A warmer, snowier welcome for racers | VailDaily.com

A warmer, snowier welcome for racers

Ian Cropp
SPT Birds1 KH 11-27-06

BEAVER CREEK – Canadian Ski Team speed coach Lionel Finance should have brought a pair of shorts with him to Birds of Prey this year.”We feel great. It’s like summertime now,” Finance said Monday evening.With temperatures in the high-20s, Monday bore little resemblance to summer – unless you happened to be traveling from Lake, Louise Alberta.After this weekend’s World Cup speed races in Canada, most ski teams embraced the conditions that seemed balmy by comparison.”It was pretty cold in Lake Louise,” said U.S. men’s coach Phil McNichol. “It’s nice to be home. We had a couple-hour delay in Calgary, (Alberta), trying to get here. They had to thaw the plane. It was negative 30 at the airport this morning.”The Austrians were also enthused to return to a venue where they’ve seen plenty of success, and have a large fan base.”It’s always a pleasure to come here to Beaver Creek – we love this place. We feel a little bit at home here,” said Austrian coach Toni Giger.

Speed teams and just about all equipment arrived in time for the Monday evening Captain’s Meeting (some skis were scheduled to arrive late Monday night).Home cookingFinance and the Canadians were some of the earlier arrivals, but they probably wouldn’t have minded staying in Canada for a little bit longer. The Canadians are coming off a fantastic weekend in which John Kucera won the super-G and Manuel Osborne-Paradis took silver in the downhill. “That was huge, we made a big impression there,” Finance said. “(It’s good) for the team because it’s still a young team.”Erik Guay, 25, is the seasoned veteran of the Canadian squad and one of the returning top performers from last year’s races at Beaver Creek (Guay was second in the super-G and sixth in the downhill). “He’s in good form,” Finance said. “He had lots of pressure in Lake Louise because he was the one who had some podiums last year. But now John has one, which is a lot better for (Erik) because now the pressure isn’t on his shoulders.”

The Austrians also raced well in Canada with perennial Beaver Creek threat Hermann Maier finishing fourth in the super-G and sixth in the downhill. And then there’s the rest of the vaunted squad. “The gap between the oldest and the youngest is 15 years,” Giger said. “Hermann and Fritz Strobl are very experienced, and the youngest guy Romed Baumann, and all are doing well.”Although the Austrian men occupy three of the top five overall spots, they haven’t been as dominant as their female counterparts, who have taken seven of nine podiums thus far.”We are really happy they have results, and hopefully, they’ll go on like this,” Giger said.A good avalancheAs was the case last year, snow was the topic of discussion at the Captain’s Meeting Monday. With a snowstorm on the horizon, race officials warned that today’s downhill training may be scrapped.

“It’s going to start snowing tonight, and we’re not sure how much we’re going to get, but we’re expecting 5 to 15 inches between now and tomorrow,” said course director Greg Johnson. “Avalanche danger may be a problem tomorrow, because (the course) is so hard that anything that hits it will fall right off. That’s the good news, because once it does snow, we can get rid of it. We did it last year and we’re confident we can do it again.”On the other end of the snow spectrum, International Ski Federation men’s director Gunter Hujara touched the warm conditions in Europe and the impending decision of race cancellations in Val d’Isere, France.”The cancellation date is still Wednesday. Nothing has changed for that,” Hujara said.There is still a good chance the races will be canceled and a make-up super combined scould be held in Beaver Creek, for both the men and women, next weekend.Snowja vuAbout an hour east of Beaver Creek, a bunch of World Cup racers competed in a NorAm giant slalom at Keystone. Italy’s Alessandro Roberto took gold, with Finland’s Kalle Palander, who took third in last year’s giant slalom and won the slalom at 1999 World Championships in Vail, in second. Jake Zamansky was third, and led a trio of top-15 American finishers.

“The guys had a fantastic showing against a really strong European field,” McNichol said.McNichol hopes the home snow will help the Americans, who haven’t had many top results in the World Cup this year.”The last couple of years we’ve had really good energy in the United States, especially at the Birds of Prey, and historically that’s helped in terms of some momentum,” McNichol said. “We had a tough first weekend in speed, and we had a lackluster day in Finland, although we had good stuff going in there. You just want to get it going, especially when you stand outside in the cold all day. You want something good at the end more than a hot cup of cocoa. The guys are coming.”But McNichol remembers what happened last year – snow was in the forecast, training got canceled and then the Americans took five of 12 podiums.”I’ll take all the deja vu from last year I can get,” McNichol said.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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