With scant natural snow at lower elevations and warm temperatures hampering snowmaking efforts, the World Cup race course on Aspen Mountain yesterday resembled a narrow ribbon of white on an otherwise salt-and-pepper slope.Still, race officials remain optimistic that Ajax will be ready for the three women's alpine races on Thanksgiving Day weekend."We need a little bit more [snow], but we have a very favorable forecast for snowmaking this weekend," Aspen World Cup chief of race Jim Hancock said Wednesday. "It looks like we're going to get this weather just in time to give us the snow we need for the event."
At minimum, Hancock said, he needs an 18- to 20-inch base of hard-packed snow, some 35 to 40 meters across, up and down the course."We have that minimum all the way down Spring Pitch to Strawpile and in the finish area, but we aren't quite there on the lower third of Strawpile and part of Fifth Avenue," he said. "Realistically, we're not expecting much [last night] or Thursday. It's the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights we need to put us over the top as far as snowmaking."Yesterday, crews worked to spread snow at the top of the course, where snow is most abundant near the former Ruthie's Restaurant, and to string up safety netting at the Berlin Wall."We're starting with preparations at the top of the course, where we're in pretty good shape, and then we'll work our way down the course. Hopefully, by the time we get lower on the course we'll have enough snow to work with. And while that's really cutting it close, we think we'll be OK," said Hancock.
He has worked on Aspen World Cup races since 1981. In 1998, Hancock's first year as chief of race, Aspen hosted its first early season November World Cup. The upcoming event will mark the fifth Thanksgiving Day weekend World Cup in Aspen."The last time we cut it really close was three years ago, in 2001, when we ended up having the two men's slalom races," Hancock said. "And it seemed like it was more down to the wire then, but I guess I can't say that yet. That's just part of the deal with these early season races - it's often close, closer than all of us would like."The favorable forecast in question is calling for very cold temperatures Friday through Sunday. And, as most Aspen World Cup watchers are well aware, the colder the temps, the more fruitful the snowmaking.
"We're all just counting on this weather forecast," Hancock said.The grandstands in the finish area were up Wednesday and by Monday, Hancock expects large numbers of TV and audio workers to begin arriving. Yesterday's crew of 18 to 20 will swell to 200 to 300 on-course workers by the first race, a giant slalom, slated for Friday, Nov. 26. Slalom races are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 27-28."We've had a good record of pulling these things off at the last minute," Hancock added, "and that helps keep the confidence up for everybody. We have people like Steve Fischer, Steve Sewell and Jack Anderson, and because we've done it before, for one, we never give up. We keep pushing to the last minute, we keep refining it to know exactly what we need to do, and what we can expect out of the snowmaking machines at good temps. And all that experience helps us all make more educated judgments as far as where we actually stand."Tim Mutrie's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org