A spectator’s guide to the Birds of Prey | VailDaily.com

A spectator’s guide to the Birds of Prey

Welcome to the World Cup.

For the next three days, the best in the world will be careening down the slick, icy track known as Birds of Prey, one of the world’s premiere downhill venues, at speeds of 70-80 mph.

Do not try this at home. These are trained professionals. So, a few tips for watching the races in the next three days.

n Race times: Today, downhill, 12:15 p.m., Saturday, downhill, 11 a.m., and Sunday, super-G, 11 a.m.

n Beaver Creek has a well-tested and efficient bus system to transport fans up to the Finish Stadium. Park in either East or West lots at the entrance of Beaver Creek. Pick up the regular shuttle, which takes you from the lots to the village. From there, there will be buses waiting to take you up to the bottom of the stadium. There is a bit of a hike from the bus-drop to the stadium, so wear some sturdy shoes. Allow yourself about 30 minutes to get from the lots to the stadium.

n The recent warm weather brings both good and bad news. The good news is for the skiers – the course is icy perfect for the racers. The bad news is for spectators, hoping to watch along the course – the snow’s not good for recreational skiers. So, race organizers are advising people not to ski or snowboard their way along the side of the course.

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n The same goes for skiing to the Finish Stadium. There will be no skiing access to stadium Friday, according to Birds of Prey spokesperson John Dakin. If the resort is able to bet a good night or two of snowmaking, the stadium could be accessible via the Red Tail or Dally runs on Saturday and Sunday. Check the Vail Daily for updates as the races progress.

n The best view is at the stadium, which is always a scene on race day. There, you will see flags of all nations, fan clubs supporting assorted European racers and, of course, a whole bunch of red, white and blue, supporting America’s best. There will be a big screen and scoreboard with times, split times and standings, so you can follow all the action, along with Dakin at the microphone. Expect plenty of cow bells and other assorted noisemakers as fans cheer their favorites down the hill. There will be stadium giveaways and vendors, including the ever-important coffee/hot chocolate stand.

n Who to look for: While we’re partial to the Americans, it’s hard to bet against Hermann Maier. While he grew up in Austria, Birds of Prey is his personal backyard. And, after winning a super-G last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, and winning Thursday’s training run, he’s got to be the favorite.

Other Austrians who will definitely be in the mix are 2002 Birds of Prey downhill champ and World Cup overall winner Stephan Eberharter and defending Worlds downhill champion Michael Walchhofer. Don’t forget Fritz Strobl, Marco Buchel and Andreas Schifferer.

As for the Americans, Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves are the headliners. Miller’s the overall points leader this year and finished sixth in last year’s super-G and eighth in the downhill. Last year, Rahlves became the first American to reach the podium at the Birds of Prey, taking third in the downhill. Rahlves is also the defending champion at the Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbuhel, Austria.

Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at cfreud@vaildaily.com.