Aspen Mountain race course ready for action | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Mountain race course ready for action

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

The courses for the 2015 Aspen Winternational are ready for the finishing touches.

The giant slalom and slalom slopes on the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain are scheduled to host women's World Cup races Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The triumvirate of technical races will open with a World Cup giant slalom followed by two consecutive slaloms.

"Course preparation has gone very well," said veteran World Cup chief of course Pat Callahan. "The cold weather, of course, helped, and the new natural snow helped. We're actually ahead of schedule."

He said the course crews have the safety fencing in place for the races that will feature portions of Spring Pitch, Summer Road and Strawpile.

The races will end at the finish venue near the base of Lift 1A, in front of the large grandstands and giant video screen.

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Callahan said crews did the tedious task of watering sections of the course, working for the right combination that produces race snow that is "firm but not icy."

They worked the upper section from the lower portion of Aztec on down Spring Pitch and Summer Road.

The following day, the section of Strawpile to the finish was watered.

"It's part art, part science," said Callahan, who sports years of experience working with FIS officials on courses in Aspen.

"The U.S. Ski Team was here last week, and they loved it," Callahan said last week when the American women took advantage of two days of training on the Aspen Mountain courses.

Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin were among the skiers to assess the conditions for Aspen's World Cup races.

Both will be looking to pocket precious World Cup points in the Friday giant slalom.

Shiffrin, the three-time World Cup overall slalom champion, will be after even more points in the Saturday and Sunday slaloms.

The World Cup giant slalom was moved up a day when Aspen was awarded a second Cup slalom by the FIS.

Friday usually is a day when all the women's ski teams get to free ski and check out the Aspen Mountain race venue, Callahan said.

Instead, Friday will be GS day with slaloms Saturday and Sunday.

The giant slalom will begin with the first run at 10 a.m. Friday.

The second run of GS will start at 1 p.m. Friday.

"This adds one more race day for us, no big deal," said Callahan, adding that Aspen Mountain usually hosts nine days of NorAm races after the women's World Cup.

That's not the case this year when the NorAms will be staged in Aspen in March.

He said the second slalom is a welcome addition to the Aspen Winternational schedule.

A former standout college racer at Middlbury College, Callahan toured the giant slalom and slalom layouts with FIS race officials again this week.

Plus, he said, the officials went to the top of Ruthie's Run to tour the full downhill and super-G courses that will be used in the 2017 World Cup Finals at Aspen Mountain.

"They were pleased with courses, the changes," Callahan said.

One of the top FIS officials who toured the downhill course with Callahan was Hannes Trinkl of Austria who won America's Downhill on Aspen Mountain in 1994.

Callahan reiterated the technical challenges that the Aspen Mountain course presents for the giant slalom racers because of the extreme terrain changes.

"The course has everything," Callahan said. "It's got steeps, fall-away turns, the big airplane turn, transitions, another fall-away turn onto Strawpile."

From the start near the bottom of Aztec, the course drops immediately onto the steep face of Spring Pitch.

Callahan said skiers will face a difficult transition at the airplane turn onto the tricky Summer Road section, the path to the next challenging breakover onto Strawpile.

"It's intimidating with the transition along the road," he said.

The steep undulations of Strawpile, with more fall-away turns, follow.

"The course never lets up," Callahan said, adding there will be 45 to 55 gates set for the giant slalom.

The bottom two-thirds of the course will serve as the slalom venue Saturday and Sunday.

"The slalom is tricky," Callahan said. "It's not a straight pitch at all. It starts steep on Strawpile then rolls onto … flats, more transitions."

That's an added challenge he said.

"Whenever you have flats onto a steep then onto flats, it really tests their ability (to maintain speed) in slalom," Callahan said.

As many as 65 gates will be set for the World Cup slaloms, he said.

dstrode@aspentimes.com