Race organizers looking ahead to 2015 | VailDaily.com

Race organizers looking ahead to 2015

Melanie Wong

VAIL — A couple weeks after Beaver Creek’s World Cup races, most of the netting and scaffolding is down, the courses are covered in fresh snow and there’s barely a trace of the grandstands and tents that housed hundreds of athletes and spectators.

However, the race is on to prepare for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the event for which the recent Raptor and Birds of Prey races were a run-up. The double feature World Cup races were a test run for the organizers, the facilities, courses, employees, capacity and volunteers.

The verdict was that the test run was largely very successful, although the organizing committee — the Vail Valley Foundation — said there’s still work to be done before 2015. (See Friday’s column by Foundation President Ceil Folz, “Race venue put to the test,” for more.)

This winter’s races featured a new women’s downhill course, a men’s course that branched off of the women’s run and a giant slalom course at Beaver Creek. The effort took the work of 1,100 volunteers in addition to Beaver Creek crews. Talons was put to the test once its doors opened as the World Cup press center.

“Without events like this, you don’t have the chance to see the flaws in the system, and it’s much better to have things not go as planned during a test than on the big stage of the championships. You have time to correct problems moving forward.”
John Dakin
Vail Valley Foundation

“Events like the recent back-to-back World Cups are invaluable opportunities to test a great many of the systems and plans that are proposed for 2015,” said John Dakin, of the Vail Valley Foundation. “Without events like this, you don’t have the chance to see the flaws in the system, and it’s much better to have things not go as planned during a test than on the big stage of the championships. You have time to correct problems moving forward.”

While the 2013 races were a success, in 2015 the event will be double in size. The races will be held on four courses in two different locations — the Raptor, Birds of Prey, a new ladies’ technical course on Raven Ridge and a course at Golden Peak in Vail. Beaver Creek plans to increase its race and snowcat staff from 100 to about 150, and they expect the course maintenance crew to grow from about 350 this year to about 800, said Greg Johnson, Beaver Creek senior director of operations.

In addition, there will be three media centers for 1,500 members of the press, a volunteer headquarters and significantly larger stadium areas.

The foundation estimates it will need about 2,200 volunteers overall — double the crew that was available this year. To date, there are about 1,500 volunteer applicants. People interested in volunteering should check out http://www.vailbeavercreek2015.com and click on the “contact” button.

Testing volunteers

For the volunteers, known as the Talon Crew, there’s no question that more hands and skis are needed for 2015. As Folz mentioned in her column, much deserved credit was given to the volunteer and professional crews that built and maintained the courses throughout the two weeks by the competitors, organizers and spectators.

Volunteer Steve Prawdzik and some of the other crew members spent as many as 18 straight days working at the races. He called it a true test event that brought a wide range of conditions — from the sunny, perfect conditions for the women’s Raptor weekend to the frigid, blizzard conditions for the men’s races. Still, there are some challenges that lie ahead.

“In 2015, we’ll have simultaneous races going on,” said Prawdzik. “We’ll need a separate full crew for Vail, and it might be harder to staff in 2014 (for Birds of Prey), because not that many will be able to do that and then take the time off to do it again a few months later.”

There’s also the matter of housing. Many dedicated volunteers come from across the country, and even as far as from Canada or Europe each year to volunteer at World Cup races. Volunteers like Patrick Maloney, of Vancouver, B.C., bring their expertise from volunteering at other major ski races and Winter Olympics to the slopes of Beaver Creek.

“It’s like an Outward Bound challenge. It’s a test of endurance to do this,” said Maloney, who is in his third year as a Beaver Creek volunteer and plans to return in 2015. “You’re on the hill, it’s long hours, it’s backbreaking, but it’s a real experience. It tests the limits of your physical and mental capabilities, and there will be even more pressure at the championships, where there are prime time audiences in Europe and it’s a big deal if the races start late. But it’s a challenging, invigorating experience you can’t have in any other sport.”

For the 2015 races, the crew is in need of residents willing to open up their homes to house out-of-town volunteers. To offer housing, email housing@taloncrew.com.

Onward to 2015

Organizers expect to see 700 athletes from 70 countries compete at the world championships. This year, many skiers said they were impressed at the new course and organization of the races. The women called the Raptor course one of the most demanding on the circuit and a worthy addition to the World Cup.

While the men mostly praised the condition of the course. Even in the midst of heavy snow, many found it hard to hide their disappointment at the course change. Some said they couldn’t wait to return in 2014 to race on the traditional Birds of Prey course again.

“It’s a good course,” said U.S. Ski Team member Steven Nyman of this year’s hybrid run. “But the traditional course is the best downhill course in the world. It’s hard to top that.”

They’ll get it in 2015, and Johnson, of Beaver Creek, said that while it will be a “big jump” to get all those courses going, 2013 was an encouraging start.

“We got a lot of good feedback about the quality of the (race course) team. We’re doing this as well as anyone in the world, which is really great, and that’s coming from people like FIS and U.S. Skiing,” said Johnson.

Doug Haney, U.S. Ski Team press officer, called the two weeks of racing an “absolute success.”

“The organizing committee in Beaver Creek is truly a best in the world organization, and we have no doubt the 2015 World Championships will be a perfect celebration of their passionate efforts,” he said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com.

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