U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain to open full course Thursday
COPPER MOUNTAIN — It may not have happened quite as early as the team had hoped, but better late than never was the feeling at Copper Mountain Resort on Wednesday. Officials at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper announced that they will be able to open their full top-to-bottom early season downhill training course starting today.
“It’s a full go now,” said Patrick Riml, team director.
Skiers were able to ski down to the base area at Copper’s East Village on Wednesday, but full safety fencing for the course had yet to be completely installed.
The men’s and women’s national team will have its first full downhill training session today at 9:30 a.m., according to Riml.
Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is also expected to train in giant slalom at noon.
Copper’s mountain operations staff has been able to gradually increase the length of the speed course in the days leading up to today. Prior to its opening, the team had been training on upper portions of the mountain.
“We’ve gone a little further each day,” Olympic men’s team skier Marco Sullivan said.
Feelings regarding the delayed opening have been mixed, but the consensus is that it’s still early enough to get significant training in prior to the World Cup season really getting underway. Last year, because of early snowfall, they had top-to-bottom skiing when the center opened on Nov. 1.
“I don’t think it’s a s big a deal as everyone is making it out to be,” Sullivan said. “It’s definitely late, but we’re all in the same boat.”
Sullivan went on to say that the team has been spoiled the past few years with early openings.
Four-time overall World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn — who’s been continuing her on-snow comeback in Colorado since early November — was also at Copper on Wednesday for an afternoon training session. She said she was also pleased with the course’s progress.
“It’s almost full length as it is. I think everyone’s been pretty happy with what we’ve been able to get, especially considering before last week we really didn’t have any snow in Colorado.”
She added that she thought conditions were probably better than anywhere else in the world right now.
While the women’s World Cup races in Aspen, Nov. 29-30, had been an outside possibility for Vonn’s return to competition after last winter’s knee injury caused her to miss the Olympics, Vonn said she is planning her comeback for her original target, the Wold Cup races at Lake Louise, Alberta, Dec. 5-8.
“With the limited speed training that I’ve had, I’ve definitely changed my focus to starting at Lake Louise,” she said. “I just don’t have the time to juggle all of the events. For right now I’m just going to focus on speed.”
Teammate and fellow gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin was also on hand Wednesday. Unlike Vonn, Shiffrin was there to participate in two women’s FIS super-G races Copper hosted. She took part in the small races in order to gain some additional race experience in the discipline. Shiffrin finished 15th and 16th in the two races.
“I’m learning in super-G still, so I’m not too disappointed with myself,” she said after the races.
She also commended Copper’s efforts to open the mountain.
“Copper has done an amazing job. … Yesterday they put mounds of snow everywhere, and they must have been working all night to get it, and it’s perfect.”
The men will have a few days of full downhill training before traveling to Lake Louise for their next World Cup event, Nov. 29-30, while the women will have an additional week at Copper leading up to the World Cup races at Aspen.
“It’s been kind of a struggle,” Sochi Olympic super-G silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht said, calling the limited training offerings “a little monotonous.” But he added that a few days on the full course should be enough to be ready for Lake Louise.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.