Aspen: The women's downhill, turn by turn



Though it has been 19 years since woman downhillers have tested their prowess on Aspen Mountain, just inspecting the course brings a sense of history. After all, ski racers have been hurling themselves downhill here since the mid-1940s.
    Today’s ladies downhill is bigger and longer than years past. Known casually as Ruthies Run, it really is a series of rolls and steep pitches where every section has a name, names that have evolved so much over the years that they are still used even though they are inappropriate in this politically correct era.
ASPEN, Colorado  — Though it has been 19 years since woman downhillers have tested their prowess on Aspen Mountain, just inspecting the course brings a sense of history. After all, ski racers have been hurling themselves downhill here since the mid-1940s.
    Today’s ladies downhill is bigger and longer than years past. Known casually as Ruthies Run, it really is a series of rolls and steep pitches where every section has a name, names that have evolved so much over the years that they are still used even though they are inappropriate in this politically correct era.
    The ladies downhill begins high on the western ridge of “Ajax” hard by the top of lift six. It is a higher start than ladies have ever had, just one roll below the old men’s start.
 Rhett Armstrong, who built the start with Mike Hass and a fellow known only as “Squatty,” proudly points out that the old women’s start is “down where the super G starts now.”
    Standing at the start wand, the racer looks out over the snow-covered plateaus of northern Colorado. Over the weekend the mountain got 3 feet of wet snow, Armstrong relates. “We packed it out and then it got cold,” he adds, “It [the course] is good now, and the snow filled in a lot of the rough spots.”
    The racer falls away from the start to a panel slightly left of the fall line, then is brought back into the fall line over jump on the top of Zig Zaug. The course rolls with minor lefts and rights into Corkscrew, where waxing will play a roll.
    The racer is now hurtling to the top of Snow Bowl which is the first truly steep drop in the course. The approach is a hard left footer but you “have to be patient, “says Craig Carlson, who was test running the track for Jim Hancock, the chief of race, “you have to wait, wait and wait some more.”
    Now the racer is rocketing downhill through a series of left and right panels, flying by a mid-mountain restaurant known as Ruthies. The racer must stand on her right ski across Spring Pitch, by far the steepest section.  The course demands the racer stay high so she can properly line up before standing hard on her left ski and vaulting down the 35 degree slope toward a turn know as the Berlin Wall where in the old days the fall zone was lined with frozen wooly bags and hence the name.
    It is a critical turn as the racer must carry all the speed she can onto a flat road now known as Summer Road. Most course workers and those with some history of the course still call it by its politically incorrect name, “Dago” road.
    Summer Road winds into “Straw Pile, another left footer where the racer must find the right spot or the entrance to Straw Pile will be a big problem.
    “I missed it,” Carlson says, “and had to throw them sideways.”
    There are two compressions that will rock the racers as the course weaves left and right in this section, ending with a big right footer to carry the racer above Norway Island, a section of Norway Pines around which the racer has a long three panel left footer.
    There is a pretty good roll approaching the final right footer to the finish. It is a spot where tired legs could let the skis leave the snow, which is not fast.
    “It is a really fun course,” says Rob Boyd, who coaches the Canadian women’s speed team and used to race here when the men came to Aspen. “It has lots of rolls, turns and terrain.  It will be a good race.”
    

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