Ski Tales: Beaver Creek fitting Cup host

I’m a little sad this weekend. For the first time since 1999, I’m not in Colorado attending the Worl
PHOTOGRAPHER:

I’m a little sad this weekend.

For the first time since 1999, I’m not in Colorado attending the World Cup Alpine races at Beaver Creek.

This season’s four-day weekend of races began Thursday with the men’s super combined. The downhill is today, with the super-G on Saturday and giant slalom on Sunday.

Beaver Creek, for those who have never been there, is just up the road from its better-known neighbor, Vail.

“The Beav” is a posh winter

resort with heated sidewalks, outdoor escalators, five-star hotels, classy restaurants and ritzy shops. During these races, it becomes the center of the Alpine ski world.

Instead of recreational skiers and riders, the village is filled with World Cup racers and journalists from Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Norway and every other Alpine skiing nation. The Austrians always come with an oom-pah band from Lech, Beaver Creek’s sister city in the Alps. You never know who you’ll run into, especially at the downhill bib draw in the town square on Thursday night.

My string of memorable trips to Beaver Creek was inspired when my son, Will, who lives in Denver, went to the resort to watch the 1999 World Alpine Championships.

He called me and said, “Dad, you’ve got to come to the World Cup races next December. I was standing right next to Hermann Maier and Daron Rahlves.”

So that year, he booked us into the Inn at Beaver Creek, a slopeside property with a chairlift right out the back door.

Imagine our surprise when we checked in and found out that the United States ski team was staying at the same hotel. Ski team guys were all over the place, and we were able to book our stay at the Inn

every year after that through 2007.

Each morning, we shared the breakfast area with team members, coaches and technical reps. For a ski racing fan, this was like hanging out with the Giants at the Super Bowl.

All the big stars were there, like Rahlves and Bode Miller, as well as some big stars to come.

A few seasons ago, I shared the elevator with a young team member I didn’t recognize. I asked him his name, and he said, “Ted Ligety.”

That weekend, he surprised

everyone in Beaver Creek by placing third in the World Cup slalom race. And at the next Winter Olympics, he won the gold medal in Alpine combined.

Outside of the races, the most fun we had was watching the champagne victory gatherings at the inn after one or more team members wound up on the podium. There were several of those after truly historic races.

In 2003, Rahlves took first in the Birds of Prey downhill, the first World Cup win by an American on U.S. soil in 19 years. Big party that night.

In 2004, Miller was first and Rahlves was second in the downhill, the first ever 1-2 finish by Amer­icans in a World Cup downhill ever. The party was even bigger.

And watching the races was a ball.

My job was to get to the finish area early, and save a spot in the bleachers. My son and his buddies would take a few runs and join me before the first racer was on course.

And the Birds of Prey downhill course is a story in itself.

Designed by former Swiss downhiller Bernhard Russi, it’s considered one of the most challenging downhill runs on the World Cup circuit because of the 80-plus miles-per-hour speeds attained, the cliff-like drop at the top and the bone-jarring jumps and turns that come after that.

Spectators can watch the race from top to bottom on a huge screen.

The fans at Beaver Creek are great. Every racer who crosses the finish line gets a big hand, especially if they have the best time. And when an American is in the gate, the crowd goes wild.

Being at Beaver Creek for the World Cup races became more interesting a few years ago when three New York natives who are members of the U.S. ski team — Chris Beckmann of Guilderland, Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid and Jeremy Transue of Hunter — began testing their skills on the formidible Birds of Prey course, first as forerunners, and then as competitors.

Last year, Weibrecht created a sensation by finishing 10th in the downhill after one of the wildest rides down the Birds of Prey ever. He started 53rd, and came down like a rocket in a blinding snowstorm. At one point near the top, he slammed into a control gate, and stayed on his feet. Near the bottom, he went up on one ski and almost lost it. Austrian downhill great Franz Klammer was there, and he went over the Weibrecht after the race, and said something like, “Hey kid, I want you to know I’ve got a copyright on that kind of skiing.”

All eyes will be on Austrian Hermann Maier, who pulled off a surprising super-G win at Lake Louise on Sunday. Maier, 35, hadn’t won a World Cup race since January 2006. The American favorite, of course, is 2008 overall World Cup champ Miller, who lost a ski in Sunday’s race after posting the fastest

interval time at the first check point. Other Americans with a shot at the podium are T.J. Lanning (ninth in the downhill Saturday at Lake Louise) and Marco Sullivan (fifth in Sunday’s super-G). And Ligety is a favorite in the giant slalom. He’s the current World Cup giant slalom champ.

But the races are only part of the fun at Beaver Creek.

Back in town, our favorite spot to hang out (and everybody else’s) was the Coyote Cafe.

We were doing that at about 10 p.m. one night when my son said, “Look who just came in.” It was Miller with a half-dozen of his friends. They parked at a table ,and were still there when we left about an hour later, an indication of Miller’s free-spirited lifestyle which would become better known at the next Olympics.

I remember saying to myself, “Hmmm, shouldn’t Bode be home in bed. The downhill is tomorrow.”

Apparently not.

The sun came up, Bode got out of bed with no problem at all and electrified the hometown crowd by winning the race.

I’m hoping to go back to Beaver Creek next year for the World Cup races, but it won’t be the same. The Inn at Beaver Creek, I’ve been told, was torn down last spring, and is being completely rebuilt.

With that gone, our chances of landing a room at a hotel where the U.S. ski team is staying seem pretty slim, indeed.

But all is not lost. There’s always television and the Internet.

Today’s downhill will be televised on NBC at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Universal Sports Network, an Internet Web site, will show the race in its entirety at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The Universal Sports Network will show a lot of other World Cup ski racing this weekend: Today _ the women’s downhill No. 1 from Lake Louise at 2:30 p.m.; Saturday — the men’s super-G from Beaver Creek at 1 and the women’s downhill No. 2 from Lake Louise at 2:30; Sunday — the men’s giant slalom from Beaver Creek (first run at 11:45 a.m., second run at 2:45 p.m.) and women’s super-G from Lake Louise at 1.

UP and RUNNING

Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake had its earliest opening ever last weekend, offering skiing and snowboarding on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

With a two-foot snowmaking base, the area will operate this Saturday and Sunday. The Royal, Prince, Board Park, Lodge Run and Chair Access will all be open. The beginner area will not be open until the Dec. 13-14 weekend.

Royal has a total of 14 trails serviced by three chairlifts.

Owner Jim Blaise said skiing and riding should be smoother than ever this season, thanks to the area’s new snow groomer.

Lift tickets at Royal are $34 for adults, $25 for juniors.

Categories: Sports

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