Be warned: The World Cup is back
They are here to fly, one by one, down the one-and-a-half-mile Birds of Prey track in fewer than two minutes, poles jetting behind them like wings. In a race, these athletes look like goggle-eyed hawks with skis for talons.
Maybe this is how they named the course.
Or, maybe, they named it what they did because this course is one of the fastest in the world and, if you’re not careful, eat you alive. Saturday and Sunday, starting at 11 a.m., racers from all over the world will try to tackle the beast on top of Beaver Creek, first in a downhill event and, on the second day, a super-G. Many of the racers, including the Austrian and U.S. ski teams, are returning after spending two weeks in November training on Beaver Creek after the early-season snowfall.
“Hopefully this will get everyone in the valley fired up for this,” said U.S. ski-racer Jake Fiala, who graduated from Battle Mountain High School and now lives in Summit County. “It’s still the start of the season for us, and it’s a long season, so we need all the support we can get.”
Even Daron Rahlves, a U.S. racer from Utah, feels at home.
“Any chance we have to race in the U.S. is nice,” he said. “We hope to see big results.”
Missing from Beaver Creek this year will be Austrian dynamo Hermann Meier, who won the downhill in 2000 and 1999, and the super-G in 1999 and 1997. The “Herminator” is still recovering from a leg injury he suffered in 2000 while training.
After last year’s cancellation due to poor snow conditions, the return of the World Cup is marked by other significant changes to the race format and a week full of parties and celebrations.
Let this be your warning. Let it also be your guide.
n A downhill run is based around pure speed. The gates on the course are spread far apart, allowing the racers to speed down the course at around 70 miles-per-hour. In a super-G race, the gates are closer together and the course is smaller, but the speeds will still be excessive.
n Admission is free to the public who can reach the run, which can’t be accessed by car.
Besides shuttle service and skier and snowboarder access, there is another option. Snowshoe up The Wagon Road to the finish area. On each race day, beginning at 9 a.m., the Beaver Creek Nordic Center will offer free snowshoe rentals until the supply runs out.
n Skier access starts at the top of the Centennial Lift (chair 6). Follow the Red Tail run to the Birds of Prey course crossing. Follow the crossing to the south end of the Birds of Prey finish area. Consult maps and signs for seating areas. (Be advised: Most of the terrain to the finish area is intermediate to advanced level.)
n Shuttles will run every five minutes starting at 7 a.m. until after the races, from both parking areas located at the base of Beaver Creek, dropping off at the covered bridge in Beaver Creek. From the covered bridge, access the “Downhill” bus that will travel to the Birds of Prey finish area. Skis will not be permitted on buses.
n A new timing system is being set up this year. This weekend will be the second opportunity the International Ski Federation (FIS) has to test new start formulas for the downhill and super-G competitions. Under the previous formula, the top-15 ranked racers had the ability to pick race start positions between one and 30. Now, downhill start orders are determined by the results of the final training run, while super-G orders are established by the current World Cup points in that discipline.
n Training begins today at 11 a.m. and will run until 1 p.m., and will continue every day through Friday.
n Public festivities begin Friday at 6 p.m., with the World Cup Public Celebration in the Beaver Creek village center. Spectators will get the chance to meet the world’s top-10 fastest downhill racers and get their autographs. The racers will also draw raffle prizes, ranging from skis to vacations.
n The event is a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. For additional information on the event, call (970) 949-1999 or visit http://www.vvf.org.
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.