A look ahead | VailDaily.com

A look ahead

BEAVER CREEK – In theory, the downhill is simple.Get down as quickly as you can. No gates. Just straight down.And, as opposed to Thursday’s super-G, racers will have skied the course in training Wednesday before today’s 11 a.m. start at the Birds of Prey, so their should be no surprises for the racers on the slopes.”The Birds of Prey downhill is the one that really kicks off the season for us,” said Daron Rahlves, who won the transplanted Val D’Isere, France, DH here last year. “It’s one of the most fun downhills to ski – it has a lot of challenge to it. In the first training run, you’ll notice a lot of guys having a blast in the finish because they’ve just experienced one of the best downhills in the world.”What makes this downhill so fun for me is the challenge. There’s a lot of off-camber, fall-away turns, banked turns … You’re doing a lot of traversing on the left ski, and after a series of steep pitches and rolls, you have some big jumps, then the high speed kicks in, too. So it’s a combination of everything.”

Predictions, anyone?As for a winner, Thursday’s victory by Austrian Stephan Goergl showed us that it’s anyone’s guess. A safe prediction would be Hermann Maier, who has eight wins on the Birds of Prey including four DH wins. Rahlves has also won here last year to become the first American to win a DH on home snow in nearly 20 years.And, Bode Miller has to brimming with confidence, given his DH and SG wins in Lake Louise, Alberta, as well as his silver in Thursday’s super-G.There are plenty of contenders outside “The Big Three.” From Austria, Fritz Strobl, Mario Scheiber, Michael Walchhofer, Benjamin Raich and Hans Knauss deserve consideration. Will it be Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken, Askel Lund Svindal, Lasse Kjus or Kjetil-Andre Aamodt?

Switzerland’s Tobias Gruenenfelder? Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein? And, why not Goergl again? Take your pick.Rahvles’ takeChallenges abound on the Birds of Prey, but some spots are worth noting, and who better to give us a guide than Mr. Rahlves himself.– The Flyaway – “The start is built up about 30 feet above the ground. You kick out of that and just try to get some momentum and start rolling down the top. I just hope in that section my skis are flying on Flyway.”

— Talon – “I think one of the coolest turns on this course is the Talon because you come off your left ski, off a little ridge, and catch a little air. You try to land in the right spot where you can just move to the right ski quickly and make a quick transition from left to right. Then, you go right into this fall-away turn that just tries to pull you down, that’s heading down into Pete’s Arena.”This section is really fun because there’s a lot of challenges – you’re getting pulled to the left. You’re trying to stay high and keep your line up there so you can use the hill for speed. If you get a little late or behind, you’re really going to be hustling to just stay in the course, let alone being fast. There’s one really tough compression turn on the left ski. You come up and it’s a little awkward for me because you need to switch skis and get on your right foot before you come over this roller. It’s really a tricky section before you come to the Pumphouse, just trying to stay ahead of the line and take all your speed coming into the next section.– Pumphouse – “At the top technical section you come into the Pump House and fly off not too far, you’re pretty close to the ground but you’re really fighting for aerodynamics again. From this section down, you really try to work on your aerodynamics, get as small as you can, looking for as much speed as you can, and trying to use the fall line. It’s a long, right-footed turn and you want to just get as much fall line out of this as possible. The trick is to get headed enough on the left ski that you come around the island going into Screech Owl with a ton of speed because there’s a long flat afterwards. This is one of the most critical spots. You can be putting together a great top section, but if you blow this section, you have no chance on this hill to be in the top five.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado