World Cup training brings mixed reviews for return to Aspen’s downhill
America’s Downhill welcome back party drew the gamut of reviews Monday after the first training for this week’s World Cup Finals: from terrifying to buttery.
While the women thought it suited their style and matched what they’ve been racing on all season, some of the men were getting used to running on snow, not ice. The man this week with perhaps the most experience on Aspen Mountain was the one who seemed to struggle the most.
American Travis Ganong is looking forward to doing well this week on the mountain where he broke onto the World Cup scene six years ago after winning the U.S. Nationals here.
But Monday, the Squaw Valley, California, skier had the worst showing of the 23 men who completed the training run, finishing in 1 minute, 38.51 seconds. He was nearly 4 seconds behind Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr, who had the fourth run but the best finish (1:34.58).
Ganong said he struggled Monday with the switch from skiing on ice the past two months in Europe to the “grippy, dry winter snow” on the top of the Aspen course and the spring conditions at the bottom.
“It’s so aggressive and so grippy, it’s like night and day to what we’ve been skiing on in Europe,” said Gonong, who is seventh in the downhill season standings. “I have to totally change the way I’m skiing. It was kind of terrifying to ski on it just now because the skis were reacting to it so much. It was so grippy. Just Colorado snow, I guess.”
Lindsey Vonn, who was in the women’s downhill when it last raced here in 2007, said Monday the course was smooth and exciting, and though she finished fourth nearly 10 years ago, the training run was like a new beginning.
“The guys aren’t used to racing on grippy snow, but for us it was like butter,” said Vonn, 32. “It was perfect.”
The track Ganong and Vonn both raced on their past visits here was not the same as this week. Instead of going across Atzec Flats then dropping into the iconic Aztec run, their previous downhill tracks took them down Ruthie’s Run. And when Vonn raced in 2007, the downhill start was lower to near the super-G start because of heavy snow.
Vonn, who fought to catch her breath after Monday’s training because of a chest cold, said cutting across to Aztec and that extreme pitch was “really fun.”
“There’s only about six gates that are the same,” Vonn said of 2007 vs. 2017. “From Summer Road down it’s about the same, but the snow is so soft it’s really hard to compare. I feel like this is my run on the course.”
The downhill season leaders seemed to like their first experience with the course and expect a good time in Aspen.
Ilka Stuhec had the women’s second-best time, finishing in 1:40.58, just 14-hundredths behind Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg. Stuhec’s breakout season can be punctuated in Aspen with season titles in the downhill, super-G and combined.
“The course is actually nice. I like it a lot,” said the 26-year-old from Slovenia. “The snow is perfect. I hope we will get a little bit of sun over the next days. Otherwise, it will be fun.”
She holds a 97-point lead in the downhill over Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who registered the fourth-best time Monday (1:41.26). Stuhec’s goal for today’s training is simple: “Push a bit more so that I know where to push even more on race day.”
Men’s downhill leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway was relaxed Monday after training even though he holds just a 33-point advantage over Italy’s Peter Fill. Jansrud has been to Aspen previously to train at Highlands and hopes to see a return to a “Beaver Creek/Aspen thing.”
“We Scandinavians like it in the U.S. It’s good to be back, having a good time,” Jansrud said. “It’s a little overcast, but we’ve been here since Thursday and had a lot of days with sun and good training. I’m going to spend a few days here after finals. Going to have the time of my life.”
Today’s training is set for 9:30 a.m. for the men and 10:30 for the women. The grandstands will again be closed, but fans can watch from along the course.
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.