Beaver Creek builds Birds of Prey |

Beaver Creek builds Birds of Prey

Chris Outcaltcoutcalt@vaildaily.comBeaver Creek, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyA winch cat grooms steep terrain on the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, Colorado on Thursday.

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado Jeff Dow, Beaver Creeks winch lead, looks over his shoulder through the clear back of the winch cat. What was that, he said.Dow is directing the heavy snowcat up one of the steepest spots on the Birds of Prey race course. A metal cable attached to the top of the vehicle and connected to an anchor 100 yards up the hill helps pull the cat. The machines can groom 45-degree pitches because of the cable. About a week ago there was enough wet man-made snow for Dow and the other winch cat operators to start using the mountains six cats to craft the turns and banks on the course.As he climbs up the pitch he hears something amid the noise of the vehicle that doesnt sound right Its a rock. Its out of the race line, but Dows excited to get it off the course. Hes spent hours meticulously sculpting the section of the trail exactly the way he wants it. Skier safety is a huge concern, he said. Building the course for the only World Cup mens downhill race in North America is a sort of snow science. Dow has readied the same section of the Birds of Prey race course for the last seven years. He has DVDs of old Birds of Prey races he watches every year before starting work on the hill to refresh his memory about the intricacies of the course. I like to make it challenging, Dow said. Those guys are crazy. As soon as crews get about two-day window of temperatures in the mid teens, they start making snow for the race. They started on Oct. 21 this year. Snowmaking is the first of three steps to get the downhill course ready, said Greg Johnson, Beaver Creeks race manager.Once the temperatures are low enough, crews work through the night to make as much snow as possible. A uniform 2-foot base of snow is optimal for the course. After days of snowmaking, the six winch cats start moving the snow to craft the banks and turns of the World Cup course. Dow said the crews are a little ahead of where they were at this time last year. I remember still seeing some grass down there around this time last year, he said, looking out the cat toward the bottom of the course.The third step in the process is readying the final surface, Johnson said. Most skiers would consider it ice but Johnson calls it race snow. When were happy with the terrain features and snow depth, we soak it with straight water until its saturated, Johnson said. Crews worked on Thursday to finalize the top of the course. But theyve still got a lot to do, Johnson said. The harder we can get it the better the event theyre going to get. he said. It takes the crews more than 20,000 labor hours to have the course completely ready, Johnson said. Its a huge operation, he said. The Birds of Prey World Cup races will take place Dec. 4-7.Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or

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