The lowdown on today’s giant slalom race |

The lowdown on today’s giant slalom race

France's Alexis Pinturault finishes a Men's World Cup super-G skiing race Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s time for the giant slalom. Step away from the oxygen tank, people.

Too soon?

Last year, the Xfinity Birds of Prey FIS World Cup giant slalom never ended. Germany’s Stefan Luitz scored a shocking upset over Austria’s Marcel Hirscher. That’s no slight to Luitz. It was an upset whenever Hirscher lost a tech race.

Luitz rejoiced. It was a well-earned win as he had done both of ACLs during the course of his career.

But then …

Photos came out of Luitz breathing from an oxygen tank between runs, which violates the International Ski Federation’s rules on doping. Yes, strange as it sounds, extra oxygen is against FIS rules. One can see FIS’ thinking as Birds of Prey is the highest site in terms of altitude on the World Cup tour. One can see Luitz’s side, as we in the media need oxygen walking from the bus stop to the media center, and oxygen really shouldn’t be doping or all of us on earth are doping.

Initially, Luitz was disqualified and the win went to Hirscher. Luitz appealed and eventually was restored as the winner of the GS.

Lost in Oxygengate was that Luitz for the first guy not named Hirscher or Ted Ligety to win a giant slalom at Beaver Creek. The two won nine straight races here from 2010-17. (Trivia time: Carlo Janka, of Switzerland, was the last to win the GS before the Ligety-Hirscher run in 2009. Janka won all three events that year at Beaver Creek.)

With Hirscher retired and Ligety not having won a World Cup race since October 2015 (Soelden, Austria), the door seems wide open for racers to add their names to Birds of Prey legend.

The format

The first run goes at 9:45 a.m. with the top 30 racers qualifying for a second at 12:45 p.m. In the afternoon heat, the racers go in inverse order to their first-run finish, thus, qualifying for run No. 2 is called making the flip.

There are usually two races going on during a World Cup race. It’s just easier to see it in the two-run format of a tech race. You have the race for the win and you also have the hunt for the points, finishing in the top 30.

The latter is compelling. The first World Cup points are a milestone in a ski-racing career and it’s a rite of passage for the youngsters trying to work their way up the starting order.

A reminder: Just making the flip does not score points. Racers must compete both runs to earn points.

The history

Birds of Prey only started hosting the giant slalom on an annual basis in 2004. But that was plenty of time for Bode Miller to record one of the more mind-bending and gravity-defying set of runs in 2005 we’ve ever seen. Bode never did anything easily, and this was quintessential Bode.

Herman Maier (1999) and Janka (2009) both won giant slaloms here to complete the only triples in Birds of Prey racing.

The podiums

Last year, as noted, it was Luitz, Hirscher and Switzerland’s Thomas Tumler.

In the Soelden, Austria, giant slalom in October, Frenchmen Alexis Pinturault and Mathieu Faivre going 1-2, followed by Slovenia’s Zan Kranjec.

The picks

Our esteemed panel successfully avoided picking the winner for a second day. We are not worthy of the prize, a free digital subscription to the Vail Daily.

So take these with a grain of salt.

Tom Boyd, chief of press for the Vail Valley Foundation: Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen.

Shauna Farnell, ski-reporting goddess: American Ryan Cochran-Siegle.

Chris Freud, Vail Daily: Pinturault.

Pat Graham, AP Denver: What can we say? The man has good knowledge, Pinturault.

Ross Leonhart, Vail Daily: American Tommy Ford, who was fourth in Soelden.

Nate Peterson, Vail Daily: Ted Ligety returns to glory.

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