Vail becomes a mecca for ski racers this week
VAIL — The road to the World Cup slalom opener ran through Golden Peak Thursday, as members of the U.S. Ski Team raced against each other for a spot on the squad that will compete in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 17.
Along with the top male and female racers from the U.S., national teams from Argentina, Austria, Canada, Croatia and Russia also trained at Vail’s Golden Peak facility on Thursday, along with juniors from around the country.
“The course was in great shape,” said Ted Ligety, winner of the World Cup giant slalom opener in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27.
Ligety was training for the next race on the World Cup calendar, the slalom opener in Levi, where he will be joined by teammates Nolan Kasper, David Chodounsky and two more tech racers. One of those spots was determined in a time trial at Golden Peak Thursday, which was won by Colby Granstrom.
“By having something on the line and being in a race environment like that, it brings out something in people, and the coaches wanted to see that,” said Granstrom. “I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time. I’ve had quite a few injuries over the past couple of years, and it’s been in the back of my head for the last year now. I’ve just been working towards it and putting everything I have into it. With all the injuries, I think I was finally ready to put down a couple good runs and was able to today.”
Gregorak back in town
The fifth racer who will join the U.S. men’s team in Levi was yet to be determined by coaches following Thursday’s time trial. In the running was Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alum Will Gregorak, who has since gone on to become a member of the men’s B team.
“I’ve been skiing pretty solid lately and have been right in there with the fastest times,” said Gregorak. “FIS points-wise it might make more sense to take (another athlete), but … I’m feeling pretty comfortable in slalom.”
Gregorak said Golden Peak is an obvious choice for the team to host a time trial.
“They do a really good job with their injection and make the most fair and best training area,” he said.
Despite Golden Peak being a home course for Gregorak, he said it didn’t necessarily suit him on Thursday.
“I’ve always felt like I had a big advantage in GS here, but it hasn’t always been my best hill in slalom,” Gregorak said with a laugh. “I still enjoy training here but it’s not like I have a home field advantage in slalom.”
Vonn, women’s speed team
It was a busy day for many of the racers, who have been making their way between Vail and Copper Mountain for training.
Media from around the country has been at both locations, with television cameras being set up on the slopes and athletes taking time to stop for interviews between runs.
After training at Copper on Thursday morning, Lindsey Vonn was at Golden Peak on Thursday afternoon, along with the rest of the racers from the women’s speed squad.
“The snow was awesome just now,” said downhiller Leanne Smith as she departed the slopes Thursday. “Really grippy, you can do what you want and create a lot of angles, and that’s what you need this time of year, have the snow conditions allow you to work on stuff, so you can make last-minute changes before the season begins … fine tuning every little detail and getting into race mode again.”
For speed racers like Smith who won’t be heading to Levi, there will be a lot of time spent in our area this November as Beaver Creek will be home to an early World Cup Thanksgiving weekend — the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships test event.
“We’re really lucky to be going to Beaver Creek for the first race of the season,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to kick off the World Cup season in America, so we’re really psyched for this first World Cup and especially for the World Championships there in 2015.”