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World Cup is on

Tim Mutrie
A machine blasts out more of the white stuff near the Shadow Mountain lift Sunday morning. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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After several warm and anxious days and nights last week, cold temperatures arrived over the weekend and Aspen Mountain snowmaking crews took advantage on the World Cup course.Race officials last night said the course is ready for the Friday-to-Sunday women’s alpine World Cup events on the Shadow Mountain side of Ajax.”This is a big step. Obviously, there’s a lot more things to do, but we have enough snow to hold the races,” said Jim Hancock, chief of race.Five inches of natural snow overnight Saturday (measured at the top of Aspen Mountain) certainly didn’t hamper the crews’ efforts, he noted. And while it never got down to single digits as forecast, it was cold enough, leading to fruitful snowmaking and a shared sigh of relief for the entire Aspen World Cup community.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast says, it has to get cold. And snowmaking is machinery and machinery can break. Really, anything can happen,” said Hancock. “So now that we have enough to do it, we’re there, we’re feeling great.”The Aspen Winternational, the opening domestic stop on the World Cup tour and the only women’s races in the United States this season, will feature a giant slalom on Friday and slalom races Saturday and Sunday.The giant slalom course starts on Spring Pitch, just below the former Ruthie’s Restaurant, twists onto Summer Road, then Strawpile and Fifth Avenue to the finish area above the bottom of Lift 1A. The slalom races start on Strawpile and follow the same track to the finish.The U.S. team will be represented by Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, a silver medalist in the World Championship, as well as two Vail natives: three-time U.S champion Lindsey Kildow and two-time Olympian Sarah Schleper. Favorites include Sweden’s Anja Paerson, currently ranked No. 1 on the World Cup circuit, and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic, who won four Olympic medals in 2002 but sat out the 2004 season with thyroid complications.Snowmakers worked last night to add a few finishing touches to the course, Hancock said. Crews planned to be working on skis for the first time today.

“I just walked off the hill 30 seconds ago – we’ve been using the cats to spread the snow and see where we are. And we’re in really good shape. We could do it right now, but we’re going to run one more gun [Sunday night] and a few more at the base of Lift 1A, so the cats don’t track mud and we can ski to the lift,” Hancock said Sunday evening.”Then the mountain can begin shifting snowmaking resources elsewhere.”In the public skiing arena, Snowmass received 8 inches up top Saturday night. Snow showers remain in the forecast in the coming days.And despite challenging snow conditions, particularly at lower elevations, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are targeted to open on schedule on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. Ajax has a 16-inch base on top, while Snowmass has 26 inches up high.The latest plans call for Aspen Mountain to open up top with terrain served by the Ajax Express lift and downloading via the gondola, Hanle said. At Snowmass, “We’re shooting for Fanny Hill, Coney Glade and something on the Big Burn,” he said yesterday.

“You’ll be hearing snowmaking firing up on Little Nell, but unless we can make snow 24 hours a day until opening day, I wouldn’t expect [top-to-bottom skiing at Ajax]. Our plan right now is to open the top of the mountain,” Hanle said.”We’ve got the cats out there and we’ll see how this new snow lays down, both at Snowmass and Aspen. Hopefully, we’ll get some more snow between now and Thursday and, with cold temperatures, we’ll keep making snow.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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