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Variables portend exciting race

Steve Benson
A World Cup racer starts her practice run Thursday morning at the top of Spring Pitch on Aspen Mountain. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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The world’s fastest female skiers will face off on Aspen Mountain’s World Cup giant slalom course today, and based on the conditions heading into the race, spectators can expect a wild show.Competitors were allowed to free ski the course for about two hours yesterday morning, and several American racers report that it’s long, tough and super variable.Given the low snow conditions this year, there are more dramatic terrain features than usual, including a series of rollers on Strawpile. As several racers blindly dropped off the Summer Road onto Strawpile for the first time yesterday, they were caught off-guard by the huge, air-inducing features.”I’ve never been here, I’ve never even seen the course,” said U.S. ski team member Resi Stiegler. “My coach was, like, ‘Go out and hammer it,’ so I did and I flew off one of those rollers.”But it’s cool, it makes the course a lot more exciting.”Racers will also be challenged by variable snow conditions. The race begins on Spring Pitch, just below the old Ruthie’s Restaurant, where the snow is apparently soft and sugary. At the bottom of Spring Pitch, racers make a hard left onto the flats of Summer Road before dropping into Straw Pile.”Up at the top, it’s pretty soft, it’s breaking apart,” said American racer Jessica Kelley.

On Straw Pile, the snow suddenly turns hard and fast, and it remains that way until the finish at the base of 5th Avenue near the Shadow Mountain lift.”Down here, it’s hard and aggressive,” said American Lauren Ross.”It’s really challenging,” added teammate Libby Ludlow.American Jonna Mendes, who mostly races super G and downhill events, won’t be competing this weekend, but she made the trip with her teammates and skied the course Thursday morning.”The lack of snow creates more terrain [features],” she said. “Everybody is taking their time up there, just checking it out.”But that’s what makes skiing so fun, the variables can make for a totally different race.”Plus, Mendes said it could be a lot worse.

“Aspen does such a great job, I’m impressed with how hard everyone works,” she said. “They managed to come up with a very-well-prepared hill.”Nine ladies will be racing for the United States this weekend, which Mendes believes is the most ever for a U.S. women’s team in a World Cup event. “We’re right up there with the Austrians,” she said.The size of the team is dependent on the previous year’s performance on the World Cup tour.”Basically it means the girls really skied it up last year,” Mendes said.Last week, former U.S. Ski Team coach and Aspen resident Bob Beattie said this year’s team is one of the youngest, but most-talented and promising he’s ever seen.Racing for the United States today will be Sarah Schleper, Kirsten Clark, Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Kildow, Libby Ludlow, Resi Stiegler, Caroline Lalive, Lauren Ross and Jessica Kelley,Kristina Koznick will be representing the United States, although she trains independently and is no longer officially part of the team.

Other top racers to keep an eye on include Anja Paerson, of Sweden, Janica Kostelic, of Croatia, Michaela Dorfmeister, of Austria, and Denise Karbon, of Italy.Mendes said the entire team is psyched to be in Aspen and gunning for a good showing.”It’s just killer here – it’s one of my favorite places to go,” she said. “Everyone gets excited about it, and it’s cool for us because the locals get excited and really root for our team.”The giant slalom race begins today at 10:30 a.m. The finals will take place at 1:30 p.m.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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