The familiar faces alone in Beaver Creek, Colo., will make the Audi FIS World Cup alpine skiing event this weekend memorable enough for the men of the U.S. Ski Team.
When the Birds of Prey World Cup ends Sunday with the giant slalom competition, the U.S. skiers will pack up for the winter. They won’t return from the ski areas of Europe until the middle of March, following the final 2013 World Cup event in Switzerland.
In many ways, Beaver Creek is a homecoming and a send-off party at the same time. It is the only men’s World Cup venue in the United States the entire year.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Beaver Creek,” said Ted Ligety, the 2006 Olympic champion the men’s combined. “It’s such a pleasure to race because they do such a good job with the hill preparation. The giant slalom is my priority there, but I’m going to race everything.”
In addition to bringing the best of the U.S. skiers home for one weekend, the Beaver Creek World Cup also helps crank up a season that will be crucial leading into the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Bode Miller, a three-time medalist at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, is focused on making his fifth Olympic trip. Ligety is seeking his third Olympic trip.
“I’d love to be competitive in five events,” said Miller about his goals for Sochi. “Every aging skier will tell you, there is a little bit of ‘you’ve got a chip on your shoulder’ because part of the reason that I steered away from slalom and GS (giant slalom) in the last year was because of my knee. It hurt. It hurt to ski on it that way.”
Miller won the downhill at Beaver Creek last year, but knee surgery in February 2012 cut short his season. It has only motivated him even more for Sochi 2014.
“I’ve always prided myself on my ability to ski five events and be competitive in five events,” he said. “It is a different challenge. Now that I’m 35, I’m not going to be as quick or as springy. But I think there are some things that offset that in a positive way. I think overall I have the potential to go into Sochi as a better skier in every single event than I’ve ever been before. That’s something that’s really exciting.”
While the World Cup event officially begins Friday with the downhill competition, Travis Ganong, a downhill racer from Utah, got a head up on the field by posting the fastest time in training runs Wednesday at Beaver Creek. He completed the 2,752-meter course in 1 minute, 41.38 seconds.
The challenging Beaver Creek downhill course features 42 gates and a drop of 753 meters.
“My family is there, all my friends are there,” said Ganong, who is hoping to make his first U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi in 2014. “It’s just kind of a fun atmosphere because you know the people in the crowd. It’s awesome.”
For two-time Olympian Steve Nyman, Beaver Creek marks a new beginning because last year he suffered an Achilles injury. He was in Beaver Creek last year anyway, serving as a public-address announcer during the race, but suffice it to say, he is much happier to be racing there this season.
“It has everything,” said Nyman, who has finished on the podium twice at Beaver Creek. “It has big jumps, it has the steeps, it has the flats, it has the big turns, the high speed and the home crowd.”
For Nyman, a strong finish at Beaver Creek will help him gain back some of the World Cup points he lost as a result of missing races last year with his injury. Nyman said he went from 81 World Cup points to 6.
“My main goal is to re-establish myself in the top 30 (in the world rankings), but I’d also like to push for some podiums and see what I can do,” Nyman said. “But if you’re skiing well, all you’ve got to do is ski, you’ll get back in there, no problem."
The Beaver Creek Birds of Prey will put Miller, Ligety, Nyman and Ganong, among others, on display for the home crowd as the run toward the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games begins. It is a time of both celebration and transition. Ganong’s family and teammate Marco Sullivan’s family will end Friday’s downhill event the same way they always do, with a get-together following the racing. Their sisters help organize the traditional dinner party.
“They get together and organize these events that bring their family and my family together, a bunch of friends, have a little celebration,” Ganong said. “Celebrate the beginning of winter. It’s one of the first races of the year. Just have fun together.”