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Best seat in house at finish

Janet Urquhart

The best place to watch this weekend’s World Cup action on Aspen Mountain may well also be the easiest place to get to.

This year, for the first time, spectators will be treated to stadium seating at the finish line. With a giant video monitor tracking the racers from the starting gate to the finish, the bottom of the course offers a comfortable view of the whole shebang.

For both the women’s super-G on Friday and Saturday’s slalom event, the bleachers at the finish are chief of race Jim Hancock’s top pick when it comes to choice vantage points.

“I’d watch from the grandstand,” said Hancock. “Really, the best place to watch the whole race is on television.”

The giant screen will provide spectators at the finish with a view of the action, said Aspen Skiing Co. spokeswoman Rose Abello. And a new and improved screen this year is expected to offer a better picture than the one used two years ago when Aspen hosted men’s World Cup racing, she said. It will also be placed to the left of the finish, as one looks up the hill, rather than the right, where the hospitality tent blocked views from some angles in 1998.

The new bleachers, near the bottom of Lift 1A, will offer free seating for 1,000 people, with some seats reserved for local sponsors. The FIS, the international organization thatgoverns the races, insisted on the seating, and Skico officials expect it to greatly improve the spectator experience.

For the men’s races in ’98, spectators slipped and slid on the ski slope to peer over the fencing that marks the course perimeter.

A seat in the bleachers is an easy way to see over the crowd and catch a closeup look at the racers as they speed through the finish, skid to a halt and react to the numbers they post on the time board.

Spectators are, of course, urged to bring their cowbells and other noisemakers to cheer on the racers as they come down the final pitch, Abello said.

The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club will be serving free cider and cookies to the crowd. Free coffee will also be available.

While most of the super-G race will play out on the big screen for spectators at the bottom, almost all of the 65-gate slalom course will be visible from the bottom of the course, noted Hancock.

The slalom course will start about two-thirds of the way down Strawpile. The super-G course start gate is midway down Ruthie’s Run, at the Zigg Zaugg corner.

For on-mountain viewing, Gwyn’s will offer the best spot to lift a beer and watch the super-G. The restaurant is promising discount breakfast and lunch specials throughout the World Cup weekend.

“I think one of the key spots will be Gwyn’s – it sits at a very exciting turn,” Abello said. “It’s where the racers take the first big turn and head into Spring Pitch.”

For those with a hankering to hike up the course, a position overlooking the top of Corkscrew Gully is the spot to watch a very precise turn at high speeds, Abello said. It’s at that hard left that skiers must avoid the Berlin Wall – the fencing that keeps skiers from tumbling into Corkscrew Gully in the event of a wipeout.

For a shorter hike up, stake a position on the edge of Strawpile and catch a sense of super-G speeds as racers whiz by in a blur.

Hikers are welcome on the slopes on race days, but must stick close to the outside of the course fencing, Abello said.

Racing starts at 10 a.m. both days. For Saturday’s slalom, the top 30 finishers in the morning heat will race in the finals, starting at 1 p.m.


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