Can Aspen pull off World Cup ski races? |

Can Aspen pull off World Cup ski races?

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN A man in shorts and sandals pedaled down Monarch Street on Tuesday with his young son in tow. At the post office, two women mulled over their Thanksgiving plans.”It doesn’t look like we’ll be skiing much next weekend,” one said with a wry smile.Warm temperatures and sporadic precipitation have left local slopes green and Aspen Skiing Co. officials red in the face as they prepare for openings on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass next Wednesday. Jim Hancock and other World Cup race organizers are also feeling the pressure. Comparable conditions here in November 2001 led to the cancelation and subsequent rerouting of women’s giant slalom and slalom races, said Hancock, Winternational’s chief of race. Now, with World Cup races fast approaching in British Columbia, Alberta, Vail and Aspen, North American race officials have been reduced to gazing toward the sky and crossing their fingers. “We’re not panicking, but obviously the weather has not been helpful,” Hancock said. “All you have to do is look up at the hill to see that it’s going to be close. “I hope winter arrives one of these days.”Aspen is scheduled to host a women’s downhill – the first here in 19 years – Dec. 7. Before the world’s fastest women arrive, however, there is much to be done.

Tuesday, Hancock and race crews transported netting to various spots along the downhill course on Ruthie’s Run. Snowmaking, which began Nov. 1, has been restricted to evenings and progress has been slow because temperatures have rarely dipped below freezing. “What most people don’t understand is that, when temperatures are a little bit below [freezing], you can’t make a lot of snow – it’s a function of how much water freezes before it hits the ground,” Hancock said. “What we’re making is sticking around. We’re not going backwards, but we haven’t been going forward in any great strides.”The time crunch is nothing new, Hancock said. While Aspen lost its women’s races in 2001, a night of snowmaking salvaged the men’s slalom. Races were also in jeopardy in 1998 until the final hours. Aspen’s snow control date – when International Ski Federation representatives chart the course’s progress and determine if races are feasible – is Nov. 27. While Aspen doesn’t have to be ready to host a race on that date, Hancock is hoping for substantial progress. He likely won’t make strides this week – warm weather and high pressure are expected to last through the weekend.”We’re making progress, but we’re certainly not ready,” Hancock said. “There’s no reason to panic over things we can’t control. We’re doing all the work we’re able to do, but we’ll always need cold temperatures or real snow to have a fighting chance. There’s nothing anybody can do now except hope and pray.”Lake Louise, Alberta, is slated to host men’s and women’s downhill and super G’s starting next Wednesday. Race officials will meet with the FIS today. John Cassels, director of World Cups for Alpine Canada, said Tuesday that the course is 75 percent complete.

“If the FIS pros give us a break, and the weather gives us a break we’ll have some terrific racing,” he said. “We never panic because we’ve been doing this for so long, but my blood pressure is high. We’re up against it.”Cassels has no doubt that Panorama Mountain Resort in British Columbia will be ready to host women’s giant slalom and slalom events Nov. 24 and 25. Prepping the Lake Louise downhill in time for next week, however, is far more uncertain. The area has benefited from a week of sustained low temperatures between mid-October and the end of November in years past, Cassels said. Cold weather has been intermittent this fall, leaving Cassels contemplating a worst-case scenario.”The worst case is we don’t get the men off, but we hold the women’s races the week after,” he said.In his 14 years, Cassels said Lake Louise has lost just one race; a freak blizzard in 1996 led to the cancellation of the women’s downhill.”We like our track record,” Cassels said, “but are we ready? No.”Poor snow conditions have already affected the World Cup calendar. The women’s slalom slated for Levi, Finland, on Saturday was re-routed to Austria.

Last year at this time, FIS officials pondered holding extra races in Aspen and Vail because of sparse snow in Europe. While the scenario has shifted thus far in 2007, Vail Valley Foundation vice president of communications John Dakin insisted Tuesday that the notion of moving the men’s Beaver Creek races, which begin Nov. 27, has not yet been broached.Conditions like those in Aspen are holding up preparation for the Birds of Prey downhill, said Dakin, who said the course is 40 percent complete.Beaver Creek and Aspen are clearly scrambling. “Every day that goes by without the right conditions is making things much more difficult,” Hancock said.”We’ve been here before and been able to hold races and been unable to hold races,” Dakin said. “You can’t count on much of anything except that things will be variable.”In my next life, I’m going to come back as a weatherman.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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