Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek canceled | VailDaily.com

Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek canceled

By Ross Leonhart rleonhart@vaildaily.com

The Birds of Prey World Cup downhill, super-G and giant slalom races scheduled for Dec. 2-4 have been canceled.

BEAVER CREEK — For the second time since Birds of Prey entered the FIS World Cup circuit in 1997, the downhill, super-G and giant slalom races will be canceled due to conditions — or lack thereof.

The Vail Valley Foundation announced Thursday night after meeting with International Ski Federation officials that the races scheduled for Dec. 2-4 will not happen, but the America's Winter Opening entertainment surrounding the event will go on as planned.

"Beaver Creek typically has some of the best early-season conditions in the world and a remarkably sophisticated snowmaking system," Vail Valley Foundation CEO Mike Imhof said in a statement. "However, the cold weather did not come in time this year."

The last time the Birds of Prey races were canceled were 2001.

"First and foremost, it's a huge disappointment to us and the whole family that is involved with the race," said U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick. "There's so many volunteers and professionals that gear up for this one in North America for us a year."

'HUGE HEARTBREAK'

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Most years, the World Cup stop at Beaver Creek is the only men’s stop in the United States. However this year, the World Cup Finals are in Aspen.

While the weather seems to be shifting in the high country, officials determined there is not enough time before the first training runs to prepare and fine tune a full downhill course and finish area.

"To lose [the race] this year is a big bummer," said U.S. ski team member Steven Nyman. "It brings to light the whole climate issue, which I believe is the real deal."

The snow started falling too late for race crews to create the demanding, 8,600-foot long Birds of Prey courses. Even with no snow, the races have gone on in previous years thanks to cold temperatures allowing snowmaking.

"To have mother nature not really work with us this year is a huge heartbreak," Rearick said. "We're really bummed we're not racing at home on our favorite hill. I'm bummed FIS didn't have more confidence in the snowmaking to pull this thing off last minute."

Beaver Creek reported 4-5 inches of snowfall from Thursday's storm, added to the snowmaking efforts.

"In the business of ski racing, we sometimes are faced with challenges that are simply beyond our control," said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Vice President Calum Clark in a release. "The Birds of Prey World Cup is a highlight for our entire organization each season and we look forward to returning to Beaver Creek in 2017."

A FIS survey of racers identifies Beaver Creek as the favorite stop on the tour for the athletes. From accomodations to course conditions to food — Beaver Creek beat out some other amazing ski venues on the circuit.

"I just want to give a big thanks to VVF and the efforts they've put in over the years," Nyman said.

'GOOD RUN TO SKI'

FIS officials announced the cancelation of men's World Cup races Nov. 26-27 at Lake Louise, Canada, due to warm temperatures. The women are due to race technical giant slalom and slalom next at Killington, Vermont, this weekend, and the men will not be racing until Val d'Isere, France, for giant slalom and slalom on Dec. 10-11, as well as the races intended for Beaver Creek.

For the racers, it means heading overseas to open the season at a course some have not skied before at Val d'Isere. Many of the American racers, as well as international racers, are staying in Colorado to train, Rearick said, adding that conditions in Colorado trump those in Europe.

"It's a hill that's high speed, and I think it's an OK hill to start the season," Rearick said, "but it's not nearly as challenging and fun to ski as Beaver Creek."

For businesses in Beaver Creek, the cancelation of the races could mean a hit to one of the traditionally busiest weekends of the year. The America's Winter Opening entertainment could still fill the village.

"One of the nice things that happens at Birds of Prey is that it brings a lot of people from Vail over here," said Jeff Forbes, owner of the Coyote Cafe. "It was always nice to see a lot of the locals, but I guess we won't be seeing them this year."

Local Brian Sipes is finding a silver lining the race cancellations.

"If they don't put a race finish on the course, then it will be a really good run to ski all winter," he said. "So that's a positive."

While locals will miss out on the annual international experience that welcomes the world to Beaver Creek, they hype for next year is already heating up, probably not helping race conditions.

"We're looking forward to being back on the Birds of Prey in 2017," Rearick said. "We'll be double amped to throw our bodies down the hill on that one."

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.