Snow delays start to Vail’s alpine championships
Talk about being all dressed up with no place to go.
Vail’s hosting of the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships got off to a slow start Monday when persistent snow showers and variable winds forced cancellation of the first race, the women’s super-G.
Flags and banners snapped in the wind over Vail village, jubilant crowds converged at the ski area base and noisy Austrian fans cheered in anticipation of another awesome performance before it all ultimately fizzled.
Despite the inauspicious start, the mega-resort will have plenty of time to strut its stuff for the world. Races are scheduled to run through Sunday, Feb. 14.
The Alpine Championships take a back seat only to the Olympics as far as prestige in World Cup ski racing. The championships are called the Super Bowl of skiing because the world’s best male and female ski racers converge for nearly two weeks of competition.
In contrast, the typical stop on the World Cup circuit features a couple of races for men or women.
Imagine the preparations and level of activity for the men’s super-G and giant slalom races in Aspen last November, then multiply it by about 100 for an idea of what the World Championships are like.
Vail Resorts Inc., the ski area’s operator, and the town were up to the challenge. About 1,600 volunteers were enlisted to help hundreds of resort employees pull off the mammoth event.
Workers, dressed in a rainbow of different-colored outfits, swarmed the finish area at the base of Vail Mountain between the Vista Bahn and chair 1 Monday. They performed everything from keeping some of the 1,500 pesky journalists out of restricted areas to dressing up in purple cow outfits to promote the chocolates of Milka, a European candy maker.
Law enforcement was also thick. Vail police officers and Colorado state troopers were posted at strategic points around the finish area. Security is heightened for the event in wake of last fall’s environmental terrorism at Vail. Arsonists caused an estimated $12 million damage Oct. 18 when they torched the 550-seat Two Elks Lodge along with four other buildings and four chairlifts on the upper mountain.
Though the presence of law enforcement was clearly in evidence, it was far from overwhelming. Instead, the event took on all the flavor of a European-style sports spectacle. Hundreds of ski reporters squeezed into the media coral an hour or so before the race, then jostled and maneuvered for the best prospective positions for their nation’s heroes before calling it quits.
In the public seating section, scores of Austrians filled a sizable section of the stadium-style grandstand. The fans of the dominating ski team took seats two hours before the race and waved flags and banners touting Austrian towns, sang songs and let out chants. The raucous crowd had a variety of whizzers, cow bells and other noisemakers that were used liberally, especially when television cameras panned the area.
Vail Resorts estimates that an estimated global audience of 500 million will watch about 250 hours of international television coverage. About 500 skiers from 63 countries will participate in the 12 races.
Grandstand seats for about 3,000 were filled by the scheduled race time. About 90 percent of that seating was free. All of it was an easy walk from the Vail village. It provided the kind of finish area the Aspen Skiing Co. has dreamed about at the base of Little Nell.
Forerunners came down the Vail course as scheduled, but the snow showers intensified just when the race was supposed to start at 12:30 p.m. After a lengthy delay, the race was finally called at 1:30 p.m. It is scheduled to be made up Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. at Vail.
Before that women’s make-up race, the men will take center stage. They race a super-G today at 12:30 p.m. at Beaver Creek.
Monday’s cancellation could be a blessing for Aspenite and U.S. Ski Team member Kate Monahan. She has been hampered by a sore back and her status for Monday’s super-G was uncertain up to race time, according to team spokesman Tom Kelly.
Monahan’s pains kept her out of the prior weekend’s World Cup race in Europe and limited her practice time for the World Championships, Kelly said. The cancellation buys her additional time for treatment.
Monahan was up on the mountain at the start area and was going to see how her back felt before deciding whether or not to compete. She drew the third starting position in the race.
The super-G has been the best discipline this season for Monahan, called a “speed demon” by fellow U. S. Ski Team racer Sarah Schleper in a column in the Vail Daily newspaper.
Monahan has racked up 103 points in the super-G and is standing in 16th place overall.
Another Aspenite on the women’s ski team, Alex Shaffer, will skip the speed events, but participate in technical disciplines toward the end of the championships. Shaffer will run in the giant slalom, Thursday, Feb. 11, and the slalom, Saturday, Feb. 13, according to team spokesman Kelly.
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Bluebird skies, spring-like temperatures and a few inches of snow from Monday night’s storm helped Snowmass skiers and snowboarders cruise into the season Wednesday for opening day.