Everything you need to know about the giant slalom

Contrary to the rooting habits of the American crowd, there is more than one racer in the field during today’s Birds of Prey finale, the giant slalom.

Yes, Ted Ligety will get the lion’s share of attention. It’s his home race, or as close as he gets, hailing from Park City, Utah. (And honestly, Beaver Creek race fans consider him a hometown “kid” just as much as they do Lindsey Vonn.)

But there will be a bunch of more than able skiers ready to knock off Ligety.

Ted has made this look easier than it is with four wins in his last five GS starts here.

By all rights, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher should be the favorite. He won convincingly in the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, in October. Ligety himself said during an interview in training that even had he not hit a rock during his second run in that race, Hirscher had the thing won.

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Ted Ligety wining is not a fait accompli.

And even if Ligety wins the race today, don’t make the mistake of handing him the GS globe. It’s a very long season. Do remember that Hirscher and Ligety ended up tied for the giant-slalom title last season.

The low-down on today’s giant slalom:

• Format: Two runs with the best combined time winning. The first is at 9:45 a.m. (The early start is because it’s getaway day as the tour heads to Europe.) The top 30 advance to the second run, or make the flip, at 12:45 p.m. It’s called the flip because the starting order for the last run is reversed, meaning that the first-run leader goes last in the second. Only those who complete the second run earn World Cup points. Just making the flip doesn’t do it.

• Stats: The GS starts at 10,247 feet and drops 1,312 feet. The times of the runs vary, based on course set, which are changed between runs. Ligety won last year’s race here with a time of 2 minutes, 35.77 seconds.

• Past Birds of Prey champions: Hermann Maier, Austria, (1999), Lasse Kjus, Norway, (2004), Bode Miller, U.S.A., (2005), Massimiliano Blardone, Italy, (2006), Daniel Albrecht, Switzerland, (2007), Benni Raich, Austria, (2008), Carlo Janka, Switzerland, (2009), Ted Ligety, U.S.A., (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and Marcel Hirscher, Austria, (2011).

• Weather: The forecast is for 40 degrees in Avon, which is 32-35 degrees at the finish. We’ve had great weather all week, which means we’ll pay for it in February with the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

• Key spots: The Abyss is always key in GS, and after the way it rattled people in the super-G, expect no different. The last few gates are always a test. Remember that the finish area is still at 8,935 feet, higher than most other stops on the tour, and oxygen is precious.

• Americans (bib No.): Ligety (7), Tim Jitloff (20), Brennan Rubie (33), Mark Engel (47), Jared Goldberg (51) and David Chodounsky (66).

• Favorites: Well, Ligety and Hirscher (1). As opposed to speed races, those with the most GS points go in the top seven, so also look out for Austria’s Benjamin Raich (2), France’s Alexis Pinturault (3), Germany’s Felix Neureuther (4), France’s Thomas Fanara (5) and Germany’s Fritz Dopfer (6).

• Dark horses: OK, he’s better in the speed disciplines, but Kjetil Jansrud (16), of Norway, is too hot to ignore. He got a bronze in GS here in 2011. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen (9) is very capable of putting two runs together. American Jitloff is in his element here.

• The picks: Vail Daily staff writer Melanie Wong and the Associated Press’ Pat Graham go with Ted. In an act of patriotism, Vail Daily Sports Editor Chris Freud picks Hirscher to jinx the Austrian.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, and @cfreud.

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