Aspen World Cup races a go |

Aspen World Cup races a go

Crews construct grandstands Thursday in preparation for next weekend's World Cup races on Aspen Mountain. (Jim Paussa/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” Jim Hancock was “cautiously optimistic” Aspen could pull it off. Friday, his notion was confirmed: Aspen Mountain is ready to host next weekend’s World Cup races.

Shortly after inspecting the course early Friday with Hancock, Winternational’s chief of race, International Ski Federation and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association officials gave the venue their vote of approval.

“It’s a great feeling,” Hancock said. “I don’t think anyone here the last couple of days wasn’t confident, but it’s nice to have the official word. … It’s good for morale for everybody to know that their hard work paid off.”

The decision paves the way for the much-anticipated return of America’s Downhill, which will take placed here for the first time since 1995. The world’s top female racers haven’t taken on the vaunted Ruthie’s course since March 1988, when Switzerland’s Brigitte Oerth finished on top of the podium.

Friday’s downhill will precede Saturday’s super G ” the first here since 2005 ” and a slalom Sunday. An American woman hasn’t placed in the top three in Aspen, which primarily has hosted technical races in recent years, since Kristina Koznick’s third-place finish in a 2004 slalom.

Hancock met with officials Tuesday during the mountain’s snow control date ” or the occasion, 10 days prior to the projected first race, when progress is charted and a decision on whether races are feasible is made ” and decided, per usual, to defer a decision until Thursday morning. Because of a communication gaffe between officials here and in Canada, where the women’s World Cup circuit currently is staging races in Lake Louise, Alberta, Hancock and his crew were given one more night.

“We had a good night up there, especially on the downhill,” Hancock said. “We made some good piles [of snow], and we are spreading them around. … We’re getting really close.”

The current situation is a far cry from two weeks ago. Sparse snowfall and warm early November temperatures cast doubt on Aspen’s chances of pulling off a downhill, let alone the other disciplines. Similarly unfavorable conditions led to the rerouting of women’s events in 2001; a late snowmaking push helped Aspen salvage two men’s slaloms, however.

The weather took a turn for the better, allowing Hancock and his crews to make great strides with snowmaking. Hancock expects to run isolated snow guns in the coming days, and crews continue to work to procure a hard racing surface.

They’re focusing the bulk of their efforts on the downhill start, which is situated near the top of the FIS lift. A wench cat also is being used to smooth out Spring Pitch.

“It’s so steep and the line is so curvy that it’s hard to get snow to land in the right place sometimes. The [snow]cats are doing a great job,” Hancock said. ” [The course] doesn’t have to be as wide at the beginning. It’s not really a difficult part where they’ll be making turns right away. If we need to get by with a little less snow, we can do that.

“The big orders of business from here on out are safety and snow surface and texture.”

While he can take comfort in the fact the one major hurdle was cleared Friday, Hancock isn’t about to relax just yet. The first training run is slated for Wednesday.

“It’s all systems go,” Hancock said. “The pressure is fully on now.”

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