High winds blow away downhill at Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

High winds blow away downhill at Beaver Creek

Chris Freud/Vail DailyThe wind whips through the finish stadium at Red Tail Camp in Beaver Creek after Friday's Birds of Prey World Cup downhill was canceled.

BEAVER CREEK – In a year when both Vail and Beaver Creek both have been the beneficiaries of lots of early-season snow, ironically, it wasn’t more white stuff that wiped out Friday’s Birds of Prey World Cup downhill.

High winds on the upper portion of the Birds of Prey course were the undoing of Friday’s event. The races continue with super-G today at 11 a.m., followed by giant slalom with runs at 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. on Sunday.

There will be no downhill at Beaver Creek this year, the first time that’s happened since 2001, when the slate of Birds of Prey events was canceled due to a lack of snow. No word came from Friday night’s captain’s meeting at Ford Hall in Beaver Creek of when the downhill will be rescheduled, but it will not be at Beaver Creek.

“Unfortunately, Mother Nature takes control,” U.S. Men’s Ski Team head coach Sasha Rearick said. “It’s a disappointment, a real big disappointment because the effort that went in to putting this race on was absolutely perfect. The work that the race crew did and the events department did to put on to do this thing – it almost makes me want to cry.”

Dangerous conditions

While the 50 percent chance of snow for Friday never materialized and it was very pleasant down at the finish stadium, where a large crowd of fans were ready for racing, including several contingents from local schools, it was a completely different story at the top of the Golden Eagle run.

“The winds up top were going uphill and downhill, so it would be changing directions,” Rearick said. “… I think there were times when you could have run, but the danger was off Golden Eagle. If you were to catch a gust, that’s the danger factor. Even if there was wind, we would like to run it. Running wind is not a problem. It’s an outdoor sport, and safety is an important thing. Uphill gusts on a downhill are dangerous.”

Originally scheduled for 11 a.m., the downhill had a course hold with an International Ski Federation (FIS) jury meeting at 1 p.m. for a hypothetical 1:30 p.m. start. FIS then tried for 2 p.m., the latest a race with 67 athletes could run with decent light. Just before 1:30 p.m., the announcement went up on the scoreboard – the crowd and media were watching a live feed of the women’s downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta – that the race was officially off.

“We tried, we tried, we tried.” Jim Roberts, the chief of race, said at Friday’s captains’ meeting. “It just wasn’t possible due to weather conditions. We’re not proud of that, but we’ll try to do better than that down the road.”

Gunter Hujara, FIS’s chief race director, moments later said that the cancellation of alpine skiing’s premiere event at Beaver Creek was beyond the control of all involved.

“I heard coaches saying (Thursday), ‘We had best training conditions ever on a race course,'” Hujara said, “Today, this track was on the race track itself probably even better. This should be a big compliment to everybody who worked on the race course. We all tried to have this race because everybody saw how this race could have gone. I ask everyone to give all of them a big hand.

“It’s not easy to give such an event away, but we were forced (to), and the safety of our athletes is priority No. 1.”

No home snow Friday

Since the U.S. Ski Team, in particular, really wanted to race Friday on home snow, its members spent a good amount of time up at Spruce Saddle Lodge at the top of Centennial waiting for any news.

The team met with friends and family members, according to Rearick, and had a little food to stay ready.

“Andrew Weibrecht was definitely would up in the cage,” Rearick joked. “And we were wondering, ‘Should we let him out of the cage or keep him in the cage.’ We’ll keep him in the cage and let the wombat out tomorrow.”

Though the weather is an uncontrollable variable, the cancellation of Friday’s downhill is a bitter disappointment for the U.S. Ski Team, Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley Foundation.

Birds of Prey is only one of two stops for the World Cup in North America – the men were at Lake Louise last week -and the only set of home races for the U.S. Ski Team. With Friday’s cancellation, the Americans lost their home downhill race.

In 2007, weather interfered with the schedule, and there was room on the schedule for a Monday super-G. That, however, is difficult to do because of television as well as the fact that the World Cup tour heads to Europe for the rest of the season after Sunday’s GS.

The men race giant slalom and slalom next weekend in Val d’Isere, France.

VVF reaction

The Vail Valley Foundation (VVF), which is the organizing force behind Birds of Prey, actually has a history of taking on races from other World Cup sites which have had weather problems in the past. In 2003, Val d’Isere lacked snow for its downhill, and the VVF and Beaver Creek added that downhill to its program.

In a twist of fate, the Val d’Isere downhill, which was moved to Beaver Creek, just happened to be the race which Daron Rahlves won on Dec. 5, 2003, becoming the first American to win a race on home snow since the early 1980s.

When Park City, Utah, decided to give up its technical events as an early stop on the World Cup tour in 2004, Birds of Prey picked up those races and has hosted events in all five World Cup disciplines (downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and super-combined) in assorted combinations in the last seven years.

But Friday, the wind just didn’t stop.

“There’s a lot of pride involved, a lot of pride up on that hill whether it be from Vail Resorts, the volunteers or the foundation staff or anybody that has hand in this event,” said John Dakin, the VVF’s media spokesman.

“I feel bad for us, but I really feel bad for the spectators who were up there and jazzed and wanted to see the best athletes in the world compete on a course which would have showcased what this sport is all about. At the end of the day, that’s the biggest disappointment.”

Dakin added that Friday’s lost race would not be a factor in Birds of Prey’s continuing role as a stop on the World Cup in future years, nor would it have any effect on Vail/Beaver Creek’s hosting the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.

In the meantime, super-G racing is set for today at 11 a.m.

“Mother nature owes us one for today,” Dakin joked.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.

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