Even when up against a field extra stacked with racers fresh off of their World Cup season, Rob Cone proved once again that he is king of parallel slalom at the World Pro Ski Tour Colorado Cup on Monday night.
The Monday race took place at Echo Mountain – Colorado’s closest ski hill to Denver that once served as a dedicated alpine race training facility. While the medium-gradient slope that also hosted Sunday’s WPST Reven Cup features a pitch Cone described as not exactly in his wheelhouse, the Vermont native still managed to dominate both races, winning one heat after another and walking away with a $10,000 victory prize purse from each event.
“For me, my skiing style, it’s not the easiest slope,” Cone said of the Echo course, which also featured two jumps. “It’s not flat, so you can’t go full-gas and juice the turns. It’s also not steep enough that you need to set up and be too tactful in arcing. Because it’s in between, it’s a weird, mid-range speed for me.”
Clearly, he shifted to the appropriate gear.
Monday’s race began with a field of 23 pro racers, including a smattering of Europeans and World Cup-level athletes. River Radamus, back in his home state following a breakthrough World Cup season that included several back-to-back top 20s in giant slalom and wrapped up with a 7th place in the World Cup Finals Team Parallel race, was among the first wave to be eliminated on Monday. U.S. slalom specialist Luke Winters blazed through qualifiers only to be eliminated when he went up against Cone in the Round of 8, when Slovenian Miha Kuerner also edged out former U.S. Team racer AJ Ginnis.
A slalom specialist, Ginnis gave Cone a fiery run for his money in Sunday’s race, sliding out after the last jump in the final run to take second. He began skiing for his native country of Greece this season and while he struggled to finish a number of races on the World Cup, managed to notch a personal best 11th place in the Flachau slalom.
As with Sunday’s Reven Cup, Ginnis came into the WPST hot when it first re-emerged in 2017, notching a second place in his first Pro Tour race in Sunday River, Maine, and following up with a win in Aspen.
“The World Cup grinds you down to a pulp,” Ginnis said Monday. “It’s nice to come back here and have all of my friends, my former teammates from the ski team – Nolan Kasper, Rob Cone, those guys I spent some good years with – it’s fun to come race against them again. Racing World Cups in Europe, night slaloms are lit up like football stadiums. Here, it’s definitely a little trickier with the eyes, but it makes for a little more home competition, like backyard scrap-play. We have myself, River and Luke coming over from a World Cup season where we’re skiing injected surfaces and the stuff they ingrain in you isn’t the stuff you want to be doing here. Here, it’s more open, bigger distance, you want to be in the fall line longer … running a bit more of a bad boy line.”
As for the bad boys to advance, it was former U.S. Team racer Michael Ankeny and Team America’s Garret Driller – eliminated uncharacteristically early in Sunday’s race – to join Kuerner and Cone in Mondays semi-final. Driller came back from a first-run loss in semis to advance to the final while Ankeny went down to Cone, but managed to finish a hair ahead of Kuerner in the small final to round out the podium in third two nights in a row.
In the final familiar matchup between Driller and Cone, Driller barely edged Cone in the first run and was gunning in the second until he scrubbed his speed after the last jump.
“I thought I had it right before the second jump,” Driller said. “Then I felt my momentum go away and there was nothing I could do to make it up in those last few gates.”
So, Cone walked away with his fourth straight Pro Tour victory and his second season – albeit abbreviated – as Pro Tour champion.
“On my end, I tried to get revved up for these races free skiing back home at Stowe and Killington. That’s really all I could do this COVID season,” Cone said. “I’ve just been trying to smile and be happy that we’re ski racing at all this year. It’s great energy. It’s super fun, but super competitive.”
Cone said it’s extra satisfying when his dominance continued against racers that came directly from the World Cup.
“It’s satisfying to know not only myself, but all of us Pro Tour competitors are matching up with them,” Cone said. “They’re skiing really fast. I think they’ll get more used to the format of the Pro Tour – the starts, the jumps, the specifics that aren’t in a FIS race. But right now, it’s great to match up against them.”