FIS chief race director tweaks World Cup courses
The World Cup slalom and giant slalom courses on Aspen Mountain will both be about 60-70 feet longer in November when the world’s top female racers return to Aspen.The International Ski Federation’s chief race director, Atle Skaardal, announced the changes Wednesday after a preliminary inspection of both courses. This spring, the FIS changed its maximum vertical drop for a World Cup slalom to 220 meters (722 feet), which allowed for moving the start of Aspen’s slalom up higher on the mountain, Skaardal explained.In previous years, the slalom started on the opening pitch of Strawpile, a blue run that starts about midway up the right side (skier’s left) of Aspen Mountain. The new start gate will be on Summer Road, a cat track right above Strawpile. Because it was on a steep pitch, the old start tended to give race organizers headaches, whereas the new start should be easier to construct, and make for a longer course, Skaardal said.”It should add about four or five seconds to the times,” Skaardal said. “Maybe as many as five more gates.”The giant slalom, which in previous years started at the top of Spring Pitch, just below Ruthie’s Restaurant, now will begin near the bottom of Aztec. The new start is just above and to the right (skier’s left) of the old start.One of the main factors behind the change is that there is no super giant slalom this year, which means the GS start can be built days in advance. In years past, the giant slalom start had to be constructed after the super G was run, Skaardal said. “It’s going to be a longer course, which is good because the running time for here in Aspen was not the minimum, but it was a little short,” he said.’A big puzzle’One of Skaardal’s primary roles is working out the FIS alpine calendar each season – a tricky balancing act when it comes to making host venues happy. Last year, Aspen held three women’s races on the second weekend in December – two weeks after the usual Thanksgiving weekend date.The Aspen Skiing Co. prefers to host races in December when the chances of good snow conditions are better. What is best for Aspen, however, isn’t always best for the rest of the host venues on the long World Cup calendar, Skaardal said.”This is something that we’re discussing all the time and trying to find good solutions,” Skaardal said. “From an international standpoint, it’s practical to have the opening races of the season in North America. That’s based on the U.S. and Canada being able to provide stable snow conditions at this time of the year. Even though it’s a very hard and challenging job, they are able to do it most of the time, which is very important.”Skaardal also noted that the most sought-after dates on the World Cup schedule are in December. From a marketing standpoint, race organizers at each venue like to show off their mountains before Christmas. “It’s not only Aspen, it’s St. Moritz [Switzerland], it’s Val D’Isere [France], it’s St. Anton [Austria],” Skaardal said. “If we are pushing Aspen back to the second weekend of December, which at the moment is the only option because of the men’s races in Beaver Creek, which are the first week of the season, then I’m only able to add one European organizer before Christmas. This is from a global view, so it’s very difficult. We’re trying to find the solutions so we can work with Aspen and [the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association] for something that can work with the calendar with a global view.”Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle concurred with Skaardal’s reasoning. “It’s a big puzzle. The FIS is involved, U.S. Skiing is involved, and then our venue,” he said. “We’ve made it clear that we would like to have races in December. It’s just easier for us to put on a race. It gives us more time, more snow, everything involved. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way. We’ve had them for years, Thanksgiving races, and we’ve always managed to pull them off, or pull off some part of them.”The last time Aspen wasn’t able to host its World Cup races during the traditional Thanksgiving weekend date was in 2001 when the races were moved to Copper Mountain.Skaardal, a former World Cup racer himself, remembered when there were North American races on the FIS calendar in the spring. It’s something he hasn’t ruled out in future years, although he noted that with travel costs, it makes the most sense to schedule a block of races in close proximity. Right now, the best option is to have all the North American alpine races at the start of the season, he said. But that could change.”For me, the U.S. and Canada, they’re very important nations,” he said. “They’re big skiing nations. They’re not the biggest ones – I still think the big countries will be Austria, Switzerland, in the middle of Europe, in terms of interest for ski racing. But they’re important. “The spring was a good time to be here, but the pressure from Europe and also from North America is always growing. Everyone thought it was a huge opportunity to create something with an early opening to the season in North America because they have the good snow conditions at that time. That is not the case with most of the places in Europe.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.