Next stop: Aspen
BEAVER CREEK ” Anja Paerson distinctly remembers her previous visit to the Vail Valley.
“It’s been since March that I was here last, getting my knee operated on,” said the Swedish skier Sunday at Beaver Creek.
This time around, Paerson is on the snow, not under the knife. She and the rest of the Swedish women’s technical team arrived Saturday night and began training Sunday for this weekend’s World Cup races in Aspen.
Coming off a second-place finish in last year’s World Cup standings and a giant slalom title, Paerson, who skis all disciplines, is patiently optimistic about her progress.
“You know it’s the beginning of the season and coming back from injury is going to take a little while, but I’m not stressed or anything,” Paerson said. “I’m going to work hard and get back in there. I don’t know how long it will take, but I hope it’s before January.”
Tomas Stauffer, the head Swedish women’s alpine coach isn’t expecting Paerson to get the strong early-season results she has in years past.
“She’s just not where she was in years before because she had a long break,” Stauffer said. “She needs a couple races to get going, but I’m not worried for her.”
Sunday’s giant slalom training under sunny skies on the Beav’s Latigo gave the rest of the Swedish team a chance to continue what has been a successful early season.
“It feels good. I’m really excited for this year,” said Maria Pietilae-Holmner, who took ninth place in this season’s opening race, a slalom in Levi, Finland. “We had really good training, both physical and skiing, so we are well prepared.”
Pietilae-Holmner finished 24th overall last year, and in the top 20 for both slalom and giant slalom. Stauffer hopes that Pietilae-Holmner, Anna Ottosson (18th overall in 2006) and Therese Borssen (28th overall in 2006) can each move up a few places this year.
“Keeping the momentum from last year [is important], and those that were in the top  last year need to step up more,” Stauffer said.
Last year the Swedish team came to Colorado early because of poor conditions in Sweden and spent a few days at Loveland and Arapahoe Basin. The poor conditions this year were in Soelden, Austria, the site of the opening race.
“In a way it was good,” Stauffer said of the Solden cancellation. “We were just about to leave to fly down to Europe and the race got canceled, so we could stay in Sweden and train there. The conditions were really good.”
The Swedish team made the early trip this year to train at Beaver Creek and become accustomed to different snow conditions.
“It’s good to get here early,” Pietila-Holmner said. “You can concentrate and get a good feeling on the snow.”
Not only did the Swedes like the course conditions, they also enjoyed the luxury of having the run of the slopes.
“It’s great because it’s not crowded,” Stauffer said. “You don’t have to go from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then be up on the hill sharp the next morning. Here you have freedom.”
The Swedes did have some company, however; they were joined on the GS course by the two racers and coaches that make up the entire Liechtenstein women’s team.
“This is our first day training [with the Swedish team],” said Lichtensteiner Marina Nigg. “I hope it helps. I mean, we can watch Anja Paerson.”
Sweden also benefits a bit from the setup.
“We can split up the training between slalom and giant slalom and meet the needs of the girls,” Stauffer said.
Paerson isn’t where she would like to be as far as training, but that may not matter in Aspen, where she’s been dominant. Last year she won the slalom and finished second in the giant slalom for the second consecutive year.
“Of course when you have a good rhythm on the hill, you feel more comfortable,” Paerson said. “I haven’t gotten much skiing in, but I hope I can find that same feeling I had last year and get in there and get some wins.
“Aspen is a really technical ski race and every year we’re there we have a good atmosphere. People come and cheer, and that really motivates us to go faster.”
The team will be at Beaver Creek until Wednesday. Following Aspen, speed teams travel to Lake Louise, Alberta for the second, and final, North American stop.
And while it may not be an Olympic year, the Swedes still are focused on two and half weeks in February.
“We have the World Championships in [Are] Sweden,” Pietila-Holmner said with a big smile. “I think everyone is really proud to have it in Sweden.”
The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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The 2020-21 Nordic combined season was supposed to be historic. This winter was going to be the first ever with women’s Nordic combined World Cup events, the first scheduled for Dec. 3-6 in Lillehammer, Norway.