Bustling crowds turn out for Birds of Prey weekend | VailDaily.com

Bustling crowds turn out for Birds of Prey weekend

Melanie Wong
Ted Ligety fans crowd the the staduim to support the American ski racer for the Birds of Prey giant slalom race on Sunday at Beaver Creek. They went home happy as Ligety won the race.
Dominique Taylor | Special to the Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — It was all there in the Beaver Creek grandstands this weekend — the waving flags of the competing nations, signs declaring affection for Ted Ligety and even a three-piece oom-pah band.

Fans turned out to watch three days of racing at Beaver Creek from Friday through Sunday, populating the super-sized grandstands at the race finish — set up for the much bigger 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championship races. Organizers say they do not have numbers yet for how many spectators came to the races, but the grandstands were consistently three-fourths full throughout the weekend. The stands hold 3,500 spectators, and that didn’t include a bustling VIP building and international media buzzing around the finish area.

Valley locals Zach Korbel and Rhonda Bell were out at the races cheering on American Steven Nyman. Even though Nyman, who took third on Friday’s downhill, was not racing the giant slalom on Sunday, Korbel was still sporting “I believe in Steven” pins and cheering on the Americans who were racing.

“It’s just a fun party,” said Rhonda Bell. “We just love it.”

Some fans came all the way from Europe, such as Lionel Agoutin, who traveled from France to see his first Birds of Prey World Cup.

Agoutin and fellow Frenchman Jacques Houot, of Aspen, were waving both French and American flags and sporting a sign that supported France’s Alexis Pinturault.

“I’ve seen Mikaela Shiffrin in Europe, and we’re big fans,” said Agoutin. “We’re excited to come back for 2015. I’ve already booked a condo with some friends for February.”

However, they couldn’t help noticing the difference in intensity between ski fans in the United States and in Europe, where ski racing is a major sport.

“I don’t see that many flags here — all the American flags I see belong to me,” said Houot.

Edwards residents Julie Peterson and Beth Oliver got their first glimpse of the Red Tail Stadium.

“I’m surprised to see how big it is. It’ll be great for 2015,” said Oliver. “It’s hard not to come out and watch when you have an event as big as this in your backyard.”

Some, such as Andrea Rusin, of Denver, were watching their first ski race ever. Others had grown up watching ski racing, such as a group of young ski racers from Lake Placid, New York, wearing matching hats in support of U.S. Ski Team members Andrew Weibrecht and Tommy Biesemeyer, who got their starts with their native ski club, the New York Ski Educational Foundation.

Other supporters, like Robin Sobieski, from Wildridge, arrived to support Ted Ligety and the rest of the U.S. Men’s Ski Team. Sobieski has volunteered at the Birds of Prey races before, setting up red gates, spraying water on the course and watching the racers from the sidelines.

“It was one of those things in life I’ll never forget,” she said.

Elizabeth W. Roberts contributed to this report.

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