott took slopestyle honors.
  • U.S. Ski Team racer Alice McKennis, who has Vail Valley ties, returned to World Cup racing this season after missing all of the 2018-19 season coming back from a broken leg. And so far the results have been promising. She finished 10th in a downhill at Lake Louise earlier this month, then 13th in the super-G the following day.
  • At Birds of Prey, an American won the giant slalom. His name was Tommy Ford. (Most were expecting that it would have been Ted Ligety, who was fourth after the first run, but fell back to 11th in the end.) Ford, 30, had never won on tour and was the first American to win a World Cup at Beaver Creek since Ligety did so in 2014.
  • The Swiss dominated the rest of the racing on the annual World Cup stop with Marco Odermatt winning the super-G and Beat Feuz repeating in the downhill.

Ski Racing 101: Your guide to Birds of Prey

BEAVER CREEK — Not everyone grew up here. Not everyone was here to watch Tamara McKinney win gold in the combined during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail in 1989.

And, as such, not everyone knows the about World Cup skiing and what the Xfinity Birds of Prey FIS World Cup ski races are. It’s OK to admit it. Most of us grew up in parts of the country where the World Cup is a strange quadrennial soccer tournament.

Thus, we give you Ski Racing 101, the answers to your questions. 

What is the World Cup?

Consider it major league skiing in American sports parlance. The best skiers in the world compete at this level.

In format, it’s more like the PGA Tour. Each weekend during the winter, like golfers during the summer, the tour goes to venues around the world.

After the traditional opening races in Soelden, Austria, in October and Levi, Finland, the men’s tour starts in earnest in Lake Louise, Alberta, during Thanksgiving weekend and comes here annually during the first weekend of December.

After Birds of Prey, both the men and the women, the latter are in Lake Louise this weekend, head to Europe for the rest of the season. The men’s World Cup’s next stop is in Val d’Isere, France. 

What are the disciplines?

There are five different kinds of races, or disciplines — downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined.

Downhill and super-G are speed events. Giant slalom and slalom are technical, or tech events. As the name implies, combined is a mix of both.

The distance and speed involved decreases, while the need for turning increases as one goes from downhill to super-G to giant slalom, also known as GS, to slalom.

• Downhill is exactly what it sounds like — get down the hill as quickly as possible. There is one run in a downhill.

• Super-G is a shorter downhill with a few gates that racers are required to turn past. The kicker in super-G is that racers do not get to ski the course before race day. The morning of a super-G, the racers can inspect the course to get an idea of where the gates are, but this element usually leads to some surprises on race day. Like the downhill, there is just one run.

• GS — see, call it GS — is a two-run race. There are anywhere from 56 to 70 gates with gates relatively close together, as compared to slalom.

The entire field starts a GS or slalom, with only the top 30 racers advancing to the second run, where the fastest racer from the morning run goes last and the slowest qualifier goes first.

This is called, “making the flip.” The racer with the lowest combined time from the two runs wins.

• Slalom has the same number of gates as GS, but they are closer in vertical distance together, testing the racer’s agility to the maximum. Like GS, slalom is a two-run race with only 30 making the flip. (See, the lingo makes you sound smart.)

What is being raced this week?

Now that you know what the disciplines are, here we go.

• The men race super-G on Friday at 10:45 a.m.

• It’s downhill on Saturday at 11 a.m.

• Giant slalom is set for Sunday, with the first run starting at 9:45 a.m. and the second run at 12:45 p.m.

How are season titles determined?

The top 30 finishers in each race receive points based on their finish. For example, the winner gets 100 points, while the second-place finisher gets 80, etc.

By the way, in a two-run race, just making the flip doesn’t guarantee points. In the GS, slalom and combined, racers must finish both runs.

Racers rack up points in each of the disciplines, downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and combined, as the season goes through mid-March. The racer with the most points in a discipline wins that year’s World Cup discipline championship and gets a crystal globe for his or her efforts.

Whoever racks up the most points from all five disciplines from the entire season is the World Cup champion, and gets another globe for that.

The defending men’s World Cup champion is Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, and he won it eight years in a row. However, he retired this fall. The big question on the men’s side this season is who fills the void? Lots of racers are now in the hunt. 

Mikaela Shiffrin is the three-time defending women’s champion, and she is already leading the points in her quest for a fourth.

What do Worlds and Olympics have to do with the World Cup?

Absolutely nothing statistically.

Shiffrin has won the slalom at the world championships, held biennially, in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, and won the Olympics slalom in 2014 and giant slalom in 2018. Those seven wins — she won super-G also last winter — do not count toward Shiffrin’s 62 World Cup wins.

This doesn’t make much sense, as a skier’s record at world championships, which were held here in 1989, 1999 and 2015, is a very big deal and considered one of the measures of his or her legacy.

The 2019-20 season is the only year in a four-year cycle without worlds or Olympics, yet these events are not far from anyone’s mind. The 2021 worlds are in Cortina, Italy. The 2022 Olympics are in Beijing. 

So who could do well this week?

Predicting ski racing is dangerous business. One is more likely to be wrong than right. That’s the nature of having the best in the world going at each other each week.

But, as we’ve mentioned, on the men’s side, Hirscher has retired, so the men’s race for the World Cup title is wide open. The top five returning ski racers from the 2018-19 season are France’s Alexis Pinturault, Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, Italy’s Dominik Paris, Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz.

Is there home-snow advantage?

Yes, which brings us to the U.S. Ski Team. For the men, this is the only weekend racing in their home country. This weekend caps the two weeks the World Cup spends in North America before heading to Europe for months. These races are home games for the Americans.

Ted Ligety has six GS wins on this course, but the speedsters have also had success at Birds of Prey. Travis Ganong skied to worlds downhill silver here in February 2015. Steve Nyman has three podiums here in his career.

How do you watch Birds of Prey? 

As of this writing, there is no skier access to the course. That could change as the week proceeds. We’ll post updates as warranted. Beaver Creek, as a World Cup host, has gotten its shuttle-bus service down to an art form. Park in the lots, and hop the bus to Beaver Creek Village. The bus to the finish stadium at Red Tail will be right there.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s next stops: Killington GS and slalom

It’s home race week for Mikaela Shiffrin,

It’s definitely home snow for the reigning World Cup champion as Saturday’s giant slalom and Sunday’s slalom in Killington, Vermont, are the only women’s races of the year on American snow. First runs are at 7:45 a.m. with the flips for both days coming at 11 a.m. Colorado time.

It’s the icy East Coast snow she trained on while working here way up the ranks of Burke Mountain Academy.

With this being the fourth year of World Cup racing in Vermont, Shiffrin will have a boisterous crowd behind her.

And Shiffrin has quite the record in Killington.

Madame is 3-for-3 in slaloms in Killington and has gone fifth-second-fourth in the GS.

Giant slalom

Within the technical disciplines, giant slalom has been the work in progress compared to slalom. Within the realm of general success, this is all relative for Shiffrin.

France’s Tessa Worley won the 2016 GS with Norway’s  Nina Loeseth in second and Italy’s Sofia Goggia in third. That last is a bit of a blast from the past as Goggia is now a speedster after a broken ankle in 2018.

In 2017, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg edged Shiffrin by 0.67 seconds with Italy’s Manuela Moelgg, now retired, in third.

Federica Brignone (Italy), Ragnhild Mowinckel (Norway and out for the season) and Stephanie Brunner (Austria ) were the podium last year. 

Looking at Saturday, these are the names at which one should be looking.

Do note that New Zealand’s Alice Robinson, who won the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, will not be in the field. She competed quite well in Austria on a wonky knee and announced that she is out this weekend.

This gives Shiffrin a chance to take the lead this weekend in the giant-slalom globe hunt.

In Soelden, Shiffrin was second, Worley third, Brignone fifth, Rebensburg 13th, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova 14th, and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener 15th.

Shiffrin, Vlhova, Worley, Rebensburg, Brignone, and Holdener are the top six, in that order, among active GS  racers from last year.

Slalom

Here’s a fun stat. According to the U.S. Ski Team, Shiffrin has won 41 of 70 World Cup slalom starts in her career. She has won 58.5 percent of her slalom races back to when she was 15. That’s downright annoying.

It’s even more annoying — in a good way — that she didn’t win in her first 13 slalom starts because she clearly was a slacker.

Since Dec. 20, 2012, her first win in Are, Sweden. she’s won 41 of  57 World Cup slaloms. (Again, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — 4-for-4 in slalom, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019  — as well as a win in the 2014 Olympics, don’t count in these numbers.)

In 2016, she won the Killington slalom with Croatia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova in second and Holdener in third. (More fun trivia: As good as Holdener is, the Swiss skier has never won a World Cup slalom.)

In 2017, Shiffrin mopped the floor, beating Vlhova by 1.64 seconds and Austria’s Bernadette Schild by 2.67 ticks in Vermont.

Last year was tighter with Shiffrin, Vlhova (plus 0.57) and Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter.

We will write it over and over. Shiffrin is the favorite in any slalom race she enters on this blue dot.

The big thing to watch for Killington is how Vlhova responds after DNF’ing in the final run of the day last weekend in Levi, Finland, giving Shiffrin the win.

Both?

Yes, it’s way to early to look at the 2019-20 World Cup points, but Shiffrin (180) leads Robinson (100) and Holdener (96). By getting down the hill twice in Saturday’s  GS, Shiffrin will pass the Kiwi in GS points.

If Shiffrin can win both  — a stretch, but not an outrageous ask —  she can start to put a bunch of space between her and the field in pursuit of her fourth overall World Cup title.

Not that anyone’s counting, but Shiffrin has won on consecutive days eight times during her career, the first time in Aspen on Nov. 28-29, 2015  (two slaloms) and last in Soldeu, Andora, last spring at the World Cup finals on March 16-17 with slalom and GS.

The history behind the Birds of Prey racecourse at Beaver Creek — a course of dreams

In one summer, 1997, the Birds of Prey course was constructed at Beaver Creek. The course has hosted the World Championships of ski racing, held every other year, in 1999 and 2015, and it hosts annual men’s World Cup races, this year returning Dec. 6-8. (Photo by Dann Coffey | Special to the Daily)
Course-of-dreams-full-course-arial-photo-1

“When I first saw Birds of Prey, I told others I don’t want to change the mountain. But I want to listen to the mountain and see what it tells me. I could see this was a well-balanced mountain with all the features you need to ski it.” — Berhnard Russi, Birds of Prey course designer

Not long after the successful 1989 World Championships came to a close in Vail, local organizers started thinking, “Hey, that was fun. Let’s do it again.” The event put Vail and Beaver Creek on the world stage — not in the least due to 30-plus inches of snow that fell prior to the men’s downhill, causing a one-day delay. Course workers started digging, European TV reporters stood waist-deep to send dispatches across the ocean, reservation phone lines were ringing, and no doubt a lot of people had a good powder day.

Two or three years later, the group of visionaries that brought the event to the Vail Valley 30 years ago were unanimous in one major change that needed to occur if the world was to come back: a new men’s downhill course.

The same course feature that created intrigue in the 1989 version on Beaver Creek’s Centennial run — Rattlesnake Alley, a luge-like chicane dug into the earth and shaped with snow and water — was also a major challenge when that big snowfall came. It filled up fast and had to be dug out by hand — lots of hands wielding shovels.

More importantly, the tide was changing in favor of tougher, more challenging courses that played into the hands of the nations that compete regularly on the World Cup, as opposed to a tamer version that could accommodate the countries that only field a team for major events.

“The desire was to the best of our ability put together a kick-ass downhill,” said John Dakin, former vice president of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, and part of the discussions in the early 1990s.

The bid was secured in 1994 with the prospect of creating a new course incorporating the East Vail Chutes, according to John Garnsey, then president of the Vail Valley Foundation. But establishing a course in Beaver Creek became a priority, and Jim Roberts and Greg Johnson, both longtime officials of the race organization and what later became Vail Resorts, explored the possibilities and presented what is now Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek.

‘All the features you need’

Berhnard Russi, left, who earned Olympic gold and silver, World Championship gold and nine World Cup downhill wins for Switzerland in the 1970s, put the visions of local organizers into reality and connected the dots to build the legendary Birds of Prey course. He is pictured here with Vail Associates’ Bill Brown. (Photo by Vail Valley Foundation | Special to the Daily)
Course-of-dreams-photo-1

Course designer Berhnard Russi, who earned Olympic gold and silver, World Championship gold and nine World Cup downhill wins for Switzerland in the 1970s, put the visions of local organizers into reality and connected the dots to Beaver Creek’s existing runs.

“When I first saw Birds of Prey,” Russi said to The New York Times in 1999, “I told others, I don’t want to change the mountain. But I want to listen to the mountain and see what it tells me. I could see this was a well-balanced mountain with all the features you need to ski it.”

In one summer, 1997, the Birds of Prey course was constructed, which largely involved difficult work at the top of the mountain to create a start area and the initial gliding section that leads into the steep terrain where the Brink, Talon and Pete’s Arena are located.

“The top 30 seconds are dead flat and you’re just in a full tuck,” said Bode Miller as part of “The Thin Line,” a 2010 film by Jalbert Productions. “And then it goes into some of the steepest stuff we have on the World Cup, at least for an extended period of time.”

Russi said it takes a special mindset to ski his course.

“What the challenging thing on Birds of Prey is you need a different attitude to ski,” he said. “Out of the starting gate you have to be very light and very smooth. And once you come over the Brink, and it changes from heaven to hell. From one moment to the other you have to change your technique completely.

“Once you are over the Brink, those turns come at you so fast. And once the tight turns are over, by the pumphouse, you know it’s getting faster and faster. You have no time to think about what’s coming up.”

What’s coming up is a lot of air time plus a potential deceleration — the Peregrine, Goshawk, Screech Owl and Golden Eagle jumps, followed by a compression known as the Abyss, where the terrain flattens out and can take away a lot of the speed a racer has gained to that point.

“He’s (Russi) built some killer courses. I really like how he’s worked in the natural terrain,” said Daron Rahlves, twice a winner on the Birds of Prey downhill.

The final Red Tail jump is capable of launching a racer “60 to 70 meters,” Miller said. “That’s almost the length of a football field. And it’s where a racer has to just let it go to carry his speed across the line.”

“The Beaver Creek downhill has everything,” said Kjetil Andre Aamodt, winner of the 1999 combined, and a bronze medalist in the downhill that year — two of 20 medals he captured in Olympic or World Championship events. “It’s a modern downhill. It has gliding sections. It has a lot of action — steep parts, turns, jumps — which I think all the racers love.”

The Birds of Prey course underwent its first and only test, prior to the massive 1999 World Championships, during a test event in December 1997, and quickly drew rave reviews. While Italy’s Kristian Ghedina was the winner of the inaugural downhill, the always dominant Austrians soon took charge.

Hermann Maier ultimately won six of 10 World Cup races he started between 1997 and 2003.

“It’s our big home race. It’s the only race we (men) get to have in the United States. It’s very important for us. It’s nice to be able to go to a race here where your friends and family can show up. Beaver Creek is obviously awesome for all events.” — Ted Ligety, American ski racer

‘We didn’t know’

It took wide and broad support in the Vail Valley and in the international ski racing world to create the Birds of Prey course. (Photo by Vail Valley Foundation | Special to the Daily)
Course-of-dreams-photo-3

While the combination of the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Resorts and the local community has earned high praise for its continued success at organizing and executing ski races dating back to the 1960s, there was a natural trepidation if all the moving parts would work as they should in December 1997 at a new venue.

“We had a lot of anxiety about this venue,” said John Garnsey, president of the Vail Valley Foundation at the time, to the Denver Post. “We didn’t know what it would do. We didn’t know if we could get the people here. We didn’t know how the stadium would work. We didn’t know how the course would be perceived.

“The course is getting an A-plus rating. The stadium is getting an A-plus rating. The transportation is working. Therefore, it’s a big relief for us as organizers. Now we can start working on fine tuning and detail.”

Said Russi in 1999, where Maier won the downhill in front of an estimated 20,000 fans — including Arnold Schwarzenegger — and tied Norway’s Lasse Kjus for the super-G gold, “I can imagine that five years ago this course would be too steep, too ‘turny.’ It would not have been acceptable,” he told the Denver Post. But times had changed, and Russi had created a masterpiece. “It is just the right course at just the right time.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger holds up Hermann Maier’s hand after the Austrian athlete won the 1999 World Championships downhill on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course. (Photo by Bo Bridges, Vail Valley Foundation | Special to the Daily)
Course-of-dreams-photo-5

Compared to his days two decades earlier, Russi said: “The racers are 10 times better, and I think you have to give them a chance to show it. If they’re just going straight, no one knows how good they are.”

Birds of Prey was quickly recognized as one of the top courses on the World Cup circuit — right up there with Kitzbühel, Bormio, Val Gardena and Wengen. It became a place where Americans would shine — 11 wins between 2003 and 2014 — which no doubt helped draw the crowds that have flocked every year. It has all of the elements the planners envisioned when preparing for the 1999 championships and beyond.

The wildly successful 2015 World Championships drew just under 221,000 spectators and millions more on TV to watch American stars Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Steven Nyman and Travis Ganong mix it up with their European rivals.

“It’s our big home race. It’s the only race we (men) get to have in the United States,” said Ligety in 2008. “It’s very important for us. It’s nice to be able to go to a race here where your friends and family can show up. Beaver Creek is obviously awesome for all events.”

Shiffrin returns to World Cup for a reindeer

So, what happens to the reindeer?

This is a pressing question as Mikaela Shiffrin and the women’s World Cup resume action on Saturday with the Levi, Finland, slalom.

The winner of said competition earns prize money, 100 World Cup points, and a reindeer. Given the likely difficulty of getting a reindeer through airline security, much less into the overhead compartment of an airplane, the reindeer stays in Levi≥

Shiffrin has won the Levi slalom thrice (2013, 2016 and 2018), and accordingly has named three rangifers terrandi, Rudolph, Sven, and Mr. Gru, who presumably are living a life of contentment in Finland.

Soelden review

In our last episode of, “As the Mikaela Turns,” Shiffrin finished second in the Soelden, Austria, giant slalom in October to New Zealand’s Alice Robinson by all of 6-hundredths of a second with France’s Tessa Worley in third. 

Robinson, 17, is clearly an up-and-comer in GS, having earned the first podium of her career last spring — second place behind Shiffrin at the World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra.

In a bit of a role reversal for her career, Shiffrin, 24, was the grizzled veteran being “upstaged” by the youngster at Soelden.

Robinson, to this point in her young career, has not skied slalom on the World Cup, so round up the usual suspects for Saturday with Shiffrin being automatically installed as the favorite in any World Cup event in this discipline.

The champ is here

Shiffrin is moderately above average in the slalom having won the yearly World Cup globe six out of the last seven years — the only exception being 2015-16, the season when she tore her ACL.

She’s captured the biennial FIS Alpine World Ski Championships slalom in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, as well as the Olympic gold in 2014.

Forty of Shiffrin’s 60 career World Cup wins are in slalom, Last season, in the nine traditional slalom events  — i.e. not including parallel or city events — she won eight and finished second in Flachau, Austria on Jan. 8.

Shiffrin, already the winningest women’s slalomer of all time, will pass men’s legend Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark with her next victory in the discipline.

Throwing in the aforementioned parallel and city events to her slalom, Shiffrin won 10 times last season and finished second twice in the total 12 events for 1,160 points out of a possible 1,200.

Here come Petra and Wendy

And, yes, both of Shiffrin’s runner-up finishes in the discipline last season came at the hands of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who is the closest thing out there to Mikaela kryptonite.

Shiffrin (1,160) breezed to the slalom crown last year with Vlhova (877) and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener (681).

Get familiar with these three names in women’s slalom. In four of the nine World Cup slaloms last year, the same combination of the trio was the podium.

Austria’s Bernadette Schild and Katharina Liensberger and Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Anna Swenn Larsson were the only skiers not named Mikaela, Petra, and Wendy to make a slalom podium last season, and Hansdotter retired last spring.

With Hirscher retired, who wins the men’s World Cup?

What now? While we understandably obsess about women’s World Cup ski racing, and the entire world thinks that Mikaela Shiffrin will four-peat as the overall champion, who knows what’s going to happen this season with the men?

The great Marcel Hirscher announced his retirement last month, and since he’s won the last eight World Cup championships in dominating fashion, no one has any idea who ascends the throne.

In 2011, the last time Hirscher didn’t win, Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic brought home the globe, followed by Switzerland’s Didier Cuche and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. They’re all retired.

Italy’s Christof Innerhofer finished fourth — he’s now 34 — and Switzerland’s Carlo Janka, the Iceman, 33, took fifth.

We are likely going to see a whole new generation emerge from Hirscher’s shadow when the men kick out of the gate in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday for the traditional season-opening giant slalom.

Following the path

Historically, the World Cup champ raced in all five disciplines — downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and combined. (The parallel slalom/GS/city event wasn’t a thing yet.)

In addition to winning an unprecedented eight titles, Hirscher redefined how to win those globes. He dominated tech events — crushing the giant slalom and slalom while entering the occasional combined.

Hirscher never entered a downhill during his entire career. He raced just 22 super-G, winning just one at Birds of Prey, not surprising given that it is one of the more technical speed courses on tour.

Another thing that helped Hirscher and likely benefits Shiffrin, certainly more of an all-around racer than the Austrian but whose wheelhouse is GS and slalom, is that there are more technical events than speed on the modern schedule.

Straight up, the men have 21 tech races (nine giant slaloms and 12 slaloms) and 18 speed races (10 downhills and eight super-G’s). Now add in the new genre of parallel giant slaloms/slaloms/city events and combined events, which favor the tech racers and the techsters have 26 events to the speedsters’ 18.

So, as we try to guess who emerges in a post-Hirscher world, tech specialists might be a place to start.

The leading contenders for this path would be France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. The Frenchman finished second in the points last year, while the Norwegian was fourth. Both have been laboring in Hirscher’s shadow.

Pinturault might be the next Mr. GS, with apologies to Ted Ligety. He’s finished either third or second in that discipline’s point chase for the last seven seasons. Of his 23 career World Cup wins, Pinturault has won 11 times in GS and has eight wins in combined.

Kristoffersen had a better year last season in GS with his two World Cup wins and a gold medal from the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in that discipline, but his background is slalom. Fifteen of his 18 career wins are in slalom.

Need for speed

As noted, with fewer speed races on the slate, it’s harder for the pure downhiller to win the overall. One has to go back to Cuche in 2006-07 for a true ski-tips-down guy winning the big globe.

Yes, Janka (2010), Svindal (2009) and Bode Miller (2008) were good at speed, but 75 percent of Cuche’s points in 2006-07 were from downhill and super-G.

Piinturault finished last season with 1,233 points, the most among male racers not named Hirscher, followed by Italy’s Domink Paris (1,119), who is the top returning speed stud, followed by Kristoffersen (1,101).

Other speedsters to watch are Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr, Switzerland’s Beat Feuz and Mauro Caviezel and Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud.

The wild card?

In an increasing world of specialization, Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde is the closest racer there is to an overall guy along with Pinturault. Kilde finished eighth in the points last year

Not as well known as the rest of the Fighting Vikings — Svindal, Jansrud, and Kristoffersen — Kilde does have the tools and is only 27, still young coming from a predominantly speed background.

Just keep an eye on Kilde.

As much as it would be cool to have a speedster rule the roost — go Paris — we still like Pinturault or Kristoffersen to capture the globe in the post-Hirscher era.

So what does Mikaela Shiffrin do for an encore?

In 1498, Leonardo Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper.”

How does one top that? Well, roughly within the next 10 years, Da Vinci created the “Mona Lisa.”

Yes, the comparison is extreme — Alpine ski-racer Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite on Da Vinci’s level when it comes to contributions to humanity — but the expectations for the 2019-20 World Cup season which starts on Saturday with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, are.

After winning 19 of her 29 starts in 2018-19— between the World Cup and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — setting a record for World Cup wins in a season (17), winning two golds at worlds (super-G and slalom), scoring 2,184 World Cup points, the second most in World Cup history for her third consecutive overall title, winning discipline titles in super-G, giant slalom and slalom and finishing in the top 10 of all 29 races she entered, how does she follow that?

Is it possible to paint a “Mona Lisa” after you just finished “The Last Supper?” The tendency is to scale back expectations after her 2018-19 season.

  • • After Slovenian Tina Maze conquered everything during her record 2012-13 season, scoring a record 2,414 points with 11 World Cup wins and one worlds gold (super-G), she “slumped” down to 964 points, one World Cup win and two Olympic wins in Russia.
  • • Lindsey Vonn’s apex was the 2011-2012 season with 1,980 points and 12 victories. She continued her dominance with six wins in 2012-13 until she blew up her right knee at the worlds super-G in Schladming, Austria, inexorably altering her career.
  • • Hermann Maier followed his 2,000 points in 2000, including 10 wins, quite well with 1,948 points, another World Cup title, globes in downhill and super-G, 13 World Cup wins, including the Birds of Prey downhill, and a silver medal in the downhill at worlds.

History says it’s daunting for Shiffrin to come close to repeating was she did last season. Yet there is the part of the brain that asks what is not possible with Shiffrin?

After a record-setting season in 2018-19, expectations are sky-high for Mikaela Shiffrin.
Gabriele Facciotti | Associated Press file photo

Her performance trend line of World Cup wins has gone from six in 2014-2015 to 11 in 2016-17 — she did her ACL in 2015-16 — to 12 in 2017-18 to 17 last year. She has expanded her skillset out of being a Marcel Hirscher-tech racer — she won the super-G season crown last year. She even won a downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December 2017.

The heart says, “Of course, she can.” The brain still advises caution.

For starters

Shiffrin will be kicking out for the eighth time in her career in Soelden, and she has “only” one win there in her career (2014). She started last season with a third-place finish, so much like an NFL opener, it’s best not to make too much of the first race of the season.

Traditionally, Levi, Finland, the first slalom of the season — Nov. 23 this year — has been friendlier to her. In six starts, she’s won three times, been on the podium five times and finished 11th in 2014, after which, by her standards, she royally chewed herself out in the press.

If she isn’t in the win column after Soelden and Levi, there’s Killington, Vermont, the only “home” stop on the tour. Holding a GS and a slalom race over Thanksgiving weekend, Shiffrin’s won one race there each of the last three years near her old stomping grounds at the Burke Academy.

Lake Louise, the first speed stop of the season, is usually on her schedule. The slope, being one of the tamer on the circuit, has always been a comfortable place for Shiffrin. She’s the defending super-G champ there on Dec. 8.

Does Shiffrin win the overall?

Very simply, yes.

This is more math than skiing. Shiffrin is part of a dying breed of overall racers. While she won’t enter every downhill this season, she’ll enter enough and win “bonus points” by finishing in the top 30. Again, she finished no worse than ninth — a position worth 29 points in the World Cup standings — last year.

Had she not entered any speed events (downhill or super-G) last year, she still would have run away from her nearest competition, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, 1,655-1,383.

Let’s say her victory total drops by more than half, plummetting from 17 to eight. That’s still a base of 800 points and not a long road to get to Vlhova’s 1,383.

Vlhova will be Shiffrin’s biggest competition for the slalom title. Shiffrin has won that globe six of the last seven years, the only miss coming with her ACL injury in 2015.

GS should be a fun chase all season with Shiffrin (675 points last year), Vlhova (578), France’s Tessa Worley (500) and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg (460).

What about speed?

These are probably the biggest questions? Does Shiffrin repeat as the super-G champ? Doubt it. Remember that bad weather — lack of snow or too much — scrubbed a bunch of super-Gs, in which Shiffrin was not scheduled to compete.

There are seven super-Gs this year, and she won’t compete in them all.

That said, does she compete in more downhills this year? The 2019-20 season is the only in a four-year schedule without a world championships or an Olympics. The schedule is more spread out than usual.

The women’s World Cup has a stretch from Jan. 25-March 1 with 10 speed events (four downhills, four super-Gs, and two combineds) with just two tech events, a GS and slalom in Maribor, Slovenia.

This might be an opportunity to enter a few speed races without losing her edge in her bread and butter. In an interview with the Vail Daily in August, she said she was considering it.

“There are speed races that I am considering, at least that I wouldn’t have otherwise if it were busy as it has been,” Shiffrin said. “In a sense, the schedule is not easier but makes it possible to explore some different things. For sure, it’s a good year to push myself a little bit more, not too much but just see what the possibilities are.”

So how many wins?

When in doubt, follow the money. Bwin.com, an international betting website, has Shiffrin at -500 to win the overall, meaning that you have to bet $500 to win $100. Vlhova is next at +1000 — $100 to win $1,000.

The money overwhelmingly likes Shiffrin for a fourth consecutive World Cup title, and we agree.

On Interwetten.com, one can make bets on season-specific numbers. Will a racer win more than 13 races? The odds are 75-1 and keep in mind, Shiffrin had 17 last year.

How about a bet on someone earning more than 960 points in slalom? (Shiffrin had 980 last year.) That’s 150-1. Two-thousand points in a season? It’s 250-1.

Of course, we use these numbers for recreational purposes only, but they go back to how ridiculous Shiffrin was last year, and how hard a repeat of those accomplishments are. The gambling industry does not stay in business by giving away money,

We’ll go with 12 wins for Shiffrin, the World Cup championship, and the slalom title, but not GS.

In the meantime, Shiffrin is probably looking for her paintbrushes.

Goodbye fall, hello winter: 15 winter events coming to Vail, Beaver Creek

From Burton US Open in Vail to Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, here’s a list of events coming to Vail and Beaver Creek this winter.

Oct. 25-27

Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Ski & Snowboard Swap

Celebrating 50 years, the annual SSCV Ski & Snowboard Swap has all of the gear you need for the upcoming winter. From skis and snowboards to helmets, gloves and goggles — used and new — everything is available for great prices. A portion of proceeds benefit Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Sell your gear by dropping off accepted items on one of three days leading up to the event. Visit www.vailskiswap.com for more information and details about how to sell your gear.

Dobson Ice Arena in Vail is filled with all sorts of winter gear during the annual Ski and Snowboard Swap.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Oct. 26

2019 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame Induction

The Class of 2019 includes Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler, an Olympic silver medalist in halfpipe in 2006; Jeff Gorsuch, an Aspen ski retailer and philanthropist; the late Martin Hart, who helped transform Steamboat Springs; Steve Raymond, co-founder of the Adaptive Spirit program; and the Pioneer Hall of Fame selection Jake Hoeschler, of Winter Park, who revolutionized the ski retail industry with his exclusive ski liability insurance program. Tickets for the gala, taking place at Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Lionshead, are $325, with tables of 10 available starting at $3,750. A $250 individual ticket is also available but doesn’t include seating location preference. Visit www.snowsportsmuseum.org or call 970-476-1876 for tickets or more information. The Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame is located in Vail.

Gretchen Bleiler won silver at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and finished her historic snowboarding career with four X Games golds. She will be inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame in October.

Nov. 15

Vail Mountain Opening Day

New this year, early-season snowmaking efforts shift from Lionshead toward Gondola One, with the largest snowmaking project currently underway in North America happening at Vail Mountain — on pace to be the largest ever completed in a one-year span. First to open will be Swingsville and Ramshorn. Get those legs ready, skis waxed and be ready for Day 1. Visit www.vail.com

Vail Mountain, opening
Vail Mountain is scheduled to open Friday, Nov. 15.
Vail Resorts

Nov. 27

Beaver Creek Opening Day

A day at Beaver Creek is never complete without Cookie Time — including Opening Day. The lifts are scheduled to start turning at Beaver Creek the day before Thanksgiving. The 15th annual Cookie Competition takes place at 2 p.m. leading up to the regular — and daily — 3 p.m. Cookie Time at Beaver Creek. Visit www.beavercreek.com.

Beaver Creek is scheduled to open Wednesday, Nov. 27 — the day before Thanksgiving.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Select Fridays throughout the winter

10th Mountain Legacy Parade

Skiers dressed in traditional 10th Mountain Division Ski Trooper uniforms perform a torchlight ski down Vail Mountain to the base of Gondola One followed by a parade of military veterans through Vail Village and more. Dates are Fridays: Nov. 29; Dec. 27; Jan. 3 and 17; Feb. 14; and March 6. For more information, visit www.vail.com.

Military veteran dressed as traditional 10th Mountain Division soldiers march down Bridge Street during a 10th Mountain Legacy Parade last winter. Legacy Parades return to Vail during select Fridays this winter.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Dec. 5-8

Birds of Prey World Cup at Beaver Creek

Ranked as the No. 1 overall stop by the athletes and coaches who participate, Birds of Prey brings men’s World Cup super-G, downhill and giant slalom races to Beaver Creek. In addition to the fastest men on skis racing down Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey, the event includes live music, beer tastings, ski films, parties and more. Visit www.bcworldcup.com.

The world’s fastest men on skis come to Beaver Creek each year for Birds of Prey World Cup races. This year’s races are Dec. 5-8.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Dec. 12-15

Vail Snow Days

This four-day festival brings free music to Ford Park in Vail, in-town and on-mountain early season specials, après and after-dark parties, an expo village and more. Musical acts are TBD. Visit www.vailsnowdays.com.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were one of the big-name acts at last year’s Vail Snow Days festival. This year’s Snow Days are scheduled for Dec. 12-15.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Dec. 14-31

Vail Holidays

A two-week celebration, Vail Holidays takes place in December and includes Vail Snow Days; activities for kids including ice skating and cookie decorating; the annual tree lighting ceremony and lantern walk at Vail Mountain; a New Year’s Eve fireworks show; and more. Get in the holiday spirit this year with Vail Holidays. Visit www.vail.com.

Vail Holidays features lots of activities to keep kids entertained.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Feb. 14-18

Vail Legacy Days

Vail Legacy Days is a four-day celebration of the rich history of Vail and the legacy left by its founders, former members of the 10th Mountain Division and the community members that made Vail what it is today. Celebrate the legacy of Vail with the 10th Mountain Parade, 75th anniversary Riva Ridge Ski Down and more. Visit www.vail.com.

Vail Legacy Days celebrates the rich history of Vail in February.
Special to the Daily

Feb. 22

Talon’s Challenge at Beaver Creek

You vs. 26,266 vertical feet at Beaver Creek — are you up for the Talon’s Challenge? The 17th annual Talon’s Challenge pits skiers and snowboards against 14 black and double black diamond runs — totaling over 26,000 vertical feet — in one day. Celebrate the accomplishment at the après party at Talon’s restaurant. Visit www.beavercreek.com.

Are you up for the Talon’s Challenge this year?
Townsend Bessent | Daily file photo |

Feb. 24-29

Burton US Open

Returning to Vail, the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships bring the best men and women in the world to the halfpipe and slopestyle courses on Vail Mountain. The five-day event features free music, a party at Dobson Ice Arena and activities for kids, including a learn-to-ride Riglet Park and Burton Girls Ride Days. Visit www.vail.com.

The Burton US Open returns to Vail in February, bringing the world’s best male and female snowboarders to town.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaild

March 26-29

17th annual Vail Film Festival

The Vail Film Festival brings impressive, unique films to Vail each year, from documentaries to shorts to features. Organizers of the Vail Film Festival each year focus on promoting women in the industry. Mix in some films with your ski days March 26-29. Visit www.vailfilmfestival.com.

“Once Upon a River” showed at the Vail Film Festival in August. The Vail Film Festival returns in March.
Special to the Daily

March 28

Pink Vail

Vail Mountain turns pink every year on Pink Vail, a fundraiser that brings nearly 3,000 people dressed in pink together to benefit the Shaw Cancer Center. Participants range in age from 1 to 95 years old, including cancer survivors. Watch out for Team Double Stuffed — a top fundraising team every year. The day includes checkpoints across the mountain, live music, a headquarters at the base and lots of pink. Visit www.pinkvail.com.

Pink Vail brings together cancer fighters, survivors as well as friends and family who ride in memory of loved ones.
Weekly file photo

April 1-4

Taste of Vail

The annual Taste of Vail brings together three essentials in life: food, drink and skiing. The four-day festival includes a Debut of Rosé 2020/First Taste of 2019 Rosé event; American Lamb Cook-Off & Aprés Ski Tasting; Grand Tasting; and Mountain Top Tasting. Visit www.tasteofvail.com. Ticket prices vary by event.

Taste of Vail’s Mountain Top Tasting brings together cozy spring dishes, decadent desserts and wines chosen for outdoor sipping.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com

April 10-19

Spring Back to Vail

The annual Spring Back to Vail is a celebration of the changing of the seasons and features the World Pond Skimming Championships at Lake Golden Peak, free live music and more heading into the final days of the ski season.

A snowboarder tries to skim across the pond at the base of Golden Peak for the World Pond Skimming Championship at Spring Back to Vail.
Photo Courtesy Vail Resorts

Closing Days

  • Vail: April 29
  • Beaver Creek: April 12
Check out the Vail Daily’s on-mountain snow report this winter, On the Hill, available on www.VailDaily.com and YouTube.
Ross Leonhart | rleonhart@vaildaily.com

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.