Checking out the super-G in Aspen
ASPEN – After a week of frustrating weather and countless hours spent on the hill, chief of race Jim Hancock and his crew unveiled Aspen Mountain’s super-G course for racers as planned on Thursday morning.For many competitors, it was their first look at the revamped super-G course since it was last run in 2002. Under clear blue skies and brisk temperatures, the skiers negotiated their first turns, taking mental snapshots to refer to in the starting gates today. And while there were no gates and racers were skiing at less than full speed, they walked away with one lingering impression: Like their fellow competitors, this year’s course will never let up.”This course just keeps coming at you,” said U.S. Ski Team veteran Kirsten Clark, who finished fourth in the super G in 2002. “It’s steep and technical throughout. There’s only one part that is a little short road.”One after the other, skiers from across the globe sped down the race’s final stretch. Their pronounced stops sent clouds of light snow wafting into the air. After taking a moment to loosen their boot buckles, stretch, or grab a jacket for the ride up – a sequence that, for most, took no longer than 10-20 seconds – they were back on the Shadow Mountain lift. Getting ones bearings
With only one hour to get their bearings, time was of the essence. Because each competitor will have just one chance at gold Friday, strategy was crucial. This was their time to get a feel for the snow conditions, which was soft and grippy, said U.S. alpine B team member Stacey Cook of Truckee, Calif. Vail’s Lindsey Kildow said she hoped the free ski would compact the snow and harden the course.This was the time to uncover the potential trouble spots lurking around most corners of a course boasting nearly 600 meters of vertical drop. The hill incorporates multiple terrain features, and the pitch changes from one turn to the next, Hancock said Tuesday. The course’s bottom section was altered to make for a more direct, steep route to the finish.Cook said she will be watching out for the area where the Spring Pitch trail turns into Strawpile, adjacent to the starting gate for the giant slalom.For U.S. ski team veteran Caroline Lalive, the blind corners and transitions above what was once Ruthie’s Restaurant down through the finish will command additional attention and could ultimately decide the title. “The race will be won or lost there,” she said. “It’s important to get a feel for the terrain,” Kildow said. “In order to be confident, you have to be comfortable up there. There are a lot of blind knolls. You don’t want to let it go because you could easily hurt yourself. If you’re going at max speed, you could get some air and land in a compression.”
CrashingKildow was understandably cautious. She had to wait in the starting gates after Chilean skier Anita Irarrazabal crashed and broke her leg. An ambulance took her to Aspen Valley Hospital, where she underwent surgery, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said.”I came right after and saw her picking up the pieces,” Kildow said.It will take more than a crash, however, to shake Kildow or any other racer. Most have been here before. Most have learned how to handle the World Cup pressure. There are no nerves, Lalive said, only excitement. “You can’t bother getting nervous or you’ll wake up tomorrow and be drained,” she said.The U.S. skiers will try and clear their minds in the hours leading up to the countdown. In addition to extended super-G training, giant slalom and slalom training continued Thursday afternoon on Snowmass’ Cabin trail.Kildow said she planned to do some agility exercises and play volleyball. Cook hoped to relax with her parents and try on some new clothes one of her sponsors, Athleta, sent over.
Clark, who is still recovering from a staph infection she suffered after arthroscopic surgery on her knee in mid-October, plans to spend some time spinning on the bike. She said she was shooting to be in bed by 9:30 p.m.”On race day, I like to wake up without an alarm,” she said.Today, Aspen will flood with fans. Television cameras and photo lenses will capture the racers’ every move. Following Sunday’s slalom, the women’s team will head to Val d’Isere, France. Most will not return to the States until March.Now is the time to cherish one brief moment of calm.”It’s important to relax and enjoy this time in the U.S.,” Cook said. “It’s nice to be around here. It’s more chill [than Europe]. It’s more my style.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado