Copper Mountain speeds up for ski team

Geoff Mintz
Summit Daily News
Aspen, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – The U.S. Ski Team will have a significant leg up heading into the 2011-12 World Cup season thanks to new partnership with Copper Mountain Resort announced Wednesday.

While the ski team has been running early season downhill and super G on Copper for several years, the new Speed Center will relocate the training course from the west side of the mountain to the east, providing for steeper, longer speed training on 2,200 vertical feet starting Nov. 1.

According to the ski team, at that time of year, there will be nothing else like it in the world.

“It’s going to be a totally unique center ‹ worldwide,” said Luke Bodensteiner, executive vice president of athletics for the U.S. Ski Team.

“We’re planning a significant amount of elite-level training during the early season. We’ve traditionally done some speed training at Copper, but this will be a whole different deal. In terms of real full-length downhill training, there’s nothing in the world that’s going to be like it.”

The annual project will be managed by the ski team in conjunction with Copper through Dec. 10 each winter. The infrastructure development involves new automated snowmaking, as well as the top-notch safety, communications and timing equipment necessary to create the only full-length downhill training course available during the fall season.

“When we talk about top-to-bottom training on a real race surface with the terrain on that run, it will be absolutely perfect training for speed and a great early season simulation to get rolling into the World Cup season,” Bodensteiner said.

In previous years, speed training has been short and not particularly steep. With the high elevation, cold temperatures and potential for improved snowmaking capabilities, the ski team had been eyeing this part of Copper for some time, Bodensteiner said.

Located in the Super Bee area of Copper’s East Village, which includes Rosi’s Run, Andy’s Encore and Oh No, the north-facing slopes, high base elevation and cold temperatures will provide a much-needed continuation from the team’s summer training in Chile and New Zealand, which as it experienced last year, can be very inconsistent.

“I wouldn’t say it’s going to take pressure off what we do in Chile and New Zealand because those are really critical blocks for us, but to be able to get that sort of volume [of training] in the beginning of November will provide a really significant advantage – both in the short-term and in terms of how we cycle up and prepare the athletes for the Olympics.”

The U.S. team hopes to improve on its performance at the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, held in early December, which is the only World Cup stop for the men on American snow.

“We think it’s going to be huge, particularly for Birds Of Prey,” Bodensteiner said. “Last year, we really struggled to get good speed training in. … The lack of training at that time of the year really affected our performance, not only at the Birds Of Prey, but for most of the season.”

The Speed Center will be coupled with Vail’s recent infrastructure improvements on Golden Peak, which has allowed athletes to get on snow earlier than ever before for slalom and GS training. With its close proximity to Copper, multi-disciplined athletes will theoretically be able to train full-length slalom and downhill in the same day.

“Golden Peak is still going to be a critical area for us, and the quality that [Ski Club Vail] has been able to provide there has been over-the-top incredible. For tech training, it’s been perfect,” Bodensteiner said.

With the addition of the Copper improvements, there will be more room and more time for athletes at all levels to hit the snow, not just the elite ones.

“One of the things we’ll be able to achieve is a higher-volume training, not only for this year, but moving forward for the development-level athletes in the Olympic cycle. This will allow us to put more athletes on snow at the development and club levels, as well as at the elite level,” Bodensteiner said.

While the Speed Center at Copper will be open to World Cup athletes like Olympic champions Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety, it will also serve as a facility for USSA clubs and regional programs.

“This is a very exciting project for Copper. The natural attributes of the Super Bee area, combined with an internal Copper team that has experience with race training and a proven track record on snowmaking, were very appealing to the U.S. Ski Team,” said Gary Rodgers, president of Copper Mountain Resort. “This long-term relationship will further enhance Copper’s role in early season race training.”