Putting words to the World Cup | VailDaily.com

Putting words to the World Cup

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
Stowe, Vt. -- Harvard skiing finished in ninth place at the Dartmouth College Winter Carnival, Feb. 9-10, 2007. (Copyright Harvard Athletic Communications)
Gil Talbot Photography |

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” The best way to learn about skiing at the Birds of Prey World Cup is to listen.

With the announcing tandem of Peter Graves and Doug Lewis back for another year of racing, everyone from a bunny sloper to an ex-World Cup racer stands to pick up a thing or two about what’s going on.

“One time a producer said to me there are three things you try to do,” said Graves, who was a cross country commentator at the 1980 Olympics, and has been a mainstay in winter and outdoor sports since. “You try to educate, to inspire and to inform. … There are newcomers to ski racing we want to invite and make comfortable. We try to be inclusive.”

Lewis, who enjoyed a prosperous career as a skier on the U.S. alpine squad, makes sure the fans in the finish area get a first-hand look at what’s going on.

“Everyday I go up and get a course pass and slip it, and talk to racers on the way down,” said Lewis, who was the first American man to medal in a World Championships downhill. “I make it a point to get on there so I can share things with the audience, like an injected turn on the Talon jump.”

Graves and Lewis, who have been calling the shots together at the Birds of Prey for almost a decade, know how important it is to be alongside a good partner.

“I don’t know if it is both of us being from Vermont or the love for skiing, but we just kind of connect,” Lewis said. “I’ve worked with other people where the chemistry wasn’t there and it definitely affects things.”

“The key thing is the friendship,” Graves said. “We don’t talk over each other. We have a great deal of respect for what each other has to say. My role has developed as more of less the host and Doug is the color guy.”

Coming into the races, Graves and Lewis don’t need to do much last-minute preparation ” they live skiing year-round.

“I’m kind of a freak,” joked Lewis, who was just elected into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. “The U.S. Ski Team is my home page. I wake up at 4 a.m. to watch a race on the Internet live. I live it and breathe it.”

Graves, who raced cross country at Ft. Lewis College, coached the U.S. junior national in the early 80s, and now coaches at Harvard University, keeps an open mind heading into races.

“In the years I’ve worked in TV or announcing, I don’t go in with one story thread,” he said. “You take the event just the way it is and let it breath and take on a life of it’s own. And then you have an event.”

It also helps that the guys delivering the event have plenty of practice.

“I think it’s a part of who I am a little bit ” part of my DNA,” Graves said. “I remember pretending I was Bob Beattie riding up a T-bar on Prospect Mountain in Vermont doing the call of Hahnenkamm.”

Lewis can’t really turn the announcing switch off.

“I’m always thinking something in my head,” he said. “I may not be announcing, but I’m critiquing every run.”

And it goes beyond skiing.

“I watch my niece’s soccer game ” she’s nine, and I’m saying ‘OK Olivia, pass up the wing,'” Lewis said.

During his racing days, Lewis was on the listening end, and took some notes on what to do and what not to do.

“Number one, you want to get their name right, and number two, you want to give them their time in the sun when they are running,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re going crazy for the Americans. Second is the Canadians, for sure, because they are pretty much our neighbors, and I have my favorites here and there.”

Graves feels the same way.

“We certainly cheer for the Americans ” this is a home-snow World Cup,” he said. “The ski world is also a very close one and we try to respect everybody that goes down. You make a lot of noise and enthusiasm for the winner.”

There’s also the art of slowing down guys who are rocketing down the hill at more than 70 mph.

“You want to humanize these people,” Graves said. “When you see them in a speed suit and helmet and goggles, you don’t see a lot of them. I always remember the intensity on the face of Hermann Maier at the start ” it’s overwhelmingly emotional to see that.”

While most people watching the race don’t see Lewis and Graves, there are plenty of other guys helping behind the scenes.

“Duffy Wilson ” our producer ” he’s juggling eight balls in the room,” Lewis said. “He’s the guy that makes the magic.”

And the mountain makes some magic, too.

“The courses are what makes it so special as skier,” Lewis said. “The best skier has to win at Birds of Prey ” that’s what you ask for, and I applaud the Vail Valley Foundation for that. I just wish Birds of Prey was on the tour when I was skiing.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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