Beaver Creek Birds of Prey: The benefits of being tall in downhill

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily
At 6-foot-7, American Bryce Bennett is the tallest racer on the World Cup. His height allows him to absorb the rolling terrain of courses like Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek better than shorter racers.
Frank Gunn | Associated Press file photo | The Canadian Press

BEAVER CREEK — It doesn’t take a physicist to figure out that in downhill racing, height is an advantage. After all, with height usually there is weight, and since gravity is your friend in downhill, weight makes you go faster.

However, this is not the benefit World Cup downhill racers first mention when discussing their natural gift of height. Nonetheless, as we move into the 2018 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup downhill race scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30, at 10:45 a.m. the sport’s tallest racers agree that height is an advantage on the Birds of Prey course.

“It helps me in the top (section), where there’s a lot of terrain movement,” said Norwegian veteran Aksel Lund Svindal, who has notched six wins at Beaver Creek (four downhills, one super-G and one super combined) and measures 6-foot-2 inches, weighing in at 214 pounds.

Shock absorbers

The upper hand comes with longer legs. Rather than being slowed by bumps and rolls in the terrain as many racers are, tall guys such as Svindal roll right through it.

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“For instance, like on the top here, in Val Gardena (Italy) and places like that, it could be an advantage that you’re able to move with the terrain because you have a longer range to absorb it,” Svindal says.

Not only do long legs help for shock absorption, but they allow tall racers to hold the force they absorb from the terrain and actually generate speed with it.

“To use my height and suspension — my God’s gift — and make the most out of it, it’s for sure an advantage,” said American Bryce Bennett, who at 6-foot-7 inches, is the tallest racer on the World Cup. “With more suspension, I can absorb those bumps where other guys get thrown a little bit. I can actually work those bumps and get speed out of them. It’s all about working the terrain. I’ll be using that to my advantage.”

Bennett and teammate Steven Nyman both weigh in at 215 pounds and Nyman, who stands 6-foot-4, says the weight is certainly a natural selling point as well.

“I have a bigger frame to put more weight on and this is a momentum sport, a gravity sport,” he said, adding that height also has its downsides. “Height can be a big advantage, but it can also be a big disadvantage. Because I have a bigger lever, when that gets back, it requires a lot more energy to bring it forward.”

But, then again

In this, Nyman said shorter racers such as his teammate Travis Ganong (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz (5-foot-8, 174 pounds) actually have an advantage. Due to their compact size, they have an easier time staying in a tuck even as terrain and speeds change.

“Feuz never gets out of position. Travis never gets out of position,” Nyman said. “I finesse it, but sometimes I let that ski get in front of me. This is good because it lets it go, but then I have to do a lot more to get it forward with my height.”

When it comes down to it, though, guys of all shapes and sizes win downhill races. Looking at the history of World Cup winners here at Beaver Creek, this certainly holds true.

“That’s the beauty of alpine skiing,” Svindal said. “You have a lot of different body types and they all do well.”

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