Aspen chief of race cautiously optimistic about the weekend
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen ” Jim Hancock knows better than to be overly optimistic.
Still, Aspen Winternational’s chief of race exuded confidence Tuesday when discussing preparations for this weekend’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom races on Aspen Mountain.
“Everything we can control is in very good shape,” Hancock said. “We’re right on schedule with work, and the surface is excellent. … This is no doubt the earliest we’ve got really good, solid depth that we need on the whole course. This is the most comfortable I’ve been getting ready.”
Friday, in an obvious indication that plans are ahead of schedule, members of the U.S. Ski Team had the opportunity to practice on the famed Ruthie’s Run course. Conditions held up so well that racers were also allowed a half-day of training on Ajax the following day.
Such a perk has come about just once before, Hancock said. Racers had one day of early training in November 2006.
“No competitor is allowed on the course five days prior to the race, so obviously that puts a constraint on us,” Hancock said, referring to International Ski Federation regulations. “We felt very fortunate that we could do that. … Just the fact that we were in a position to do it obviously is a really good sign on our side.”
On-hill preparations are nearly complete. The ‘A’ net at the top at the Berlin Wall, just above the Corkscrew Gully run, was finished over the weekend, Hancock said. In addition, orange ‘B’ nets line nearly every inch of the snaking course. Crews will continue adding padding to snow hydrants and various other obstructions in the coming days.
Last-ditch snowmaking efforts continue as crews try to fill in bare areas between the finish area and the base of Lift 1A. The actual racing surface, which Hancock said has been race-ready since late last week, was injected with water Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s bomb proof, as hard as can be,” Hancock said. “It’s plenty deep and wide. At this point, it’s the perfect racing surface. Certainly, that’s subject to change. With an outdoor sport, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
He speaks from experience. Hancock and his race crew were riding snowmobiles on dirt eight days before the scheduled start of last December’s Winternational. That worry turned to frustration when as much as 2 feet of snow fell on race day, leading to the postponement of the much-anticipated return of America’s Downhill. An abbreviated downhill was held the next day and a slalom followed, but the super G was ultimately scrapped.
Hancock is keeping an eye ” or two ” toward the sky this time around, and with good reason. Various weather reports are calling for 1 to 2 inches of snow on Thursday and the chance for precipitation through the weekend.
“I haven’t looked [at the forecast] for a couple hours. That’s a pretty long gap for me,” Hancock said. “A change in the weather is coming, everyone agrees on that. … Most of it is expected to go south, but we’re right on the edge.”
For that reason, Hancock said he won’t breathe easy until Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone has done a great job, and I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished so far,” he added. “Now, we have to make the best decisions we can and do our best to react to whatever happens. … We’ll do what it takes.”
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In the 50-mile race, three-time Olympian and Aspen bred Simi Hamilton bombed down Fanny Hill to capture the overall men’s title. Hamilton, who retired from professional cross-country skiing earlier this year, completed the race in a time of 4 hours, 17 minutes, 19 seconds. Nicole Tittensor, from Axtell, Utah, was the first woman to finish the 50-mile race.