Aspen Mountain course tests the technical limits | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Mountain course tests the technical limits

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Welcome to Aspen, ladies.

Get ready to turn, turn, turn.

"The giant slalom course (at Aspen Mountain) is one of the most technical giant slalom courses in the world," said Pat Callahan, the veteran chief of course for Aspen Winternational 2014.

Callahan, a coach and race official with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, is in charge of the course preparations for the women's World Cup giant slalom, scheduled for Saturday, and the women's World Cup slalom, set for Sunday.

Both races will be held on the east side of Aspen Mountain.

Callahan directed the Aspen Skiing Co. race crew in conjunction with the groomers and snowmakers at Ajax.

Recommended Stories For You

They had the race surface on Spring Pitch and Strawpile ready for members of the U.S. Ski Team to take valuable training runs last week.

"The course has everything," Callahan said. "It's got steeps, fall-away turns, the big airplane turn, transitions, another fall-away turn onto Strawpile … everything."

The giant slalom course for Saturday's race will start near the bottom of the Aztec trail across from the Ruthie's chairlift loading station.

It immediately drops onto the steep face of Spring Pitch with a flat transition onto Summer Road at the bottom of Spring Pitch.

Callahan said the skiers will face a difficult transition at the airplane turn onto the tricky Summer Road section, which provides the link to the next steep pitch – Strawpile.

"It's intimidating with the transition along the road," Callahan said of a celebrated stretch of Aspen real estate that contributed to a memorable, if not controversial, chapter in Aspen World Cup history.

The road formerly was part of America's Downhill, a men's World Cup downhill held for many years on Aspen Mountain.

The downhill course started at the top of the Ruthie's chairlift, headed down Ruthie's Run and turned down wickedly steep Aztec.

The racers – the likes of Daniel Mahrer, A.J. Kitt, Steve Porino, Atle Skaardal, Tommy Moe, Patrick Ortlieb and Cary Mullen – had to make the huge, sweeping left-hand airplane turn onto Summer Road for the transition to Strawpile and the eventual finish.

A rut in Summer Road became a hole in Summer Road – that's where the controversy started – eventually costing American Kitt a World Cup victory in Aspen, although local race organizers still paid Kitt his winner's purse even though he was denied the World Cup win.

Two decades later, Summer Road is wider, smoother, but still in a unique transition point for a World Cup ski race.

Adramatic right-hand turn will send the women World Cup skiers off of Summer Road onto Strawpile – with a series of fall-away turns in the GS.

"The course never really lets up," Callahan said.

Another transition from Strawpile will direct the skiers onto E. Fifth Avenue for the final stretch into the finish area above the Lift 1A base.

"Inspection will be the key," Callahan said of the giant slalom course.

The race-day gates will be set by a coach from one of the international teams. It's handled on a rotating basis among the World Cup teams as per FIS protocol.

Skiers will inspect the course early. Saturday's first run of giant slalom is scheduled for 10 a.m.

The second run, in reverse order from the first-run finish, will start at 1 p.m.

Callahan said there will be 45 to 55 games set for the giant slalom.

The bottom two-thirds of the giant slalom course will serve as the slalom course for Sunday's Winternational event.a

"The slalom is tricky," Callahan said. "It's not a straight pitch at all. It starts steep on Strawpile then rolls onto … flats, transition."

There's a blind corner near the finish, too.

"Whenever you have flats onto a steep then onto flats, it really tests their ability (to maintain speed) in slalom," said Callahan, himself a former All-American ski racer at Middlebury College in Vermont.

"The transitions … tough," he said. "And then when they drop into Fifth Avenue, there's a blind corner and then you have to be strong into the finish."

Up to 65 gates will be set in slalom, with the same format as the GS.

First run is set for 10 a.m. Sunday.

Second run, in reverse order, will start at 1 p.m.

Callahan said the course crews worked diligently to prepare the snow for advance training by the U.S. Ski Team, including Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin.

"Having the U.S. team train here helps with the home-field advantage," Callahan said.

"They enjoy the opportunity."

Shiffrin confirmed his assertion.

"We're really lucky we can get on this hill," Shiffrin said in an interview with The Aspen Times. She said the U.S. skiers took advantage of the early training window.

FIS prohibits skiers on the race courses within seven days of the schedule race.

"The surface looks great," Shiffrin said last week after a practice run with U.S. technical coach Roland Pfeifer. "We're testing it out and trying to get race-ready."

Callahan said hosting Shiffrin and the U.S. racers for early training is a nice benefit for the course workers.

"It's a great perk for the course crew," Callahan said. "They get to watch those skiers train on their course. They get a close look at those great skiers. It's a bit of a reward for all the hard work."

WINTERNATIONAL NOTES

Pat Callahan's history with ski racing in Aspen goes way, way back. In 1975, he helped his father cut the Racer's Edge trail at Tiehack. An avid bicycle tourer, Callahan rode home from college one year – from Vermont to Aspen.

Course workers will apply surface water using the snowmaking system to preserve a hard, fair racing surface on the course at Aspen Mountain. "We want the surface firm but not icy," Callahan said, explaining that in the past water was injected directly into the snowpack to try to create a firm, consistent surface. That practice was halted in Aspen in 2010, he said, because the climate here is too dry. The water injection works better in Europe where relative humidities are higher, he said.

dstrode@aspentimes.com

2014 Women’s World Cup

Giant slalom/Slalom on Aspen Mountain

Schedule of events

Friday, Nov. 28

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sponsor Village open, Gondola Plaza

4:30-5:30 p.m. Public wax room tours, Mountain Chalet parking garage

5:30-7:30 p.m. World Cup Kickoff Party, Limelight Hotel, free to the public. U.S. Ski Team autograph signing (5:30-6:30p.m.). public bib draw (6:45-7 p.m.)

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sponsor Village open, Gondola Plaza

10 a.m. Race start, first run, women’s GS

11:30 a.m. Taste of Winternational, World Cup finish

1 p.m. Race start, second run women’s GS

6:30-8:30 p.m. Bud Light H-Fi Concert Series, Reel Big Fish, upper Gondola Plaza

8-8:15 p.m. Awards ceremony, women’s giant slalom

8:15 p.m. Fireworks Extravaganza, Little Nell

Sunday, Nov. 30.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sponsor Village open, Gondola Plaza

10 a.m. Race start, first run ,women’s slalom

11:30 a.m. Taste of Winternational, finish area

1 p.m. Race start, second run, women’s slalom

Free Winternational shuttle service

Free shuttles will run from 9 a.m. to 3 pm. on Saturday and Sunday provide spectator access to the finish venue above the loading station for Lift 1A.

The Aspen Winternational shuttles will rune every 15 minutes with stops at the intersection of Monarch and Dean streets, Galena and Dean streets and the venue entrance at Monarch and Summit streets.

Television broadcast schedule

The Aspen 82 cable channel will provide live coverage of the first runs Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday’s final run of giant slalom will be broadcast on tape delay on NBCSN at 3 p.m. Aspen time.

Sunday’s final run of slalom will be broadcast live on NBC at 1 p.m. Aspen time.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.