Aspen downhill course filled with local lore from top to bottom
What’s in a name? From top to bottom, the sections that make up the downhill course (and parts for other races this week) have a distinct Aspen history. Here’s their lore and what’s in store for the racers (as told by course chief and Aspen native Pat Callahan):
Zaugg Flats: The start of the downhill is in a section named after the last miner to leave the mountain, Billy Zaugg. The section is flat and benefits racers who are good at gliding. Callahan’s crew is putting in a jump near the top and by the super-G start house as well as a few more rollers.
Aztec: Named after the mountain’s last silver mine, Aztec is where the fun begins with a steep dropoff that makes racers feel like they’re falling into town. The gate used to be to skiers’ right, making them fly off the top, but has been moved to the left over the years, lowering their launch.
Spring Pitch: “There’s probably a natural spring in there somewhere, I’m guessing,” Callahan joked. “I don’t really know.” But racers are going to have to know what’s going on as they hit their top speed in this section, setting up for the big turn.
Airplane Turn: Appropriately named, this hard turn to the left forces skiers to make a big adjustment, and flying through the air they often put their arms out for balance, thus looking like a plane. And if they miss the turn, the heavy orange fencing, affectionately known as the Berlin Wall, will save them.
Summer Road: Also known as Diego Road (named after longtime mountain manager Charlie Maddalone of Italian decent), the section can be deceiving. “This to me is easy flat section, but is the toughest part of the course for racers just because they hit the flats and they think, ‘Oh, I’m on the flats,’ and I think their mind wanders. … It’s where mistakes happen.”
Strawpile: The start of the most technical section, and by far the best history. The story goes that the miners used horses to drag trees out of the woods, and because they didn’t want their horses walking back to town every day, they put big piles of straw here to feed and keep the horse here overnight.
Norway Island: Named after the former 18-room Norway Lodge, which opened in 1949, Norway Island is a stand of trees where the courses will veer left or right with a big swooping turn into the final section of 5th Avenue.
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.