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Who’s psyched to see speed-queen Shiffrin win again on Beav’s Birds of Prey course?

December 9, 2023, 12:37 pm
Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards wins in St. Moritz, Switzerland (Getty Images).

Friday at Vail was a nice, soft, uncrowded mini-powder day, with six inches of new snow, and then a snow squall hit around closing time and dumped another nine inches overnight. All of which got me thinking about weekend snowstorms and the vagaries of World Cup ski racing.

The last two weekends have brought decent shots of snow to Vail and Beaver Creek, fortunately for recreational skiers like me but unfortunately for speed-event ski racers who like a buffed, inverted ice rink of a ski run in order to soar down Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course every season, approaching speeds of up to 80 mph.

Last Thursday through Sunday, Dec. 3, brought nearly two feet of fresh snow to Vail and just under that to nearby Beaver Creek, with high winds and low visibility that are absolutely no bueno for the best World Cup men’s racers in the world. And, of course, Monday, Dec. 4, the storm blew out and you could have held a downhill on the legendary Birds of Prey course.

So, two things: Why can’t the International Ski Federation (FIS) build in a layover day so everyone can stay in town one extra day and get a race in so all of that planning, financing and volunteer work doesn’t get completely wasted? And why can’t we go back to scheduling a giant slalom on the final Sunday – a turnier, slower race, with a lower start, that can generally be conducted in all kinds of weather?

Do not get me wrong, I’m grateful we’re a regular stop on the men’s World Cup circuit and that we, as race fans and spectators, have been able to see Olympians like Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves and Hermann Maier win on the BOP course. But I’d also love to see our skilled tech (GS, slalom) team in action as well.

After all, two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety of Park City won five regular-season World Cup GS races at Beaver Creek and a world championship gold medal in the event here in 2015. And it’s also the best event for local hero River Radamus of Edwards. FIS stopped tacking on a GS here during COVID, allegedly to avoid comingling speed and tech teams, but why now?

And, of course, tech is where our other local World Cup star – the all-time winningest ski racer in history, Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards – picked up the majority of her record 91 wins on the circuit. Her only time on the Birds of Prey course was a world championship slalom gold here in 2015, so we’d obviously love to see her here racing GS next season.

But, just as obviously, Shiffrin can do it all, as evidenced by her stunning downhill win in St. Mortiz, Switzerland, on Saturday (see press release below). That’s a tough speed track, not the glider course where she previously won a downhill and super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. So clearly Shiffrin could win a speed event on a tough Birds of Prey course, weather permitting.

“Following positive discussions with FIS, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the Vail Valley Foundation are moving forward with plans to host women’s World Cup speed races at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek during the second weekend in December 2024,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard told Ski Racing on Nov. 30. “This race weekend directly follows the men’s race, creating a two-weekend World Cup festival at Beaver Creek next season. The 2024-25 calendar is still subject to final ratification by the FIS Council in the spring of 2024.”

The loss of Lake Louise on the North American World Cup calendar for financial reasons underscores a couple of things: One, we should not take World Cup racing for granted locally, because it takes a huge lift by the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Resorts and an army of volunteers to make it all happen. And two, we need as many North American venues as possible to highlight all of our talented American and Canadian racers on home snow.

After all, former Vail resident and previous women’s World Cup recorder-holder (82 career victories) Lindsey Vonn won 18 times in super-G and downhill at Lake Louise. Canadians may not have liked it, but the place became known as “Lake Lindsey”.

So support out local races and try to get to Aspen or Palisades Tahoe for upcoming men’s races this season. Oh, and enjoy the freshies out there on the hill right now, because it looks like a bit of a dry patch for a week or so heading into Christmas:

“Friday offered soft early morning turns, then a wave of intense snow fell on Friday late afternoon with 2-9 inches of accumulation, and most of this new snow should be untouched as of Saturday morning,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Saturday morning. “Enjoy the powder for now because the next 10-ish days look mostly dry.” Gratz updated that later to say a southern storm will likely clip the state Tuesday through Thursday.

Vail, with 20-plus inches of snow over the last five days, opened Game Creek Bowl and most of Golden Peak on Sunday to bring the total number of operating lifts to 16 out of 33, with just under 48% of the mountain’s terrain open to snow riding (still no Back Bowls).

Quick side note: St. Moritz is a sister resort of Vail, and Vail Resorts recently announced a deal to purchase Crans-Montana, a Swiss resort that regularly hosts World Cup ski races. Now here’s that U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release on Shiffrin’s big downhill win on Saturday at St. Mortiz:

At Saturday’s women’s downhill in St. Moritz, Stifel U.S. Ski Team member and winningest skier of all time Mikaela Shiffrin notched her fourth downhill victory, 91st World Cup win and 142nd World Cup podium. Stifel U.S. Ski Team member Bella Wright also started her downhill season strong with a 12th place finish.

The day started out beautiful and sunny with a solid snow surface for the competitors. Shiffrin ran bib three and immediately took the top spot, skiing an aggressive and clean line to nail the pitch and rollers. The fiercest downhill competitor, Sofia Goggia of Italy, came just a few skiers later, also skiing an gutsy line. She came in just 0.15 behind Shiffrin, giving Shiffrin the clear lead and eventual win. Goggia ultimately took second place with Italian teammate Federica Brignone in third. 

“Today was amazing,” said Shiffrin. “I felt so good with my plan and my skiing. The biggest challenge for me was to trust that if I don’t ski the perfect line I can still dive into the turn with confidence.” 

Wright ran just after Shiffrin with bib four. She also took an aggressive approach, executing the pitch perfectly and punching it to the line with a competitive time, ending the day in 12th place. 

“Today was a big stepping stone for me,” said Wright. “I’ve been having some interesting training days and I’ve been trying to lay down an aggressive run so I was happy to make it to the finish with a smile on my face.”

The action continued for the Stifel U.S. Ski Team with Alice Merryweather set to make her official return to World Cup skiing running bib 33. The weather began to turn just a few racers before her run with the sun going behind the clouds, making the visibility extremely poor and dangerous for speed. The race still ran as planned for Merryweather and she made it down to the finish. 

“It was probably one of the scariest runs I’ve ever done,” said Merryweather. “It was so dark so it was not what I would have wanted as my first run back, but I am also really proud I made it down and if I can get through that hopefully I can ski almost anything.”

As Merryweather crossed the finish line she was overcome with emotion as she made her return to the circuit after more than three years off the circuit. Her teammates immediately embraced her in the finish area congratulating her for making it back. 

“It has been more than three and a half years since I pushed out of a World Cup start gate and I’ve dreamed of this day for so long. There are so many emotions and so much that has helped me become who I am in the past three years,” said Merryweather. 

The race was called off right after Merryweather ran due to the extremely poor visibility making it unsafe to continue. However, the race is still considered a valid race.

Jackie Wiles, Keely Cashman, Tricia Mangan and Lauren Macuga all slated to compete did not run due to the midway cancelation. 

The women’s speed team will now switch gears to a super-G on Sunday. 

Women’s downhill

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

2 Responses to Who’s psyched to see speed-queen Shiffrin win again on Beav’s Birds of Prey course?

  1. Marvin Theut Reply

    December 10, 2023 at 1:18 pm

    Ski racing is pretty lame from a spectators view. Time to move on to more exciting events like freestyle skiing. Ski racing was cool in the sixties but newer more exciting freestyle events exist today. It’s time Beaver Creek steps up its game and builds a world class park and mogul course. Right now their park is third rate at best. It’s time to reassess their priorities and move into the twenty first century.

    • David O. Williams Reply

      December 11, 2023 at 9:22 am

      I don’t disagree. Credit to the Vail Valley Foundation, they did previously try (unsuccessfully) to include world championships for moguls and snowboarding in a sort of mini-Olympics triad of disciplines. Beaver Creek has some of the best bumps in the nation (although none of them are slopes particularly well-situated for spectators like Deer Valley) and could do more on that front. We have and have had some of the best bump skiers in the world call this place home. As for terrain parks and pipes, I think Vail’s Golden Peak is a better venue as we saw for years with the Honda Session and the Burton US Open. It would be good to see those events return. Bottom line, FIS is stuck in the past and needs to broaden its horizons to attract the next generation, especially in North America.

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