Alpine looks to start season | ParkRecord.com

Alpine looks to start season

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

The alpine World Cup takes another crack this weekend at starting its 2007 season – rebooting north of the Arctic Circle in Finland instead of on a glacier in Austria, as originally planned.

The agenda calls for a women’s slalom Saturday and men’s slalom Sunday…and then it’s back to North America for the traditional start to continuous racing. The women race over Thanksgiving weekend in Aspen, Colo., with a giant slalom Nov. 25 and slalom on the 26th; the men, who compete Nov. 25-26 at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, make their lone visit to the USA Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the VISA Birds of Prey races at Beaver Creek, Colo.

Heavy rains deleted the scheduled season openers Oct. 28-29 on the Rettenbach Glacier, above Soelden, Austria. Unseasonally warm temperatures created marginal training conditions on the glaciers, but organizers had stockpiled snow which had been scraped from elsewhere on the glacier; they laid a nice carpet of snow, but one night of strong rains erased the course and the traditional early season races were canceled. There will be no move to reschedule, according to U.S. Women’s Head Coach Patrick Riml (coincidentally, who grew up in Soelden).

So, it’s on to Levi, Finland, which has emerged in the last three seasons as a slalom stop on the World Cup tour as Finns Kalle Palander (the 2004 Chevy Truck America’s Opening slalom winner in the final World Cup staged by Park City Mountain Resort) and Tanja Poutiainen staged breakthroughs and became winners and podium performers. The women raced in Levi in 2004 (Poutiainen won the first slalom) and again last season; this will be the men’s first visit to the community in Lappland.

"The course has a little of everything that you’d expect in a race hill," Riml said before leaving Tuesday for Levi. "It’s a little rolling and flat at the top and then there’s a breakover and it gets really steep.

"It’s not an easy course. They should be good races."

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Three American women – new Park City homeowner Lindsey Kildow (the multi-event talent who was ninth in the World Cup slalom standings a year ago), Winter Sports School grad Resi Stiegler and NorAm slalom champ Sterling Grant – will race Saturday. Sunday, Bode Miller and Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety of Park City will be joined by Jimmy Cochran and Tom Rothrock for the U.S. Ski Team.

And then it’s back to the States for the final training at Keystone, Colo., where the Ski Team has an agreement for exclusive (i.e., no public skiing allowed) early season training on North Peak. The men’s and women’s teams, from World Cup down to the Development Team, are training at Keystone in the final lead-up to the season.

Ligety, Cochran and Rothrock opened the Starfire course on North Peak last Friday as the Summit County resort opened for the season. Cochran and Ligety went up on the first chair with two local club skiers and Rothrock rode up with a couple of others to get things rolling.

"It was pretty sweet up there. I’m pretty psyched with the way it’s been going. It’s really an ideal situation. We have our own run, our own high-speed lift on North Peak," Ligety said over the weekend. "It’s nice to be treated so well. Keystone’s doing a great job for us.

"We get plenty of runs because there are no lines. Really, it’s pretty sweet."

U.S. coaches injected water into the snow over the weekend to firm-up conditions, making it icier and more like what the athletes will find on the World Cup and as the season goes along elsewhere, too. The reliability of good snow conditions and the exclusivity at a vital time for fine-tuneups has coaches and athletes smiling.

"It’s been awesome, just incredible shape. Keystone’s on the same page with us, providing excellent conditions so the athletes can get the most out of this final prep period," men’s head coach Phil McNichol said.

"Ligety’s been ripping and Jimmy and ‘Rotty’ look good. I’m looking for some good things Sunday," he added. "And then we’ll be back here next week."

Ligety broke the second metacarpal bone, i.e., on his right index finger, when he smacked it against the base of a giant slalom gate during training last month on the Pitztal Glacier in Austria. He didn’t require surgery or a cast, but was getting used this week to racing with an injured digit, which created some problems, "but nothing major. I’m getting my strength back.

"It’s a little uncomfortable cross-blocking gates [i.e., slapping slalom gates away as he attacks a course – and he always attacks], but it makes me really focus on my balance while I’m skiing, and that’s always good," he said.

Concluded McNichol, I think the guys are rested and ready. They’ve got to deal with that travel to Finland – way up there in the north – but I think they’re ready to turn and burn."