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World-class weekend inaugurates season

Janet Urquhart

At least by local standards, the weekend World Cup races on Aspen Mountain drew a good-sized crowd of spectators.

The 1,000-seat bleachers at the bottom of the super-G and slalom courses were packed with fans of all ages for both days of women’s races.

Sunny skies and comfortable temperatures brought out a vendor offering free palmfuls of sunscreen from a giant jug outfitted with a pump.

Locals and their Thanksgiving guests, tourists and an international contingent waived banners, rang cowbells and – especially for U.S. racers – pounded their feet on the bleachers as the competitors stretched for the finish line.

The seating was a new addition to the World Cup course and a vast improvement over past accommodations for spectators, who were forced to hold their footing on the slick ski slope in previous years and stand behind the fencing for the duration of the action.

“I watched my first World Cup in 1985,” said Marilee Johnson of Snowmass Village. “I can’t believe how much it has changed. They didn’t have these fancy monitors – you can watch the whole race from top to bottom.”

A giant video screen displayed each racer’s entire run for spectators watching from the bottom.

Doug Root of Newport Beach, Calif., was forced to stand with his two young sons along the edge of the bleachers for Friday’s super G. They couldn’t find a seat in the crowded stands.

The family was in town for a weekend of snowboarding and had no idea Aspen was hosting World Cup racing. They weren’t boarding Friday morning, though.

“We wanted to come see this. We’re having a fun time. The whole thing’s terrific,” Root said.

John Mustad, a Norwegian in Aspen for the ski season, had his home country’s flag propped at his feet in the stands during the super G. He was enjoying a close-up view of the finish line that would be hard to come by in Europe, he said.

“Ski racing is a lot bigger in Europe,” he said. “You couldn’t even approach the grandstand area – there’d be people all the way down to the Holland House. This is not even full compared to Europe – people are really into it there.”

Austrian-born Hans Schwarz, a longtime Aspenite, was seated front and center for the first heat of Saturday’s slalom event, joining in the crowd’s banter about the pros and cons of short, shaped skis after a string of racers crashed or missed gates.

A former ski racer himself, when international races were called FIS races, Schwarz agreed World Cup action in Austria would typically draw a bigger crowd. “One a day like this, there would be more people,” he said.

Still, Schwarz was pleased to see a packed grandstand for women’s racing.

“The level of competition among these girls is phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a must for everybody to see this, especially for the kids. They can learn so much from watching.”

Aspenite Janice Stanley made a point of coming out for the super G – her first World Cup experience.

“It’s the first time I’ve taken this in. I was working and I decided to take a break,” she said. “I think it’s awesome. This is so world-class, to be sitting right here. I’m 42 years old and I’ve only watched this on TV. It’s amazing.”

Or, as veteran World Cup spectator Winnie Delliquadri of Steamboat Springs put it: “It’s better than sitting at home and eating more pumpkin pie.”


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