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World Cup weirdness is a way of life this time of year on Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course

November 30, 2022, 3:29 pm
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup men’s downhill Dec. 4, 2021 in Beaver Creek (photo by Francis Bompard/Agence Zoom).

Apparently there’s a World Cup going on somewhere else on the planet the first week of December, which is weird because the vast majority of Earth’s now more than 8 billion inhabitants are usually fully focused on the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races this time of year.

But on Saturday, World Cup fans in the United States will have to make the tough, tough choice between watching the USMNT take on Netherlands or heading up to Beaver Creek’s Red Tail Finish Stadium to watch the fastest men on skis in the second of two scheduled downhill races.

I know which choice I’m going to make.

Sure, Christian Pulisic’s heroics against Iran (pronounced in at least a third of America as “I ran”) came at a high cost (think Casey Affleck’s Vanilla Nut Taps … Google it), but nothing like the carnage we’ve witnessed over the years on the Birds of Prey Course (I’m looking at you, Aksel Lund Svindal). Give me an event that requires a full-time Flight for Life helicopter any day of the week for its sheer, terror-inducing speeds and on-edge danger. Sorry soccer.

I blame FIFA’s beer-free money grab and moving the soccer World Cup to late fall due to the insane temperatures (and climbing) in Qatar for even having this clear sports-viewing conflict. And the fact is we have a men’s downhill scheduled for Friday that does not run up against the USMNT’s knockout round matchup with Holland (although high winds could easily scrub it … the ski race, not the soccer).

At least there’s no chance of a conflict for local music fans later in the (soccer) World Cup – slated to last until Dec. 18 – because the long-lasting (17 years to be precise) Vail Snow Days concerts have been scrubbed without a whole lot of fanfare.

The normal celebratory start to the ski season here in Vail has featured some huge names over the past nearly two decades but apparently is the victim of a lack of sponsorship this time around. Since Vail Resorts was always the primary sponsor, that may mean the event is just another victim of the all-time low relationship (Booth Heights) between the town and the ski company.

Whatever the reason, it’s a bummer. Good thing the snow’s been something to celebrate so far this season, and that looks to continue with another dump in the forecast for Friday, just in time for the first Birds of Prey downhill. It comes on the heels of a foot of fresh Tuesday.

“Tuesday was a fun powder day for most central and northern mountains. Wednesday and Thursday will be dry, then the next storm will bring snow on Friday between about midnight and noon,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Wednesday morning.

“In addition to powder on Friday, we will also deal with strong winds. After that, snow showers could hang around for the weekend, with more snow possible early the following week around December 5-6,” Gratz added.

As of Wednesday morning, Vail was up to 30% of its terrain open, with 13 of 34 lifts serving 85 trails, Beaver Creek was up to 9% of its terrain open, with 6 of 25 lifts serving 18 trails, including parts of Bachelor Gulch. The big question at the Beav’, as always, was whether there would be skier access to Red Tail Stadium down Red Tail ski run, as well as lift access back out. Crews at Beaver Creek were able to deliver, and there will be public skier access on Friday.

For more information on accessing the free races Friday (downhill), Saturday (another downhill) and Sunday (super-G), and other things to do during your time at Vail and Beaver Creek, go to the official Birds of Prey World Cup website.

For results of Wednesday’s training run, go to the International Ski Federation website (American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the 2022 Olympic silver medalist in super-G, was seventh). Another training run is on the schedule for Thursday before Friday’s downhill kicks off the action.

And here are couple of press releases from Vail Valley Foundation to get you stoked for BOP:

It will be one of the speediest weekends in Beaver Creek history when the men’s Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup makes its return Dec. 2-4, 2022.

The Birds of Prey weekend has been an iconic part of the North American ski racing circuit since 1997, but this year’s event has an exciting twist: two downhills and a super G are on the race calendar for Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek has hosted World Cup events in downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom, and combined events since the first races were held here in 1997, and typically hosts a downhill, a super G, and a giant slalom each December. However, this is the first time that two downhills and a super G are on the planned race calendar.

“We look forward to welcoming the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup back to Beaver Creek and the iconic Birds of Prey course Dec. 2-4, and we are thrilled to be hosting two downhills and a super G on what will be a tremendous weekend of speed event racing,” said Mike Imhof, President of the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation, which organizes the event each year. “We are grateful to our partners at U.S. Ski & Snowboard, Beaver Creek Mountain, Beaver Creek Resort Company, US Forest Service, FIS, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, and the very enthusiastic ski racing community and our incredible volunteers who help make this amazing event happen each year.”


The announcement of the race schedule from the International Ski Federation (FIS) also included big news for American ski racing: The United States will host four FIS Alpine Ski World Cup events in the 2022-23 season, doubling the amount of alpine World Cups in the U.S. in recent years. 

For the last five years, the U.S. has hosted two alpine World Cup events: The women’s Killington Cup in Killington, Vermont and the men’s Xfinity Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek. The 2022-23 winter marks the expansion of the domestic World Cup footprint as U.S. Ski & Snowboard is also bringing alpine ski racing to Palisades Tahoe in California and Aspen Mountain in Colorado, marking the most World Cups on American soil since the 1996-97 season.

“We are thrilled to bring four World Cups to U.S. venues this season and provide our country’s ski racing fans with more opportunities to see the best skiers across the globe compete on our home turf,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard President & CEO Sophie Goldschmidt in a May 17 press release. “This is a pivotal move in our organization and within FIS to grow the sport within the United States and make events more accessible to attend. The expansion gives us a signature opportunity to bring more attention to the sport domestically and inspire the next generation of U.S. athletes.”

In December, 2021, the Xfinity Birds of Prey calendar included a downhill and two super G races. Later, a replacement downhill was added to the calendar to make two downhills and two super G races. However, the second downhill was canceled due to high winds.


Nov. 26-26: Killington Cup, Killington, Vermont; women’s slalom/giant slalom
Dec. 2-4: Xfinity Birds of Prey, Beaver Creek, Colorado; downhill/downhill/men’s super-G
Feb. 24-26: Palisades Tahoe, California; men’s slalom/giant slalom
March 3-5: Americas Downhill, Aspen, Colorado; men’s super-G/downhill

Daron Rahlves (Jonathan Selkowitz photo).

It’s about time to sharpen the edges and wax the boards. To get ready for the upcoming Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup in Beaver Creek Dec. 2-4, we connected with one of the legends of international ski racing, two-time event champion, and course record holder at Birds of Prey: the USA’s Daron Rahlves.


I was intimidated the first time, but that has always played in my favor to ramp up the focus. I always felt a bit on edge with the stacked terrain, jumps and fast turns. That race hill is a beast, and a blast to go at it full send! 


As an American, racing in the USA has historically only happened once a season. So that was a unique aspect and special opportunity for me and the U.S. Ski Team. Ultimately though, the demands of looking for speed on this hill and the consequences woke up all World Cup athletes on the first day of inspection and training. It’s a big price to pay if you’re off the timing into a turn or jump.   


That was an amazing day except for me finishing second to my teammate (ha ha) … all in all it was a showcase of domination on our home turf. That was our focus, individually and as the team. I won there the year before and established the fastest time ever down BOP so second place stung, but to share the podium with Bode was a cool experience.  Lots of American pride that day! Not just the two of us, either. Bryon Friedman finished sixth and we had three Americans in the top six. That’s what Austrians or Norwegians or Swiss usually do, not Americans! 


Nothing better than winning! Three years in a row first, second, and then first again. That was my last race down Birds of Prey and a perfect ending. I called it days before the race at the press conference that this was my last season racing. That put more focus on my will, and all-out effort to take back the title that year. And, of course, Bode made it exciting once again. 


The flats on top. That’s where I lost the most time and it cost me the win in 2004. Second most difficult feature would be timing the exit off the Brink, taking it up to the fence at the right place and heading into a blind Talon turn. The beauty of this race hill is you need to deal with one feature after another. It doesn’t let up.

For more information on the Birds of Prey races this week, go to the official Birds of Prey World Cup website.

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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.

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