Kestrel, Liberty give World Cup racers trouble |

Kestrel, Liberty give World Cup racers trouble

Melanie Wong
Italy's Sofia Goggia hangs on to the course tightly with her edge after skitching out coming around a turn at the Kestrel section of the Raptor World Cup women's downhill course on Friday at Beaver Creek.
Justin McCarty | |

BEAVER CREEK — American skier Leanne Smith’s troubles began in the first major curve of the Raptor Women’s World Cup course, known as “Greg’s Double.”

At that point, the downhill course becomes considerably steeper, dropping racers into a double turn, complicated on Friday by several sneaky bumps and ruts — not monster speed bumps by any means, but noticeable when you’re flying over it at 60 mph.

After Smith bobbled over those curves, she struggled to maintain her line for the remainder of the course, losing more time in the twisty mid-section of the course. As she came screaming around the final curve, within sight of the finish line, she caught an edge at 75 mph, sending her tumbling off the course in a shower of snow.

‘A taste the next 12 downhill turns’

Fortunately, Smith was able to ski away from the crash, and she wasn’t the only racer foiled by the technical aspects of the Raptor course. Greg’s Double leads the way into the course’s first steep pitch — and the run doesn’t get any easier after that.

“When you come into the first pitch (on Greg’s Double), right away there’s a bunch of chops. When you get into that, it’s a taste of what the next 12 downhill turns are going to be like,” said U.S. Ski Team member Laurenne Ross, who lost considerable time due to those curves. “It was just like trying to hold on tight and try to survive. The chops are right where the tough parts begin, and if you’re thrown off at all, you’re in the wrong mindset and wrong body position for the hardest part of the course.”

Kestrel, Liberty test racers

She’s referring to Kestrel and Liberty, two winding, unforgiving, high-speed sections that feature super-G turns. Racer after racer, even if they aced those initial curves, went bouncing past the gates in Kestrel and Liberty, some barely staying on the course.

Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch was put in the backseat in this section after she lost her line around a curve and flew past a gate pointed in the wrong direction. She rallied and recovered for the latter part of the course, but those mistakes cost the former World Cup overall champion a spot on the podium.

Those curves have landed the Raptor the reputation as being one of most difficult downhill courses on the Women’s World Cup circuit. In a discipline where in order to win, you must take some amount of risk, the Raptor is one course that makes you think twice. Lose too much speed on the technical middle section and you might not carry enough speed into the flat finish section. Go to hard in the middle and risk getting tossed.

Balancing risk

“It’s not a very good course to take all the risk you can, because there are a lot of parts that you do a lot of stupid things,” said Liechenstein’s Tina Weirather, who took second on Friday. “You have to find the balance between attacking and keeping the line. You can’t do many mistakes because you’ll be off the course.”

Whereas next weekend’s World Cup race at Lake Louise, Alberta, is a much easier course for a speed event, favoring gliders and forgiving to weak technique, the Raptor requires a complete skier.

“It’s really a complete run,” said Switzerland’s Lara Gut, who won Friday’s downhill. “It’s flat on the top and flat on the bottom, but you have to ski in the middle. Every racer had something that fits and something that doesn’t. It’s going to be fun to be racing here next year.”

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at

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