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Fast women welcome

Naomi Havlen
Tommy Reynolds is hoisted to the top of a 50-foot tower on Aspen Mountain Wednesday, where he will drape safety netting in preparation for the upcoming World Cup races. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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The tradition of fast women in Aspen continues next weekend.The 2004 Aspen World Cup is bringing the world’s finest women’s alpine racers to town to compete Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26-28, in giant slalom and slalom on Aspen Mountain.”Everyone on the circuit loves to come to Aspen,” said Aspen’s Katie Monahan, a former U.S. Ski Team racer and Olympian who raced in the 2002 women’s World Cup races on Ajax. “They enjoy the town and when Aspen puts on events, it’s got a festive feeling. The concerts, the bars and the restaurants in town really lend themselves well to big events. International crowds seem to really enjoy it.” (Snowmaking crews remained optimistic Thursday that cold weather, forecasted for the weekend, will enable them to make enough snow to adequately blanket the hill for racing.)The history of women’s World Cup racing in Aspen dates back to March 1968, when Canadian Nancy Greene took first place in all three events – downhill, slalom and giant slalom.The World Cup next came to Aspen in 1976, with women from Switzerland, Germany and France leading the pack.

Five years later, in 1981, Aspen resident Beth Madsen placed 38th in the giant slalom. The following year, the American women who came to Aspen had a strong showing, moving the U.S. women into fourth place in the World Cup standings. But it wasn’t until 1988 that Aspen drew women World Cup racers without their male counterparts.According to aspenworldcup.com, co-sponsored by the Aspen Skiing Co., in ’88, flat light and a tough course led to half-dozen crashes, ending several racers’ seasons with debilitating injuries. Plus, 70 percent of the women failed to complete the demanding slalom course that year. Aspen’s Madsen was quoted as saying, “If you stood up through this one, you had a good chance of winning.”It would be a long time before the women’s races returned to Aspen. But when they did, in 2000, the women were honed and ready to compete. Croatian Janica Kostelic, then 18, dominated the slalom, dubbing the race hill a “Mickey Mouse course.” Aspen was scheduled to host two women’s races in 2001, but a lack of snow forced them to be moved to Copper Mountain.In 2002, the last time the races were in Aspen, Kostelic once again tore up the course, along with German Hilde Gerg and Sweden’s Anja Paerson.

Aspen local Bob Beattie, the former U.S. Ski Team coach who helped create the World Cup circuit in the late ’60s, said it’s noticeable how far women’s ski racing has come.”One thing that sticks out is that women today are so damn good, there are so many of them that could win,” he said. “In the older days, maybe three of four had a better chance, and now there are really just tons of women with a good chance.”Man-made snow has also changed the World Cup races, Beattie said, since it’s “perfect, really firm, and good for most anybody.” He said a number of women on the U.S. team have a good shot at success this year.Plus, Aspen Mountain is unique on the World Cup tour, said Paul Robbins, a correspondent with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.”It’s a steep, challenging mountain, which is the key thing. These are the best skiers in the world, and they should be skiing on difficult terrain,” Robbins said. “Like anywhere, it takes balance and total focus [to win slalom or giant slalom], but the giant slalom is not a forgiving course. You can’t take your time because you know you can’t make it up at the bottom.”The giant slalom course starts just below the former Ruthie’s Restaurant heading down Spring Pitch; the slalom course starts below the top of the Strawpile run.

“When you come around that corner and head into the final run for the finish, there are people going nuts there because they can see the clock, see the racers’ faces, and they know that they’ve got to hang on,” Robbins said. “There’s no gimme on this course.”Monahan has a similarly healthy respect for the difficulty of the course, saying it’s part of what makes World Cup in Aspen great.”Strawpile is a great hill for racing,” she said. “It has lots of features, so it’s challenging with curves, twists, steep pitches and roads. It’s not a straightforward trail.”The Aspen World Cup kicks off on Friday, Nov. 26, with the first run of the giant slalom at 10:30 a.m. The finish area grandstands, with seating for 800, are located at the top of Aspen Street.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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