Birds of Prey Talon Crew has ‘hardest’ year yet with 18 inches of snow and World Cup races |

Birds of Prey Talon Crew has ‘hardest’ year yet with 18 inches of snow and World Cup races

Sean Norris, left, is the on-hill coordinator for the Talon Crew, responsible for all volunteers on the mountain. Merlon Pusey, right, is part of the Hot Shot team within the Talon Crew. Both Norris and Pusey have been with the Talon Crew since its first year in 1997.
Ross Leonhart |

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BEAVER CREEK — Just like that, the world of professional ski racing came through Beaver Creek for the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup.

About 18 inches of snow fell at Beaver Creek during race week, but all three men’s World Cup races went off without a hitch — thanks to the internationally recognized Talon Crew, a group of volunteers who dedicate days, sometimes weeks, to preparing a course that is both safe and suitable for the fastest men on skis.

“Everybody said last year was really difficult because we didn’t have any snow. Last year was easy because you don’t have to shovel sunshine,” said Sean Norris, the on-hill coordinator for the Talon Crew — the man in charge of all volunteers on the mountain. “This year was the hardest that I’ve ever seen this mountain in terms of the efforts that it took to get it done,” he added from the front row of the spectator area of the Sunday, Dec. 2, giant slalom races.

Racers from all around the world gave praise to the crew throughout the weekend, and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal donated his prize for podium finishes to the crew — giant bottles of Tincup whiskey.

“I was trying to do a warmup run down to the start and there were about 18 inches of fresh powder. I couldn’t even make a turn before the run,” American Travis Ganong said on Saturday. “But on the track they did an amazing job.”

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From the crowded spectator area on the final day of Birds of Prey, Norris stood in the front row with Merlon Pusey, of the Hot Shot group of Talon Crew. Both have been with the crew since its inception in 1997.

“It’s changed a lot,” Norris said. “Back then you could do anything and everything and there were no rules. We did it all. Now there’s a lot of concerns with respect to safety. There’s a lot of things that we ask paid staff to take care of and don’t ask our volunteers to step into those kinds of things.”

Volunteers on the Talon Crew do everything from setting up barriers and netting to icing down the track so snowcats can maneuver onto them to clearing loose snow to moving equipment to keep the course in shape throughout the days.

Norris said the average age of the crew is around 60 years old with a lot of retired people coming from all walks of life, and this year the Talon Crew was about 50 percent new.

“We just have a lot of people that return every year because they’re dedicated to what happens on that mountain,” Norris said, pointing from finish area. “And with 53 percent of the crew being new, they got to see the hardest thing ever to put together, so that will be their baseline, and that’s a pretty cool baseline.”

Dads on the course

Americans Jared Goldberg and Wiley Maple took to the Birds of Prey course over the weekend, and their fathers are members of the Talon Crew.

“I got more reason to be out there than most people volunteering — I want to make sure it’s safe for him,” said Don Goldberg, who’s been on the crew for six years and works with the Hot Shot team. “They take great care of us. The food is great. We have just great camaraderie and it’s a real team up there that gets this thing going. And it’s amazing the energy and enthusiasm that goes into it.”

The Talon Crew is broken into different teams, and Norris said he will find a place for anybody looking to join. He said a lot of volunteers boast about their skiing skills, until he takes them to the end of the Chair 9 road and leaves them on The Brink — a steep slope that falls away immediately.

As the World Cup circuit takes these skiers to mountains across the world, they seem to enjoy returning to Beaver Creek each year.

“Other venues across the world will use their national armies to keep the mountain cleared of snow. This is an army of volunteers — they’re not paid, they’re not ordered, they’re not directed,” Norris said. “They’re an army of volunteers that come out here and spend thousands of dollars to fly here from all over the world, get on a lift at 6 in the morning when it’s zero degrees and go up here and throw themselves at a mountain to make this event happen. That’s how we differ from the rest of the world — because the rest of the world doesn’t understand the volunteer commitment that we have here in the U.S.”

In addition to the Talon Crew, the Beaver Creek operations team also puts in a lot of work to make the Birds of Prey races happen. But without the volunteer help of the Talon Crew, it’s hard to imagine three days of World Cup racing at Beaver Creek.

“We’re effectively human Zambonis because you can’t put a Zamboni machine up there on the hill,” Norris said.

Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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