AspenSpin ventured over to Beaver Creek this weekend to take in the Birds of Prey Men's FIS World Cup ski races. It was a fantastic weekend of racing, events, parties and skiing. In a normal year The Beav is the one and only tour stop in the U.S. for the men's world cup skiers. But in 2015 Birds of Prey is also the site of the FIS WORLD ALPINE SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS in February. So the regularly scheduled WC races were like a warm-up. The ladies were in Lake Louise, Alberta Canada this weekend. Both the men's and women's teams had fabulous results.
We've attended several Birds of Prey races in the past and this year's events seemed a little different. Vail / Beaver Creek is putting on the ritz for the 2015 World Championships so these world cup races almost felt like a test run, or spring training if you will. All eyes seemed to be looking forward to February when the 2nd most important set of ski races (behind the Olympics) visits the Vail Valley.
Birds of Prey has never looked better. The new Red Tail Stadium at the finish-line which was created for the World's is unbelievable. Much larger than in the past... a massive 10 story scaffolding of bleachers was built primarily for the Worlds. Walking up over 100 steps in ski boots is not an easy task...but thousands of racing fans did it. A huge deck on the backside of the stands provided for a beautiful sponsor's village with unlimited swag for kids and adults. A newly constructed lodge building houses the new VIP lounge and viewing area. The former lodge served as a spacious and well organized "press tent". If I only had on word to describe the finish area...that word would be impressive. Beaver Creek is clearly ready to host the world's.
The races...while important...seemed to almost take a back seat to the impending rush and anticipation brought by the World Championships.
Norway's Kjetil Jansrud won the downhill on Friday. His third win in 7 days. He described his victory as "the perfect run". "When it runs it runs" explained Jansrud, "it's a German saying" he said. Jansrud is often considered "the other Norwegian" behind injured teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, but Kjetil has an Olympic Gold and Bronze to his credit and has won the first 3 downhills of the 2014-15 season. Beat Feuz of Switzerland finished second. Coming off a series of knee injuries Feuz was thrilled to return to the World Cup Podium. American Steve Nyman let it rip for a great run finishing third. Nyman a 32 year old veteran of 13 seasons on the U.S. Ski Team credited the U.S. squad's new conditioning coach Toni Beretzki along with a brand new equipment set-up for the win. American Travis Ganong had an excellent result finishing 5th.
In the Super G. on Saturday Austrian Hannes Reichelt topped the field for his third Super G. win and 6th podium at Birds of Prey. Norway's Jansrud took second and Frenchman Alexis Pinturault third. The difficult course set up appeared to throw some racers off their lines...but Reichelt was comfortable enough to take the win. Andrew Weibrecht aka The War Horse, had a strong run and was the top American finishing 10th. Ted Ligety nabbed 11th.
The Giant Slalom on Sunday was the race that all the fans were waiting for. Ted "the Shred" Ligety did not disappoint the crowd taking first place with a super-duper come from behind 2nd run. This was Ligety's 5th win at Birds of Prey. Overheard in the press room "thats just Ted being Ted". Ligety is the reigning Olympic Champ in GS and is now expected to win every week. At Birds of Prey...Shred lived up to the expectations. This was his 23rd World Cup win in the disipline and he trails only Ingemar Stenmark all-time. Stenmark has 46 world cup wins in GS. Pinturault from France finished 2nd and Austrian Marcel Hirscher took 3rd. Perhaps the feel good story of the race was American David Chodounsky's 17th place finish. Chod a slalom specialist started in the 66th position and raised his game to finish strong at 17.
The U.S. ladies had it going on at Lake Louise, Alberta. Lindsey Vonn in her first competition in 22 months since overcoming injuries led a U.S. sweep in the Downhill. Vonn finished on top of the podium followed by teammates Stacey Cook in 2nd and Julia Mancuso in 3rd. Vonn also grabbed 2nd in the SuperG.
All in All it was perhaps the best weekend of ski racing in U.S. Ski Team history. The racers are ready and it appears that Vail / Beaver Creek is ready for the Alpine World Championships...just 60 days away.