On the right track
These days, it's not very often that the international ski racing community gets to build a World Championship downhill course from scratch. So when they do, they have to get it right.
FIS gave the thumbs up this week to the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships Organizing Committee in Vail, as Women's Alpine Chief Race Director Atle Skaardal was on hand to evaluate the summer development of the women's downhill course at the Birds of Prey venue.
He was joined by USSA Vice President of Events Calum Clark and USSA Technical Advisor Tom Johnston. The meeting comes on the heels of a visit by FIS Chief of Race for speed events Jan Tischhauser, who offered a technical evaluation in August.
This week's discussions were based primarily in operational issues, such as transportation for both fans and athletes.
"Everything is very positive," Skaardal said. "The course looks great and from a timing point of view, it's holding up fine. We're not way early, but that's OK.
"We were talking a little bit about the starts, where to put them, the course crossings, what would be reasonable in terms of where to run the events, where we would like to see the slalom, and we were talking about the GS also."
Beaver Creek officials broke ground on the new ladies' track in July. The tree-clearing process was wrapped up in a matter of weeks, but workers have been installing a snowmaking system and fine-tuning the trail, which will be open to the public this winter. FIS is planning a "very detailed inspection" next spring when officials begin to really nail down the nuances of the course-setting.
"Seeing the amount of work that Beaver Creek has managed to get done since mid-June, it's simply extraordinary," said Clark. "It’s absolutely amazing what this organizing committee has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time."
Somewhat overlooked in the 2015 story has been the development of a women's technical trail on the adjacent Grouse Mountain. (There's a 350-meter flat section near the bottom of the speed trail, which would not accommodate GS or slalom.)
Skaardal said it is shaping up to be a "very good" tech trail, with the one exception that visibility from the finish stadium will be minimal — a problem certainly not unique to the Beaver Creek venue, he said.
"This is a core problem for alpine skiing in general," Skaardal said. "You have many sites where you see just four, five, six gates — and that's all."
The Beav' Legacy?
Also on the minds of everyone involved is the future of the racecourse after 2015. Skaardal and Clark said there have been no significant developments, that it is simply too early to talk about the details of an annual event.
It is very much on the table, nonetheless.
"How to make these courses into legacy courses — it's a big challenge for any World Championship course," Clark said. "The biggest challenge is you can't just invent weekends: 'This is a great course, we'll just add a weekend.' … If we have an opportunity to make this an event on an annual basis, we're going to jump at that for sure."
Clark added it's too premature to talk about where on the calendar an annual women's speed weekend might fit into the mix, but certainly all eyes will be on the World Cup test event in 2013 as an indicator for how a legacy race at Beaver Creek might look, logistically and financially.
"It's a time issue," Skaardal said. "The North American tour is set to be at the beginning of the season. You have some limitations in terms of when you can start snowmaking and when you can expect enough snow for World Cup racing. The timing we have right now is as early as possible, and then we have a set of classic organizers on the calendar. So, we can't just get rid of one and put another one in there. There has to be some good, strong arguments for making any major changes to the calendar."
The new course will make its international debut Dec. 14-15, 2013 for the World Cup test event, followed of course by the World Championships in 2015.
For a complete breakdown of the women's 2015 World Championship speed course at Beaver Creek, check out the season's first issue of Ski Racing Magazine, due out by the end of the month. —Geoff Mintz
Photos: 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships Organizing Committee