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From Beaver Creek to Lake Louise, huge weekend of World Cup ski racing on tap

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December 4, 2015, 12:20 am
bryce bennett

Bryce Bennett took 28th in the Birds of Prey downhill training run Friday. (Getty Images-Ezra Shaw)

It’s a big weekend of World Cup ski racing in North America. Beaver Creek hosts its annual men’s event, dubbed America’s Winter Opening, on its daunting and now renowned Birds of Prey course, and two Vail racers – Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin – will be in action at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.

American standout Travis Ganong, the guy who claimed a silver medal in the downhill at the World Championships earlier this year at Beaver Creek, is fresh off a stellar showing when the men raced in Lake Louise last weekend. Ganong claimed a third and a fourth on a course where he’s never had much success. So he should be hot when the men compete in downhill at 10:45 a.m. in the men’s downhill on Friday.

Meanwhile, Vonn, who’s won at Lake Louise 15 times, looks for number 16 (and possibly 17) in back-to-back downhills on Friday and Saturday. Shiffrin, a slalom specialist, from Eagle-Vail, won’t race downhill, but she is looking for points in her first World Cup super-G at Lake Louise on Sunday.

That’s the day that Park City’s Ted Ligety will be going for a regular-season World Cup win in giant slalom at Beaver Creek for the sixth straight year. Actually, if you count his world championship gold in the event here earlier this year, he’ll be going for seven straight GS wins at the Beav’. The first run of that race is 9:45 on Sunday, with the second run at 12:45 p.m.

Shiffrin also won a world championship here on home snow in February, in her favorite event of slalom. She’s headed to Lake Louise after collecting a couple of slalom wins in utterly dominant fashion last weekend in Aspen, becoming the first American to win there in 31 years.

Atop the overall standings after just four races so far this season, the Olympic gold medalist is looking to collect points in the super-G on Sunday and seriously compete for the overall title – the only thing she hasn’t done so far in ski racing at the age of 20.

“It’s a little bit trickier for me to keep my skis pointed down the hill versus turning too much,” Shiffrin said during an interview session earlier this week at Avon’s Westin Hotel hosted by her sponsor, Barilla Pasta. “That’ll be something I have to keep in mind going into this race.”

Shiffrin said she won’t do any regular downhill races this season but will do as many super-G’s as possible and also compete in all four combined races – two of which will include a downhill. Combined events include one run of slalom and one run of either super-G or downhill.

“After this weekend I’d say [the overall] is fairly realistic; it’s a reasonable goal to shoot to win the overall,” Shiffrin said. “If I can keep my slalom going the way it is, and in GS if I can find the finish but keep the same amount of courage in those races, and then if I can get some points in the super-G, that will definitely help along the way.”

Here’s a Birds of Prey preview from the U.S. Ski Team:

BEAVER CREEK, CO (Dec. 3, 2015) – The sun has been shining on the famous Birds of Prey downhill track the last two days, but don’t be mistaken – it has been cold and the conditions have been perfect. With some of the steepest pitches, the most difficult terrain and the biggest air on the World Cup circuit, this course is tough.

Ask any nation and they’ll tell you they love it here at Birds of Prey. That buttery smooth, grippy Colorado snow makes the hill that much better – thanks, in part, to the Talon Crew. They’ve done an outstanding job preparing the course after Mother Nature dumped 21 inches of fresh snow over the last week. This is a world-class course crew, and they’re ready for some world-class ski racing to commence.

But before we dive into racing, remember that the team is on home turf and the guys have the opportunity to connect with their hometown fans and do things like school visits to nearby Homestake Peak School in Vail.

The pre-K to 8th graders oohed and aahed over the crashes and big air in the highlight reel as well as the advice Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, CA) and Nolan Kasper (Warren, VT) gave them. “Surround yourself with good people that can inspire you every day,” advised Sullivan. “I’m pulling for my teammates because when my teammates do well, it inspires me. We’re all we have over there. We’re a family. It’s us against Europe.”

Training run number one kicked off yesterday. Excitement was in the air as Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) was the POV forerunner, grabbing footage for Eurosport and NBC. Miller will be announcing this weekend for NBC, alongside Dan Hicks.

When asked about whether or not he’ll make a career out of it, Miller stated, “I am comfortable [with announcing for NBC]. I’ve done so much talking and I’m comfortable with my knowledge base on skiing, so there are no surprises there and nothing new for me. For me, whether I pursue it further would depend on how I felt about the relationship with Dan Hicks, and the banter. If it’s fun then I would do it. But it’s not really in me to do things that I don’t really enjoy and find exciting and fun. So if it’s work, then don’t expect to see me again.”

The Attacking Viking, Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud came out on top, with Switzerland’s Carlo Janka in second followed by Germany’s Josef Ferstl in third. The top American was Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) tied for 11th, with Jared Goldberg (Holladay, UT) in 26th, Bennett in 28th and Andrew Weibrecht in 29th.

Travis Ganong, who was third and fourth in the Lake Louise downhill and super G respectively, did some experimenting and ended up in 38th, but looks forward to Friday. “I’m feeling pretty good,” said Ganong. “This is our first look at the hill today, so it’s really important to check out the hill and see what the timing is like and build from there. I have high expectations, but I’m just going to focus on the little things and it will all take care of itself.”

So, why is this course so special? While standing in the finish, American Downhiller Nyman shared with journalists what he remembers most about this course after snagging third on this track last year. “It’s just always cool because you’re just flying, landing and gunning for the next jump,” said Nyman. “It’s just active movement the whole way down. That’s what I remember and what I always love, and what I’m excited to get back to here.”

Bennett came down with the largest smile on his face, and simply stated, “That was FUN. I LOVE downhill.” He, along with teammate Goldberg, have been putting some fast runs down, and Bennett has a good chance for a breakthrough performance this weekend.

Along with Friday’s opening downhill, Beaver Creek will play host to a super G on Saturday and GS on Sunday, where Ligety will be going for a historic six straight wins on the Birds of Prey GS track. Sit back and brace yourself for a wild ride down Birds of Prey.

Birds of Prey Starters
Michael Ankeny – GS
Bryce Bennett – DH, SG
Tommy Biesemeyer – SG
David Chodounsky – GS
Tommy Ford – SG, GS
Travis Ganong – DH, SG
Jared Goldberg – DH, SG
Tim Jitloff – SG, GS
Ted Ligety – SG, GS
Steven Nyman – DH, SG
Marco Sullivan – DH
Andrew Weibrecht – DH, SG, GS

QUOTES
Steven Nyman 
I’m comfortable here. It’s one of those courses where I’m really comfortable. And I just understand, and I know where to invest line and to gain. It’s just a joy to ski as well. What’s good is that we have speed. Travis got on the podium in Lake Louise. I had great training runs and I know I have speed. We’re training with the Norwegians and beating them in training, and knowing we’re right there…it’s cool. Obviously you’re here, home snow – you want to throw down, and do everything you can. And this is one of those tracks I know I can do well on, because I have three podiums here. It’s going to be fun.

Travis Ganong
This track is just really, really fun. Lots of nice terrain, and good, technical turns, so I can push harder and find speed and then carry that on on to the flats. That’s like my bread and butter – finding speed and then carrying that on to the flats. This hill is all about carrying speed from Pump House into the Brink and then down to the flats and all the way into the finish. Definitely looking forward to it.

TV COVERAGE
2015 Birds of Prey Broadcast and Live Streaming Schedule (times EST)

Friday, Dec. 4
12:30 p.m. – Men’s DH, Beaver Creek – NBCSN – LIVE
12:30 p.m. – Men’s DH, Beaver Creek – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM

Saturday, Dec. 5
1:00 p.m. – Men’s SG, Beaver Creek – NBCSN – LIVE
1:00 p.m. – Men’s SG, Beaver Creek – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM

Sunday, Dec. 6
1:00 p.m. – Women’s SG, Lake Louise  – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM
5:00 p.m. – Men’s GS, Beaver Creek – NBC and NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM

And here’s a women’s Lake Louise preview from the U.S. Ski Team:

Success is no stranger to the U.S. Ski Team speed women at Lake Louise. In fact, Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) has won so many times on this track it’s been deemed “Lake Lindsay.” For good reason, seeing as though she’s snagged 15 victories in Lake Louise – by far the most by a single skier at a specific venue – 12 in downhill and three in super G. Count ‘em.

Last year, in her comeback race, Vonn led a historic American podium sweep with Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, CA) in second and Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, CA) in third. Although Mancuso isn’t racing this year, it’s very possible that the seasoned team could sweep the podium again, and it’s definitely not unheard of for them to stack the top 15.

This year’s track boasts some new terrain that took some getting used to for the women. It didn’t seem to take too long for Vonn, who posted the 34th fastest time yesterday and the second fastest time in today’s training run. “I just had a different approach today,” Vonn said. “I changed some things in my line that yesterday didn’t really pan out for me. But I was happy with my skiing. I definitely can clean up a few sections for tomorrow but in general it was a pretty solid run and I’m just looking forward to my first speed race of the season.”

Though Cook may have felt the nerves yesterday, today was a new day, and she wasn’t far behind Vonn. “It’s different than the classic downhill that normally is here,” said Cook. “I have to make the adjustments. That in itself is a challenge and keeps it entertaining because we’ve run the old course so many times we could go with our eyes closed. Now we have to focus a little bit more. Lindsey skied that terrain really well today, so obviously it hasn’t changed that much. She’s still unbeatable here.”

In the second day of training, Austria’s Miriam Puchner was the fastest woman, with Vonn .12 behind and Cook close behind in third. The American contingency was strong in day two of training, with Laurenne Ross (Bend, OR) tied for ninth, Alice McKennis (Glenwood Springs, CO) in 12th, Jackie Wiles (Aurora, OR) in 15th and Audi FIS Ski World Cup newcomer Breezy Johnson landing in 28th.

Vonn also announced today that teammate Wiles will be named as the first-ever athlete ambassador for The Lindsey Vonn Foundation. “We’re really excited today to announce that I’m sponsoring Jackie through the Lindsey Vonn Foundation,” stated Vonn. “It’s actually me personally that’s sponsoring her but she’s going to be the newest ambassador for the foundation. I’m really proud of her. She’s done an amazing job in her career so far. She’s really young, talented, has a great attitude, so I think she’s a great ambassador for my foundation.”

Lake Louise will host two downhill races and cap the speed week off with super G on Sunday. This year, all eyes will be on Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO), who will be making her speed debut as she competes in Sunday’s super G. “I’m going to be attacking as much as I can,” Shiffrin said at her victory press conference in Aspen. “I am really excited to see what World Cup speed is all about. I’ll try to learn as much as I can from the other U.S. girls and from Lindsey and our coaches. I’m really excited. I like super G a lot, so I’ll be going for it. I just don’t know exactly where that will put me.”

QUOTES
Lindsey Vonn

It’s the first speed race of the year, so I feel like I’m coming here always with a lot of confidence. I’ve had a lot of success here too so that certainly helps. I just love this hill. It really suits me, it suits my style and I know I can win.

Stacey Cook
The plan with my coaches was to improve every run, so I left a lot of room for improvement yesterday so that I could accomplish that goal. But I just had a little better attitude. I was pretty nervous yesterday; I don’t know why. It was the first World Cup scenario on the new ski company [Stöckli] – it’s good to be nervous though. It means that you’re excited and have a lot of anticipation, and you’re ready.

Jackie Wiles [On being named as first-ever Lindsey Vonn Foundation Athlete Ambassador]
This is my third year on the [World Cup] tour. I had a breakout first year; it was a thrill. And last year I didn’t have the best year, so this year I needed some help funding. I’m just stoked that Lindsey can help me continue my dreams. To have Lindsey as a mentor – she’s the best female ski racer in history – it’s a huge opportunity for me to learn from Lindsey and take everything that she’s done to make herself so successful. So I’m really blessed and lucky to be in this position.

Mikaela Shiffrin
The second race [of the Copper FIS downhill series] was really good, it just takes me a little bit to understand exactly how straight I can go. Super G is a little different…so maybe I’ll have a better shot at super G than downhill. We’ll see. I’m excited.

Lake Louise Starters
Lindsey Vonn – SG, DH
Mikaela Shiffrin – SG
Stacey Cook – SG, DH
Laurenne Ross – SG, DH
Alice McKennis – SG, DH
Jackie Wiles – SG, DH
Anna Marno – SG, DH
Abigail Ghent – SG
Breezy Johnson – DH*

*denotes FIS Ski Alpine World Cup debut

TV COVERAGE
2015 Broadcast and Live Streaming Schedule (times EST)

Friday, Dec. 4
2:30 p.m. – Women’s DH, Lake Louise  – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM
8:30 p.m. – Women’s DH, Lake Louise, Universal HD

Saturday, Dec. 5
2:30 p.m. – Women’s DH, Lake Louise  – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM
8:30 p.m. – Women’s DH, Lake Louise, Universal HD

Sunday, Dec. 6
1:00 p.m. – Women’s SG, Lake Louise  – NBC Live Extra – LIVE STREAM
8:30 p.m. – Women’s SG, Lake Louise, Universal HD

 

 

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environmental, political, entertainment, outdoor and sports writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, LA Weekly, ESPN.com, SKI Magazine, Powder and People Magazine. He also regularly contributes to The Colorado Statesman and Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com.

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