Column: NorAm Cup previews Aspen’s World Cup Finals |

Column: NorAm Cup previews Aspen’s World Cup Finals

Aspen Times Sports Editor Dale Strode
Nick Massaro Jr. / Special to The Aspen Times |

Fast-forward to March 2017.

The best ski racers in the world are hanging out at the Ruthie’s Restaurant building on Aspen Mountain, looking down on a pair of World Cup racecourses running side by side down Strawpile. They drop to the finish area in front of the grandstands near the base of Lift 1A.

There’s Mikaela Shiffrin of Eagle-Vail, the all-star shooting guard of the U.S. Ski Team, getting ready to make a second slalom run at the 2017 World Cup Finals.

She’s standing with international stalwarts Tina Maze of Slovenia and Anna Fenninger of Austria.

And look, there’s Marcel Hirscher of Austria next to Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway. They, too, are awaiting a second run down Aspen Mountain. Along with Ted Ligety, among others.

Men and women racing on the same day at Ajax.

“Basically you’ll see four (technical) races in two days — men and women,” said Pat Callahan, the chief of course for the upcoming World Cup Finals in Aspen next year. He was the chief of course for the recent NorAm Cup Finals, a precursor to the World Cup Finals at Aspen Mountain.

That’s four runs of slalom and four runs of giant slalom — for men and women.

“We’ll have two full race crews each day,” Callahan said of the workload for the World Cup Finals. He said spectators will be treated to a run of women’s slalom followed immediately by the first run of men’s slalom. Repeat the cycle in the afternoon with second runs for each discipline.

And during the speed events at the 2015 World Cup Finals, men and women also will race on the same day.

The doubling of ski racing is possible because the fields for the World Cup Finals are limited, Callahan said.

The fields in each discipline will be no more than 30 skiers. That’s the top 25 in World Cup points in each discipline plus the World Junior champion as well as the NorAm champion and the South American series champion in each discipline.

“It’s going to be a bunch of work, but we’re excited,” Callahan said after his smaller skeleton crew navigated the difficult schedule of the NorAm Cup Finals in Aspen two weeks ago. The crew had to set up the venue for the speed events, including significantly more fencing than was required in previous years. They also had to set the technical events venue on the lower slopes of Ajax.

The additional fencing, Callahan said, is primarily for the speed events on upper Ruthie’s Run, Aztec and Spring Pitch as well as for spectator protection at the finish area.

The preparations included additional crash bags at locations along the courses.

Callahan said the crew did significant recontouring of the start section for the speed events on Ruthie’s Run near the top of Lift 6.

“The cat drivers were unbelievable,” Callahan said. “It was incredible how much they can do — impressive. We wanted to see how it will run for the World Cup Finals.”

He said the challenge of a 16-inch snowfall during the middle of the NorAm schedule also was a valuable dress rehearsal for the World Cup Finals.

Callahan said the unique terrain of Aspen Mountain will add to all of the events at the World Cup Finals.

Look there.

Is that Lara Gut?

Is that Kjetil Jansrud over there by Aksel Lund Svindal?

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