First World Cup race off: If you want a powder day, schedule a downhill
Ganong: ‘It’s an outdoor sport, that’s ski racing’
Special to The Aspen Times
The weather didn’t cooperate for the long-awaited return of World Cup ski racing to Aspen, as the 2023 Stifel America’s Downhill was canceled early Friday afternoon. Just 24 racers, out of a field of 59 competitors, started the mile-and-a-half run down the face of Aspen Mountain; 30 starters were needed to make the race official.
The cancellation denied 28-year-old Adrian Smiseth Sejersted of Norway, who was first out of the start gate and posted a time of 1:31.24, a possible World Cup victory. Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr stood in second with a time of 1:31.50 and American Ryan Cochran-Siegle was in the bronze medal position, 1:31.84, when the race was canceled.
Cochran-Siegle, who ran fifth, was able to ski before the wind kicked up and the visibility dropped. He sat in second until Kriechmayr, the Austrian veteran, pushed him into the third-place spot.
“I was in the start just thinking about enjoying the ride and having fun and playing with the hill,” said Cochran-Siegle, who was a silver medalist in super-G at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Teammate Travis Ganong, who announced this week he was retiring after the 2022-23 season, came into a technical section of the course with too much speed and missed a gate, resulting in a DNF (did not finish).
“It’s an outdoor sport. That’s ski racing. And yeah, anything can happen,” said Ganong, a resident of Lake Tahoe.
He also expressed his condolences for his colleagues who were headed for the podium.
“I mean, I feel really bad for Adrian and, and Ryan as well. They skied really, really well. But they were also really, really lucky. And in ski racing, you don’t want to have luck determine the race. You want to have the skiing determine the race,” he said.
While Sejersted was not available to comment after the cancellation, fellow Norwegian Aleksander Kilde said he was impressed with how his teammate skied.
“He’s been through so many ups and downs, mostly downs,” said Kilde, who is leading the season-long downhill standings. “The way he executed today, took advantage of his number, and went for it — I’m happy for him. Super proud.”
The race was delayed by about 10 minutes due to a course worker’s fall that later required medical attention. The person’s condition was not immediately available. The downhill started at 11:30 a.m. and followed a trail dedication to the late coach and Woody Creek resident Bob Beattie, who was instrumental in the formation of the FIS World Cup.
The rapid deterioration of the weather and the increase of wind and fog led the race jury to halt the first of two Aspen downhills.
While the cancellation was certainly a bummer for the athletes, Aspen Skiing Co. Director of Public Relations Jeff Hanle said that those involved in the event are gearing up to refresh and start anew on Saturday.
“We live in the Rocky Mountains, ski racing is a winter sport, and it happens,” he said. “But the monumental effort that this community put in, that our volunteers put in, that our staff put in, the racers, the coaches — everyone’s disappointed.
“We have to be fair to all the racers, and the conditions deteriorated. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. You really can’t take risks with that. So huge disappointment. (But) tomorrow’s another day,” Hanle added.
Wearing bib 29, American Bryce Bennett was waiting at the top of the course when the race was called.
“I was in a moral dilemma up there,” he said. “Every single athlete up there didn’t want to go, but my boy (Cochran-Siegle) was on the podium. I was like, ‘I’ll sacrifice one for Ryan.’”
He said he fully agreed with the race jury’s decision.
“It came in really hard, that snow,” he said. “Slipping down the track after they canceled it, it was foggy, too! You couldn’t see between the gates.”
Canada’s James Crawford, the downhill gold medalist from the 2023 world championships, agreed that “for a lot of us, the wind was definitely an issue.”
The weather didn’t start out horrible, and prior to the race start, the crowd assembled in the grandstands and alongside the course seemed especially excited to see the action in their hometown.
Gella Sutro — a native of Sweden, former elite racer, and Carbondale resident — said she is thrilled to see the races return here both because of Aspen’s rich racing history and how it brings together the community.
“I’m excited that we finally have the World Cup back. It brings the whole town together. So it’s very exciting,” she said. Sutro also said she thought the Americans were “pumped at the start.”
The World Cup series continues over the weekend with another downhill on Saturday, which is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. American Steven Nyman, who had earlier announced his retirement, plans to end his illustrious career with this race.