A Day at the Races: The 2016 Audi FIS World Cup

I think my ears are ringing.

img_5045It’s no surprise, since it’s just two days after the 2016 Audi FIS World Cup at Killington Mountain Resort, and I think every cow bell on the planet was there. And why not? This was the best of the best in ski racing, only half an hour from home.

How could I not attend?

This was the first World Cup Alpine race in New England since 1991 (Waterville Valley, NH), and the first in Vermont since 1978 (Stratton Mountain). And oh yeah, it was the first World Cup I’d ever attended, too.

Having the race at Killington in November, I thought, took a tremendous act of faith. Weather this time of year just about anywhere is sketchy. The Men’s World Cup in Lake Louise has been cancelled, as has the men’s race in Beaver Creek. But kudos to the people at Killington, who put forth a tremendous effort to make sure their course was World Cup ready. The resort has been blasting snow since October — enough to cover a football field 40 feet deep — and was lucky enough to get some help from Mother Nature: 15 inches in the past week or so.

The lower GS course on Superstar

The lower part of the GS Course on Superstar

But having the race in the East over Thanksgiving weekend was also a stroke of brilliance. Four and a half hours from New York and three from Boston, Killington is easily reachable from major population centers. And this means a lot of excitement, loads of publicity, and a ton of people on hand to watch the race. I was there for the GS race on Saturday, along with an estimated 16,000 other people — by many accounts the largest US World Cup crowd ever. (Which also accounts for what I said before about the cow bells.) In fact, US Ski Association officials estimate the combined attendance for both Saturday and Sunday at nearly 27,000, making it one of the most well-attended women’s ski events in US history.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Was it exciting to be there? Yes. It felt like a festival. There was a temporary village set up at the base with tents from all sorts of vendors. There was a pre-race parade featuring a thousand kids from ski teams across the state of Vermont.  There was a free concert by O.A.R. in the base area afterward. And the crowd was clearly stoked, full of Vermont and East Coast pride.

The course was set up on Superstar, a fun run that’s readily visible from Killington’s base area. Superstar starts with a steep headwall, mellows out onto some undulating terrain, and then plunges again with another steep pitch. The starting altitude of the GS course was 3,701 feet and the finish altitude 2,559 — all together,  a vertical drop of 1,142 feet and a course length of 3,166 feet.

Here’s a GoPro preview of the GS course:

Fog on the course.

Fog on the course.

By now, the details of the GS race are well known. Conditions were challenging, with a changeable surface that rutted up quickly. Visibility wasn’t perfect, either, with flat light and fog rolling in and out throughout the day. Thirteen of the 61 racers, including defending GS champion, Swiss skier Lara Gut, either fell or skied off without completing the course. In the end, France’s Tessa Worley, the 2013 GS World Champion, finished first ahead of first-run leader Nina Loeseth of Norway, who finished 0.80 seconds back. Italy’s Sofia Goggia came in third, 1.11 seconds behind Worley. And 2014 Olympic Slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin ended up fifth after finishing 8th on the first run and 5th on the second.

BTW, Lindsey Vonn did not compete. She’s been sidelined by a broken arm she incurred training in Colorado.

What I especially loved was seeing the athletes up close and personal, and finding out that yes, apart from the fact that they’re amazing athletes and ski like goddesses, they’re very human, too.

Here are some small details that I dearly loved:

• Lara Gut wears a knit hat with her name as part of the design.

• Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up skiing on the East Coast, had her 95 year old grandma there to watch her compete.

• Third place finisher Sofia Goggia uses Vermont Maple Syrup when she makes her favorite American pancake breakfast at home in Italy.

• Second place finisher Nina Loeseth loved the snow; she said it was more like European snow than the lighter snow she’s skied in Colorado.

• Mikaela Shiffrin does Word Searches with her mom before the race  to combat nerves.

• All the racers I heard speak said they loved hearing the roar of the crowd when they came down the final pitch.

• During her press conference the day before the race, Shiffrin talked about how she loved the passion of East Coast skiers. “It’s easy to love skiing in the West, because it’s amazing. When you’re in the East, it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, all in one day. If you’re still out there, it means there’s a passion.”

• And this, from the NBC broadcast of the race later on that day (yeah, I watched it, too): Announcer #1: “What do you think they [the racers] have learned the most from the skiers who have gone before them in these conditions?” Announcer #2: “Now they know why skiers from Vermont are so good. Because conditions change every two seconds. You’ve got to know how to do all of it.”

Here I am talking to Swiss racing phenom Lara Gutt.

Here I am talking to Swiss racer Lara Gut. Note her hat, with her name knitted right in.

The Slalom Race took place on Sunday, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. But I did catch it on TV, and congrats to Mikaela Shiffrin for her 22nd World Cup win and her 10th consecutive slalom victory on the World Cup!



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