Weather’s graces key in World Cup 2002 | AspenTimes.com

Weather’s graces key in World Cup 2002

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A swath of white, framed by two ribbons of construction orange, mark the town’s view of the 2002 World Cup course on Aspen Mountain.

It’s a welcome sight, considering last year’s race route. The course then seemed to be made up of a mere smattering of snow ? the result of weeks of snowmaking efforts and unseasonably warm temperatures ? with a generous amount of the underlying soil visible. The paltry conditions resulted in the loss of three of five planned races and the fear that Aspen would eventually be removed from the World Cup schedule.

Just two days before the 2001 Aspen Winternational races, as the local World Cup events are called, officials wondered if they could pull off any competition at all. Two days before this weekend’s World Cup installment, officials estimate that the Aspen course is nearly 90 percent completed for Thanksgiving Day training runs.

What a difference a year makes for Chief of Race Jim Hancock and his cup course crew.

“Last year, we just had to wait for snow,” he said of the weeks leading to race day.

Most of the details required to run a World Cup race can only be added after the snow has been secured, Hancock said, such as fencing, gates and the outline of the course itself. Last year, officials “threw it together at the last second,” Hancock said.

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Winter weather was more helpful this year, Hancock said. Course volunteers have been visible on the mountain for more than a week, and course watchers can track their handiwork from town.

“Obviously, we’ve been extremely fortunate to get the early season snow and cold temperatures,” Hancock said. “This year, because we had the good conditions, we can proceed in a more orderly fashion.

“Things are running much more smoothly.”

Despite the early blessings from above, course supervisors still have a lot of snowmaking in store.

“For our purposes, we primarily want to have man-made snow,” he said. “We need the denser snow, with the higher water content, that the machines make for us. The softer [natural] snow gets torn up too badly.”

There’s also a lot more territory to cover. Last year’s slalom courses didn’t require as much space or snow as this year’s super G competition, Hancock said.

“Slaloms are a much shorter and smaller course,” he said. “The super G, the speed event, is a longer course” that involves many more safety areas.

Today’s course work will involve a lot of these safety precautions ? additional fences and padding will be installed along the race route, Hancock said. Course crews will also continue their snowcat work to turn all man-made flakes into a “final surface” free of obstacles such as bumps and ridges that could trip up a speeding racer.

“If the weather cooperates, we’ll continue to work on skis the next couple of days,” Hancock said. “On Thanksgiving Day, competitors will be able to free ski on the course.”

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]