Meeting actual birds of prey at Beaver Creek’s World Cup races | VailDaily.com

Meeting actual birds of prey at Beaver Creek’s World Cup races

Laura Bell
Special to the Daily

When the Birds of Prey races take place Friday through Sunday, Dec. 1-3, at Beaver Creek, competitors will fly down the super-G, downhill and giant slalom courses.

Top speed on the downhill can be in excess of 80 miles per hour. While that is indeed impressive, a true bird of prey, such as a golden eagle, can soar at up to 120 miles per hour while on a hunt. And one such bird, a female golden eagle, will be in the finish area each day at Beaver Creek.

She will then venture to the Raptor Education Foundation's tent near the Covered Bridge at Beaver Creek.

Two screech owls and a red tail hawk will be on display each day at the Vail Valley Foundation's tent from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"We try to bring birds which have runs named after them," said Anne Price, curator of the raptor program.

"The birds are absolutely a huge favorite of our fans. I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of them are there as much for the birds as for Ted Ligety," said Tom Boyd, of the Vail Valley Foundation, the organization which hosts and organizes the race and events. The birds this year are sponsored by the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

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In addition to providing great photo opportunities, the birds Price said, "teach conservation, habitat and an understanding of the role they play. Our primary mission is education."

Experiences for Kids

To that extent, the Raptor Education Foundation — which is located in Brighton, Colorado — travels to schools, libraries and the like educating the public about these amazing birds. A flying demonstration can be arranged, which is a special treat.

"We want every kid that sees our program to go home and tell their parents they saw: a golden eagle, a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon and a red tail hawk," Price said.

And there will be plenty of educational experiences at the tent. However, due to stringent U.S. regulations, the public is not allowed to come in contact with a raptor at anytime, so while there are photo opportunities, it is illegal to have a bird perch on your arm.

The real birds of prey inaugurated the men's downhill in 1997 and have been a consistent feature at the races since 2012.

During the two-week long 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the birds did not arrive until the second week.

"We had long-term ski enthusiasts who have gotten used to seeing the golden eagle around and kind of expected her. We heard people were asking, 'Where are the birds,'" Price remembers.

"Visitors can see that the Vail Valley Foundation and Beaver Creek are supporting conservation and education," Price continued. "I think the branding and logistics have worked out really nicely. Little kids are exhausted by the end of the race. They are so tired they are crying, then they pick up a sticker at the tent by the Covered Bridge and it rounds out a very positive experience at the resort."

Need a Raptor License Plate?

Other employees of the Raptor Education Foundation man the tent at the bridge while Price stays with the golden eagle at the VIP tent until the race is finished. The winner of the race then has his picture taken with the eagle and is given a framed photograph of the eagle. Then, Price takes the eagle to the Covered Bridge at the end of the day.

Those visiting the tent can become supporters of the Raptor Education Foundation and purchase a specialty license plate, which will be mailed at a later date.

The birds at the Foundation are all non-releasable. Some of the falconry birds have been injured or retired while others get rehabilitated to the best of its ability. One golden eagle in need of surgery received a successful operation from an orthopedic surgeon.

To learn more about the Raptor Education Foundation, stop by the tent between Dec. 1-3, and visit http://www.USAREF.org.