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Women face challenge on Ajax Super-G

FIS officials have decided they want the world’s best women ski racers to roar down the same Super-G course on Aspen Mountain that challenged the world’s best men in 1998.

Two officials with the International Ski Federation, ski racing’s governing body, toured Ajax Tuesday and informed Aspen Skiing Co. representatives they want to use roughly the same course that the men used in Aspen’s last World Cup race.

“That was one of the more interesting” issues that came out of the visit, said Jim Hancock, the chief of race for Aspen’s World Cup events.

Women’s race courses are typically a bit shorter and don’t include as much vertical loss as men’s courses. The Aspen Super-G course will have a vertical drop that’s near the maximum allowed for women’s races, according to Hancock.

The women will be in Aspen for a World Cup Super-G race on Friday, Nov. 24, and a slalom on Saturday, Nov. 25. The visit by the FIS officials is a formality that’s required of host resorts.

The Super-G course will start at the top of Zigg Zaugg on the Ruthie’s side of the mountain. The women will pick up speed through Snow Bowl, fly between Gwyn’s Restaurant and the bottom of the Ruthie’s chairlift, crank a right turn onto Spring Pitch, then immediately get thrown into the hard left of the Airplane Turn where they must avoid the Berlin Wall – the fencing that keeps wiped-out racers from falling into Corkscrew Gully.

Once past that perilous point, skiers will rocket into Strawpile, loop around the west side of Norway Island, then swing east to the finish line just above the base of Lift 1A.

The course is about 2,100 meters long.

It’s a course that promises thrills, chills and – of course – plenty of spills.

The men hit speeds in the low 60 mph range on the course in 1998, according to Hancock. He anticipates the women will fly nearly that fast.

“We have never had a women’s Super-G here,” Hancock noted.

Super-G combines the speed of downhill races with the maneuvering of a giant slalom. The athleticism of the racers and the advances in technology allow the skiers to hold high speeds while making arcing turns.

But that can also be a recipe for disaster. The FIS is requiring additional safety improvements on every course on the World Cup circuit, according to Hancock.

While touring Ajax Tuesday, Kurt Hoch, FIS chief race director of women’s events, and Jan Tischhauser, the FIS race director for women’s events, identified two areas on the course where safety must be improved.

First, the rigid netting called “A net” must be extended 80 to 100 yards below the Berlin Wall as the slope heads toward Strawpile, according to Hancock.

“It’s a direct result of the shaped skis more than speed,” said Hancock. “People are shooting off courses in places where they didn’t used to.”

Before shaped skis, it was fairly predictable where the wipe-outs would occur. It was usually where high speeds would either provide a winning edge or a wipe out.

Now it’s not so predictable.

The second required safety improvement will be at a point on Norway Island where crashes have been common.

That site is where A.J. Kitt crashed in a pro downhill training run and broke a wrist two years ago, according to Hancock.

The Skico will either be required to erect additional “A net” or excavate dirt and rock to improve safety there. The company must look at the options to determine which is best and most economical, he said.

The A-net is designed to stop a body flying into it. “B net” is also used on race courses. The more flexible net absorbs some of the force of an out-of-control skier but doesn’t necessarily stop them.

Hoch and Tischhauser also roughed out the women’s slalom course. It will be on the skier’s right of lower Strawpile.

Both courses will be 100 percent covered by snowmaking capability, Hancock said. Nevertheless, holding the races in the early season will still be nerve-wracking, said Hancock. He noted that snowmaking only works when temperatures are low enough.

“Every time we do this in November it’s going to be scary – no doubt about it,” he said.


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