American skiers in the World Cup
When America’s top female racers gather here with their counterparts from around the world for the World Cup, they’ll have the home-turf advantage.
In any sport, the hometown favorites have an edge over their opponents, and in skiing the rule applies even more broadly.
In 1988, for instance, Aspen standout Beth Madsen finished sixth overall in the women’s slalom after an outstanding run. “I always skied better in the U.S. I was just that kind of person,” recalls the 10-year U.S. Ski Team member. “It was a confidence booster to be on your home turf.”
Madsen and current U.S. team members say the advantage comes from the crowds from the home country and, in cases where a racer is on the mountain she grew up skiing on, in knowing the curves and bumps and pitfalls of a mountain much better than everyone else.
Alex Shaffer, an Aspen native who may, depending on her recovery from an injury, be racing as a U.S. Ski Team member on Aspen Mountain for the first time, is psyched up by the hometown energy as well.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” she said in an interview with the Aspen Skiing Company. “It’s something I’ve thought about. Aspen is my home mountain, and I know it like the back of my hand. While the other girls are inspecting the super-G course, I will know exactly where to go.”
Over the years, Aspen Mountain has, in fact, proven quite useful for all American women, not just locals like Madsen and Shaffer.
In March 1981, Tamara McKinney – after a near collision with a snowcat during a warm-up run – won the GS.
approached the starting line “not feeling much like racing,” but ended with the third-fastest time in the first run. Going into the second run, she was a quarter of a second behind leader Erika Hess of Switzerland, who was unable to hold off the unenthusiastic McKinney. Madsen, who was just 17 at the time, finished 38th.
In March 1982, America’s top two skiers, Christin Cooper and McKinney, were tripped up on the icy GS course, but Karen Lancaster of Nevada skied strongly and finished fourth. And Americans Cindy Nelson and Abbi Fisher took seventh and ninth, respectively. This moved the U.S. women’s team to fourth place in World Cup national standings.
The 1988 race, the first and only women’s-only World Cup race in Aspen (until next week), proved hazardous for just about everyone except Madsen.
Flat light and a tough course wreaked havoc on the downhill. Half a dozen racers crashed, several ending their seasons with debilitating injuries. And the slalom was at least as demanding: 70 percent of the field failed to complete the course.
So now, for the first time in 12 years, the women will be returning to Aspen, and this year’s mix, as with a few others in the past, will include a hometown girl. Said Shaffer: “Friends, family, old coaches. A lot of people are still there who have helped me get to where I am. Coming back in November is sort of like a thank-you present.”
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