World’s eyes on Aspen for World Cup
The fastest and most talented women skiers in the world begin two days of racing today on Ajax, a mountain that offers spectators some fantastic opportunities to view the action.
Today’s race is the super giant slalom, more familiarly known as the super G, a single-run event that begins above Snowbowl on Ruthie’s Run and finishes near the bottom of lift 1A.
Saturday, racers will pick their way down Ajax in the slalom, a two-run event that requires the greatest amount of technical finesse. Competitors will be required to maneuver through as many as 65 gates, with the top finishers earning a right to the second run.
“There are slalom specialists who will race only in the slalom on Saturday; there are speed specialists who will come in and ski only in the super G on Friday; and there are a few who will cross over and race in both,” said Megan Harvey, a lifetime local who specialized in speed racing events through college.
Things start out bright and early today when retired World Cup racer Kiki Cutter gives a chalk talk – the course, the equipment, the racers, their strategies and mental preparation and other information – starting at 8:30 a.m. at the stadium seating area just above the loading section of lift 1A.
The super G begins at 10 a.m. Sanctioned as an official event by the Federation International du Ski in the early 1980s, the super G is the newest of the four World Cup races. The other three, slalom, giant slalom and downhill, have been around for decades.
The super G was created to fill a gap between the giant slalom and the downhill, Harvey said. Twenty-five or 30 years ago, the giant slalom was a longer, faster and less technical race that would have racers on the course for two or three minutes. But by the mid-1970s, it had become very technical, closer to slalom than downhill.
So the powers that be in alpine ski racing created the super G as a speed event. Racers wear helmets and reach speeds of 60 mph or more (as opposed to 80 or 90 mph in a downhill) as they negotiate through gates that are set fairly wide apart.
For Cutter, a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 1967 through 1971, today’s super G looks suspiciously like yesterday’s giant slalom. “I was looking at the course today and thinking, `This is a tight giant slalom.’ People looked at me like I was crazy and said, `This is a downhill.’ But from what I’ve seen, I’d say the technical skier will win tomorrow, not the speed skier.”
“The reason that super G is a hybrid between downhill and GS is because it’s only got one timed run, like downhill, but it has turns through red and blue gates, like GS,” Harvey said.
Another difference between the super G and the downhill is the amount of training and preparation that’s allowed. Downhill racers are given five practice runs over the three days leading up to the event. Competitors in the super G are given no practice runs. Instead, they get one slow-speed group inspection run. Then they race one run and the fastest woman wins.
There are two good locations for viewing the race: Gwyn’s Restaurant at the bottom of Ruthie’s and the stadium seating at the bottom of the run.
From Gwyn’s, probably the best site for watching the super G, fans will be able to see the racers start above Snowbowl, the steep section that makes up the bottom third of Ruthie’s Run, rifle onto Spring Pitch, an even steeper face right below the restaurant, and turn onto Dago Road, one of the most technically demanding maneuvers of any speed event in the world.
“It’s one of the most difficult hills you’ll see women race on – it’s one of most difficult in the men’s circuit,” says Harvey.
Viewers from Gwyn’s will lose sight of the racers as they turn off the road onto Strawpile, but if they keep a close eye on the bottom of the course, they’ll be able to see the racers as they round Norway Island near the finish. “If they look hard, they’ll be able to see the finish,” Harvey said.
On Saturday, the first run of the slalom begins at 10 a.m. The course is located on Strawpile, so the best viewing can be found in the stadium seating. The second run, which is limited to the top 30 finishers from the first run, begins at 1 p.m.
Awards will immediately follow each event.
The races will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. The super G will be shown at 4 p.m. MST Sunday, and the slalom will be shown at 10 p.m. MST Tuesday.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.