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Birds of Prey: When ski racing means business

Ryan Slabaugh

In fact, for the post-Thanksgiving lull, that an impossibility. Media from all over the world will shine its light on the World Cup, broadcasting to millions of cow-bell aficionados. Announcers will pepper the viewing audience with the name of the mountain.

The cat, for a little while, will be out of the bag.

“We benefit from the media and the television exposure,” Beaver Creek chief operating officer John Garnsey said. “We’ve been fortunate to work with the Vail Valley Foundation, who’s taking charge of much of the cost. As for us, it’s not an expensive proposition.”



As the best skiers in the world checked into Beaver Creek Tuesday, the teams brought managers, coaches, racers, trainers and, on a few occasions, a culinary staff. Add in the influx of 200-plus volunteers working up appetites and thirsts all day, and the event means bigger crowds at restaurants.

At the Rendezvous Bar and Grill, positioned at the base of Beaver Creek, a Wednesday afternoon after the first major holiday of the ski season usually means empty chairs. This Wednesday, 20 folks sat around drinking beer and eating nachos, 12 of them being volunteers. General manager David Burkhalter will be setting up a booth for his restaurant Friday at the pre-race party.



“For us being a fringe business, it does help us,” Burkhalter said. “Anything like this brings people to the area and, obviously, it’s good for us. It goes with the (public relations) and the publicity.”

The mountain itself transforms from leisure to sport, but not overnight. Guys like Jim Roberts, chief of race, run a staff of volunteers that need special gear just to avoid sliding down the slick, steep face. They started preparing in September.

But the race shouldn’t interfere with some pleasure skiers, at least the ones who care as much for ski racing as they do for falling down a double-diamond. When Garnsey and designer Bernhard Russi were designing the Birds of Prey run in 1995, they made sure it was isolated from most of the mountain.



“It’s a difficult course to prepare because it’s very steep with gnarly terrain and needs a lot of expertise,” Garnsey said. “But it has very little impact on the general skiers.”

So, with the race being in town, the locals are put to work.

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail have supplied up to 75 coaches, athletes, members and parents a day in preparation.

“It’s an opportunity for us to give back to Vail Resorts and the community,” said Aldo Radamus, director of the club. “We’re primarily on the most difficult parts of the hill, together with the other volunteers who are stronger skiers.”

While, at this point in the life of Beaver Creek, hosting World Cup events might be an old hat, it doesn’t get any easier. Coordinating the help, along with weather conditions and party schedules keep the staff neck-deep in chores.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Roberts said. “It’s always a challenge.”

And as for the volunteers?

“If it gets too cold, the snow’s too dry, so we have to water it down,” he added. “If it’s too warm, we can’t make enough snow.”

This is what happened last season, when a drought kept the mountains closed and the World Cup away. While the early snow had volunteers and Beaver Creek officials scrambling, restaurant owners like Burkhalter were left breathing a little sigh of relief.

“The timing is ideal,” he said.

After the World Cup passes through, most of the volunteers will be resting. Others, however, are preparing for the NORAM races on the Birds of Prey run Monday and Tuesday. Some of the athletes Ski Club Vail sent over this week to help will finally get their chance at conquering the world-renowned course.

“We’re trying to produce two events of similar quality,” Radamus said. “One will be without all the bells and whistles, but we will be left with a bare-bones staff. There will be less fanfare, less of a show and the big-screen TV’s coming down. But we still have to have a venue for the best racers in North America.”

Then, on Wednesday, Beaver Creek will rest. Once again, it will become a secret. The vendors, meanwhile, will count the days until Christmas.

Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at rslabaugh@vaildaily.com.


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