Two-run downhills debut at Highlands |

Two-run downhills debut at Highlands

Madeleine Osberger
Special to The Aspen Times
Johno McBride, Walt Evans and Willy Volkhausen (from left) get ready to set the inaugural two-run downhill course on Golden Horn and Thunderbowl. Races, featuring top members of the U.S. Ski Team, will be staged today and Thursday at Aspen Highlands. Today's racing will begin at 9:30 a.m.
Courtesy photo |

For the first time in history, Aspen Highlands will host a FIS-level two-run or “sprint” downhill that uses the Golden Horn/Thunderbowl venue.

Newly certified this season, the course starts on the T-Lazy-7 road before dropping 438 meters to the base area.

An airplane turn in the midsection and a jump above the Limelight run offer spectators plenty of reason to watch one of two downhill races, which are scheduled for today and Thursday at Highlands.

The sprint downhills have attracted top-caliber talent, including more than a dozen U.S. Ski Team members, AVSC athletes, hungry newcomers and even a surprise guest or two, such as Canadian downhiller Conrad Pridy.

“There are very few sprint downhills in the world,” said Walt Evans, director of excellence for AVSC. “What an opportunity with this great field and great hill to provide these races.”

AVSC coaches set the inaugural course Monday, which uses the entire front face of Golden Horn and Thunderbowl, rather than the usual skier’s right side.

There is an airplane turn near Five Trees, but most exciting should be the jump above Limelight run.

“It’s like a blank canvas. We have the opportunity to try all sorts of things” on the face of Highlands, Chief of Race Greg Needell said.

The two-run format should make the race interesting too, as it uses the “flip-30” format standard with technical ski races to determine the start order for the second run.

“This is great for spectators because you can see so much of the course,” said Sochi Olympian Steve Nyman. He identified that unlike “traditional downhills,” the Golden Horn/Thunderbowl race venue was not cut specifically for racing.

“You could run 20 different downhills” on the course, he said.

Nyman said he and his teammates are “stoked” to be in Aspen for the races, not only for the potential points they could score at this week’s downhills and super-G races. “Our crew is all clicking together,” he said.

U.S. Ski Team members here this week include fellow Olympians Travis Ganong and Andrew Weibrecht as well as young guns Bryce Bennett and Jared Goldberg. Aspen native Wiley Maple is out for the season because of injury.

On Tuesday, AVSC’s Dean Travers won the only training run, with Heidi Livran of Vail putting down the fastest time for the women. Also look for AVSC’s Ben Throm, who won a super-G here last week and teammate Nick Mitchell, who consistently finds speed on this hill.

Greg Needell predicted fast speeds if the expected freeze comes overnight.

Fifty-seven men and women will start today, beginning at 9:30 a.m., and then again at 11 a.m., in the first-ever sprint downhill on Golden Horn and Thunderbowl.