Snowstorm postpones Aspen downhill
December 8, 2007
ASPEN ” Jim Hancock and his race crew were riding snowmobiles on dirt eight days ago.
Friday, in an ironic and frustrating twist, Aspen’s chances of hosting the much-anticipated return of America’s Downhill were buried.
The heavy snow that fell on Thursday and Friday ” as much as 2 feet according to some estimates, with more expected today ” was a joy for skiers and snowboarders, but a disappointment to race officials. Doubts on Thursday night were realized early Friday when Hancock, Aspen Winternational’s chief of race, and officials from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and International Ski Federation had no choice but to postpone the World Cup downhill.
“We were overmatched,” Hancock said. “When you get this much snow, it’s really no contest.”
A make-up race on the 2-mile Ruthie’s course is tentatively slated for Saturday at 10:45 a.m. American Lindsey Vonn, who posted the fastest training run times on both Wednesday and Thursday, is considered the front-runner.
Saturday’s super G was canceled, chief race director Atle Skaardal announced at Friday’s captain’s meeting. The FIS will pursue later dates in an attempt to make up the race, however. Regardless of what happens today, the FIS is planning on running Sunday’s regularly-scheduled slalom. The female racers currently in Aspen are scheduled to travel to Europe on Monday.
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As for the downhill ” the first in Aspen since 1995 and first for the women here since 1988 ” Hancock said officials will take a “wait-and-see approach.”
“There’s a little more promise for [today], but the forecast is iffy at best,” Hancock said. An additional accumulation of 4 to 8 inches is expected Saturday. “It’s going to be difficult to do, but we have a chance … We all realized going into this that anything could happen.”
Anything happened early Friday, when, between 5 and 7 a.m., the top portion of the course received nearly 1 foot of snow, race director Jan Tischauser said.
Precipitation and poor visibility, a daunting combination for a race where competitors typically reach interstate speeds, was too difficult to overcome.
Despite persistent snowfall Friday, snow cats managed to till the entire course. Warm mid-afternoon temperatures and wet snow, however, softened the existing surface toward the course’s bottom, forcing crews to suspend work.
Officials planned on running cats on the course from 2 to 5 a.m. today, then letting the snow set. The crew’s work doesn’t end there; netting that was taken down to allow tillers close access will be reinstalled.
“It’s a huge job. All the fences, the TV cables, the padding is buried,” Hancock said. “We’ll get up [today] and see where we’re at. We’ll do the best we can.”
While they’ve been given little breaks thus far ” “There wasn’t one minute [Friday] when it didn’t snow,” Tischauser joked ” officials expected a lull in precipitation late Friday.
“It looks like right now we’ve got on and off snow showers in the forecast that could break up,” Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said. “Hopefully we’ll get some windows in there.”
Three years ago, Aspen Mountain course crews were able to pull of a women’s World Cup slalom despite nearly 2 feet of overnight snow. The task becomes more burdensome, however, when nearly two miles of track needs to be cleared.
All officials, racers, coaches and spectators can do now is wait, Skaardal said.
“I hope we have some luck with the weather tonight and tomorrow so we can pull this off,” Skaardal said. “Let’s hope.”