Scenes from first day of the Birds of Prey races | VailDaily.com

Scenes from first day of the Birds of Prey races

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Switzerland's Patrick Kueng rips through the brink section of the Birds of Prey World Cup downhill race Friday in Beaver Creek. Returning to where he won the FIS Alpine World Ski Chamionsips downhill in February, Kueng finished ninth with a time of 1 minute, 43.59 seconds.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — It was a sunny, warm Friday afternoon at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey World Cup. The grandstands were full, the Talon’s deck was buzzing with activity and the crowd got an unexpected treat with American Andrew Weibrecht’s amazing fifth place run. In all the excitement, here are some scenes from the first day of races you might have missed.

Skiing in virtual reality

Eurosport media was passing around virtual reality goggles that allowed the wearer to experience the feeling of screaming down the Birds of Prey racecourse. The 360-degree video was filmed by downhill star Bode Miller wearing special camera equipment. Racers such as Americans Travis Ganong and Steven Nyman, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal and Italy’s Christof Innerhofer all got to try out the goggles. Check it out on the Eurosport Facebook page.

Foiled by conditions

A few of the top American racers ran into some minor trouble on the downhill course of Friday, despite posting fast training runs on Wednesday and Thursday. Some of the American skiers commented that they were taken by surprise by the feel of the course on Friday.

Ganong, who came in 12th, said he wasn’t expecting the changed conditions. The course was much icier and faster than it had been in previous days, something he did not know at the start gate, he said.

He reported his experience up to Weibrecht, who said he used the information to his advantage.

“I got a great course report from Travis,” Weibrecht said. “He said that things were running a little bit faster tempo than they had been. It was definitely icier and more rattled. He said stuff was coming up at you and the bumps were kicking you up a little bit more.”

Spotted in the corral

Former Birds of Prey downhill champion Daron Rahlves was spotted hob-nobbing and spectating in the racer’s corral during Friday’s downhill. He was on the course earlier in the morning helping with inspections. Rahlves had 12 World Cup wins and a world championship during his career. He retired in 2006, but says he still loves coming to be part of the Birds of Prey races.

“It feels amazing to be here,” he said. “This is one of those places that means so much to me as an athlete, and it’s in front of a hometown crowd. It’s such a demanding hill. That in of itself gets you really fired up.”

With former teammate Bode Miller out of the races and a whole new crop of young Americans at the helm of the ski team, Rahlves reflected on the changing times.

“You know, 10 years have gone by now,” he said. “There’s been some big changes, but you still feel your heart pounding when you’re here.”

First on course

A number of up-and-coming American skiers had the opportunity to be forerunners on the downhill course on Friday. The job not only gives young racers a chance to experience the course, but also fuels their own World Cup dreams.

“It is unreal. It’s the best opportunity ever,” said forerunner Sam Morse, of Sugarloaf, Maine. “I’m hoping to make my own World Cup debut in the next year or so.”

Another U.S. Ski Team member, Drew Duffy, had his first World Cup race last weekend at Lake Louise, Alberta. This weekend, he’s preceding the racers as a forerunner.

“I’d love to be racing here sometime,” he said.

Some spectators at the downhill might have recognized another forerunner, Florian Szwebel. He was the young Colorado skier who lost a ski while forerunning the slalom race at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February, but much to the crowd’s delight, managed to finish the course on one ski.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.