Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New blog location

Sorry to all of you that have been following this blog. We have moved to a new blog posting medium to be able to take advantage of advertising revenue that was otherwise not available. Please follow this link to the new site. You can also link through "Ski Racing" as in the past and through www.alpineraceconsulting.com.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Kranjska Gora is great for Americans.

Kranjska Gora
As you drive over the Wurzenpass from Villach, Austria to Kranjska Gora, you are struck by the view straight ahead, across the valley as you drive down the south side of the pass. It is a winding, steep trail that twists down in front of you into the tiny village of Podkoren. The name of the slope bears the same name, Podkoren. The first time I drove over the pass from Kärnten, it was a year of almost no snow early in the winter, and Kranjska somehow got the race hill prepared. It was a singular strip of snow down an otherwise brown hill. It was menacing and magical. I almost drove my Cargo van off the winding pass as I stared at the strip of snow. I was so impressed that they had it covered and that we were going to race. That was early January, 2003. Bode won the next day in the GS and Schlopy was 4th, just .01 off the podium in a very tight race. I think he was only .02 from second place held by Christian Mayer. Bode won by a lot.
Kranjska has always been good to us and we have seen the village grow and prosper over the past 8 years. There are new hotels being built as well as bars, restaurants and discos. We always look forward to the excellent pizza at the Kotnick or Lipa. The race organizers have welcomed us with big smiles, extra credentials, really anything we want. It has also been good to Ted Ligety. He won a Europa Cup slalom here on his way up through the ranks, his first World Cup points were scored here, he has a World Cup slalom podium and he has won the last 3 World Cup GS races held on this hill. Today’s race was the replacement race for Adelboden, the famous Pokal Vitranc is being held tomorrow. Obviously, Ted has to be the favorite. Confidence and comfort for him in Kranjska would lead anyone to believe that he can win again tomorrow. If he does so, he will 3-peat the Pokal Vitranc, the first time in history.
The Podkoren course starts directly next to the top lift station. Ski off the ramp to the left and you are there. Look down the pitch at 442 vertical meters to the valley below. The start pitch is a very steep, injected pitch with a seemingly mild roll in the middle of it. That roll never gets enough respect, and burns those who do not plan for it. If you look at Ted’s splits at Kranjska, I will bet he was fast on top, he knows this roll and skis it well. Then as you pass the top of an ancient platter lift on the right, the hill flattens with a slight bend t the left and then a major roll. Then another big roll with 3 turns on it before it flattens suddenly and bends hard left. I always stood on this roll above the flat and bend. I could see all the way to the GS start and to the slalom start, almost half the hill. As it bends to the left there is almost always a delay set in the compression and ends up being the most important single turn on the course to be able to carry all the speed from the top pitch into the flat, rolling middle section. The trail turns back to the right at the slalom start and rolls moderately for about 20 seconds and constantly pulls you to the right. As you approach the finish, the trail plunges toward the line and pulls even harder to the right as the trail gently bends to the left. The fall-away here is fierce. Six to eight more turns and through the finish and you are the winner of the historic Pokal Vitranc.
Congrats to Ted for his win today, and to Tommy Ford and Tim Jitloff, tallying some more World Cup points! Congratulations as well to Marcel Hirscher and Kjietl Jansrud for their podiums. Another GS tomorrow and I think you should expect very close racing. If you give these guys 4 chances on any hill, there is a great chance the time differential will compress. It should be exciting racing. I love Ted’s chances on this hill tomorrow and I would look for the major challenge to come from Aksel Lund Svindal and Marcel Hirscher. Jansrud should compete but his consistency, or lack thereof, is bothering me a little.
In another encouraging note, Marcus Sandell (FIN) was able to fore-run the race in Kranjska Gora, signaling that he is getting very close to a return to the World Cup.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kitz is done, Schladming on the way!

Kitz is in the books and Schladming’s on the way.
This is one of the most exhausting stretches for the American Tech boys in Europe. Typically, they have been over there since late December or very early January. I have experienced more than one New Year’s Eve in Europe. Pushing a month now, training hard, heading for all the big races. It is a whirlwind with no end in sight. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched them race live, millions more on TV. Heroes of central Europe, all of them. There are people following them around in Innsbruck, wanting a hand-shake or a hello.
So Kitzbuhel is done, it was a huge weekend for Cuche. Proving that he is healthy again and looking to take the prizes due him in Whistler. He has to race in Kranjska yet and then get working on the Olympic grind. He will need to work through the difficult schedule and pick his training carefully but his peaking cycle for February 2010 is going to be good because of the relatively minor injury and the rest it allowed him. This is a sport measured in hundredths of a second and should probably be measured in thousandths. It is a sport where the right timing in rest, training and racing can make all the difference.
But the one thing I really want to talk about is Felix Neureuther’s first World Cup win. He has had 6 previous World Cup podiums with no wins. He has been one of the most talented young talents on the circuit since Ted Ligety, JB Grange and Felix all broke through in the 2004 season. It was obvious that all these guys were going to make it big; they were all still juniors at the time. We have all been waiting for the heir of German Alpine Skiing to make his big splash. And make it he did. As everyone knows, he is the son of Rosi Mittermaier and Christian Neureuther, both German World Cup slalom stars in the 70’s. Christian won the Kitzbuhel slalom in 1979. Christian and Felix are the only father-son combo I know of who are named on the gondola at Kitzbuhel as Hahnenkamm Champions. I have known Felix since his early days on the tour and remember marveling at his talent and pure speed. And knowing he needed to refine some skills to get the job done. But watching him develop, fight injury and illness and watch him grow into a mature professional has been a lot of fun. He is approaching his 26th birthday in March and has a long career ahead of him.
I do want to touch on one more fact about Felix. He is a year of birth 1984. And I don’t know why, but there seem to be some magic years of birth that flourish on the World Cup. Here are some names that are born in 1984, the list is long so bear with me if I don’t get them all: Ligety, Lanning, Neureuther, Myhre, Gini, Olsson, Grange, Innerhofer, Mermillod-Blondin, White, Spence, Missillier, Razzoli, Bourque, Kucera, Kueng, Osborne-Paradis, Maria Riesch, Vonn, Mancuso, Cook, Hoelzl. That is all I can remember but that is a long list off the top of my head. There are a lot of wins right there out of one year of birth that is still young. Someone should add up year of birth World Cup points men and women and get back to me on that but this one seems like the hottest year ever. Of course and as usual, I have digressed badly. I just want you all to know that Felix has fought for this through many problems, both physical and mental, and I am happy for him and proud of him too.

One more thing about this win that I have never checked on….But Felix won the FIS SL on Thursday Night in Westendorf. And I want to know the last double win of these two races? When was it? It is rare, and he should be patted on the back for it. It is pretty much the same as back to back World Cup wins. Well, to me it is…Nice job, Felix. I am sure all of Garmisch had a rough morning on Monday! Do it again!
Before I move on I need to give a shout-out to Nolan Kasper. First time in the second run in a World Cup on cut-off day for the Olympic selection. Great job Nolan and I hope it gives you the Olympic spot!
Schladming is the slalom giant. It’s the slalom race any slalom specialist has marked on the calendar. It is big, it’s nasty, it’s usually icy, it's at night and it always has an enormous crowd and is as loud a ski race as you will ever attend. It is held dead center in a small town in Ennstal, AUT and they have always welcomed us with open arms. For the USA boys it’s always a great stop because we get out of Kitz on Sunday after the race and usually have a day off on Monday. We have traditionally stayed up a long valley called Untertal, in a great small farm-hotel called Gasthof Tetter. They have taken tremendous care of us over the years. We have never wanted for anything at their place and always respected our space and quiet. If you are ever in this area of Austria and need great hospitality and fabulous food, please look it up. Best steak in Europe!!!! For sure.
Well, back to the hill. You take the Planai Gondola up and the slalom runs right next to it. You do have to ski down a long way in the dark to get there…a challenge and a lot of fun. You come out of the start and work on a hard left foot fall-away for about 20 gates. Then the thing bends to the left about 75 degrees and drops extremely steep the rest of the way. So at 63 turns minimum, that makes 40 or so turns of pitch. There is so much steep pitch on this hill that when you set you find you have to set a flush on a very steep pitch, there is just no way around it. It is totally exhausting and rugged. I have seen guys have beautiful ripping runs and I have seen real World Cuppers look like little kids. Depending on the conditions and the mentality of the athlete, it can be the heroic attempt you are looking for or it can be total pain. The most fun thing about it might be the crowd. They are 50-70,000 strong depending on the year. They are all hammered. They have flares and flags and make a ton of noise. Some of the guys have said it can be shocking when they turn the corner. The top tends to have only the brave hard-core fans who want to hike up a long way. So there are only about 5000 people between the start and the bend to the finish, but then you hit the full crowd, and they are all below you as you ski. It’s a bowl, it’s crazy and it’s a Tuesday night. The boys pack up and move on to Kranjska Gora before coming back our way for the Olympics.
Winners in Schladming:
The Austrians love to make their boys feel at home and it shows. They do extremely well in Schladming. I will have to look at more consistent skiers with the tough hill and the great draws those guys got. I think Raich wins. I think Herbst can’t get out of his own way right now, so no way. Not until he stops freaking out. So I see Kostelic in 2nd and Lizeroux 3rd.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kitzbuhel is Cool!

Kitzbuhel is a special week.
There is simply nothing like it anywhere in the world with regard to a ski race. I can talk about it for a year. For the last 8 years, the ski team has always left Wengen and headed for Kitzbuhel. Depending on your individual assignment, you head out of Wengen at different times. The DH boys leave after the first run on the slalom on Sunday and go straight to Kitzbuhel and check in to the Goldener Greif Hotel. The tech guys have normally stayed over in Wengen and left on Monday morning. We have stayed there every year in recent memory and they always welcome us; a home away from home, no doubt. It is in a very old building in the wall of the Alt Stadt in Kitzbuhel. Outside, an oversized American flag hangs to identify our presence and their short-lived allegiance. In the past, we have always raced an FIS GS at Kirchberg, 10 minutes away on Tuesday and Wednesday and then, night slalom at Westendorf, 20 minutes away on Thursday night. This year there is a FIS GS in Kirchberg on Wednesday and then the Westy SL on Thursday night. Kirchberg is really fun. They do a great job with the race and most non downhill world cup guys’ race, Westendorf is even better. On Thursday night they have about 15 or 20 of the top 30 World Cup slalom boys and even more ranked below that. If you have 15 FIS points, you are lucky to start in the top 50. They normally inject the hill and put on a big show. They have prize money, a VIP tent, music and big trophies; as well as almost 5000 spectators. It is a lot of fun for everyone. All of the World Cup fun without the World Cup pressure.
Let’s go back to last season when I was with the DH team. We drove from Wengen with Kitzbuhel as the target. When we got there and checked in, the town was getting ready. We checked into the hotel and took Monday off. Tuesday we went up to check out the hill and got ready for the training run on Wednesday. I had been on the hill a number of times until then but always as a guest, this time I was looking at it with the helpful eye. My section was Carousel to Steilhang. So I could see the start, The Mausfalle and then my section. Total insanity for the first 20 seconds. Fantastic action to be sure and I saw some amazing things. I saw Ted walk out of his right ski entering carousel and then watched him ride it out on his left foot. He skied it, all on the left foot going 60 or more MPH, again defining that your one -ski skills are important not only to be great, but also to save your body.
I cannot tell you the visual sensation of being at the top of the Hahnenkamm. I cannot express in writing how it feels to be at the top of the most famous downhill in the world. “The Streif,” the place that means the most to every ski racer who ever cared enough to try. The sport is difficult, it takes guts. Even slalom takes guts. But when you see this start house, and the left footed fall-away to the right foot to the Mausfalle and you are standing there in the gate, it is terrifying, and exhilarating at the same time. A few years ago I pushed out of the start just to see what it is like and I was not thrilled with my ability to deal with it at all. But regardless, it is cool and there is a lot of action right away. Left foot, right foot, jump the Maus, fly 40 meters, land, compression, roll, right foot (you hope), roll, compression, left foot bank turn called the Carousel with a nasty fall-away exit left foot. It is gnarly. Then the Steilhang (major pitch) turning to the left and then another nasty left foot fall away to exit the Stielhang that requires total precision to carry speed onto the road. You go on the road for about 20 seconds and then break out onto the Alte Schneise where you jump again and land on a right -foot side-hill, then another little jump into the Seidlalm area and into the Larchenschuss which is a little “S” bend through a grove of Larch trees. When you come out of the trees having nailed the tough tempo and turn shape in the Larchenschuss you tuck straight again into a compression in to the Oberhausberg which is a big, wide section with SG type turns. And now, at about 1 minute 30, it’s wake up time. The Hausberg Jump is big, and cool. You go under the Red Bull Banner/Arch and jump…seemingly into the town, you land facing almost 2 O’clock on a clock face and have to turn back to about 10. Tough is not really a fair description. Gravity wants to pull you to the right and you need to go left. Gravity wants you to shoot through the A Net and into the valley and you need to go left. You land, hit the right ski and stick to it hard, just as you think you have it nailed, and you notice you are seeing only 2 things, a wall of snow in front of you and the sky. You skip off the wall of snow and land on the biggest right foot side-hill you have ever seen. After you skip you search for the snow with your feet, you have not landed yet and know you need to be as high to the left as possible. Then you start bouncing over huge rolls, the size of small cars, as gravity still pulls you down to the right and you STILL need to go left. Bouncing, skipping, and seeing your skis in your face. It is total adrenaline and even more fun. Then it quickly bends to the right and uses the fall-line you have been fighting for 10 seconds and you accelerate down the Ziel Schuss pushing 140 kmh. Then off the Ziel Sprung, the jump that has seriously injured so many athletes over the years and into the finish. It’s an incredible feeling. I hope I did it a little justice. One more reason the race is so cool, when you are a Hahnenkamm Champion, you get your name on a Gondola car…forever. With a little plaque inside with all of your accomplishments on it. I have always waited for Daron’s to come around on my first ride in Kitz. I also wait for Bob Cochran’s (his name is spelled wrong BTW) and sometimes I even wait for Chuck Ferries. But I try to always wait for an American flag to come around the horn before I get on. Bode already has a gondola for a Kombi, but I want to wait to ride on the Bode gondola when he wins “The Race.”
Last year I brought a friend of mine, Keefe Gorman, over to Kitzbuhel along with some of his family. Keefe and I skied together at St. Lawrence and he was a very accomplished skier. He qualified for NCAA Championships a few times, so he knows what he is doing. I got Keefe a piste-pass so he could come to inspection on race day, and he was totally blown away by the experience. He has always been a fan and an active participant in the sport. He had no idea what it really looked like. It totally blew him away. My only advice is that if you are truly a fan of this sport, you need to go to Kitzbuhel once. And if you can swing it, stay for Schladming night slalom too. Both are crazy. The Austrian press is saying that 72,000 spectators are expected for Kitzbuhel. In the past, 60,000 has been the norm with about 100,000 in town. So another 12,000 should make for an amazing scene. There have been as many as 40,000 people at the prize giving for the Downhill. As I said earlier, I could talk about this race forever. What I have seen, the luminaries who show up, the incredible guts of the athletes. It is simply “The Race.”
I would be remiss if I did not mention how proud I am that two (2) Mission Ridge Ski Team athletes have been named to the World Junior Championship Team. Colby Granstrom and Brooke Wales are both on the named team headed to the Mont Blanc Region of France. Colby has been with the USST D Team for a couple of years and Brooke is still skiing out of Mission. We wish them both the best of luck and hope they enjoy themselves as they represent Mission Ridge, Wenatchee, Washington and the United States over the next couple of weeks!
Do I need to make a prediction?
DH: Miller finally wins the big one! Cuche, Janka

Monday, January 18, 2010

Olympic Selection is Near

Olympic Selection is Near.
Sunday was the Wengen slalom for men and the Maribor slalom for women. After those races, the men will have 1 event remaining in each discipline for selection for the Olympics except in GS which is complete. The Adelboden GS has been rescheduled as a 2nd GS in Kranjska Gora, after the Games. They will contest all of their remaining events at Kitzbuhel. One downhill, one Super-G and one slalom on Sunday. Selection is on Monday, January 25th. No races will be used after that date, meaning the slalom in Schladming will not be used. The women had the slalom in Maribor yesterday and then have a downhill, super-g and GS in Cortina coming up. Again, the last of their selection events.
The Olympic Selection for the US Ski Team goes as follows:
There are 3 lines of objective criteria. If more than 3 are selected at any line of criteria, they use the best FIS point result to rank the athletes selected to that point, in the last line of criteria used. If they are still tied, then they would use World Cup points to date. The fourth line is the need to decrease the team size and then they would use the highest single World Cup placing, then World Cup points and on.
The first line of criteria is a World Cup podium. The second line is a World Cup top 10. The third line is total World Cup points. Last, the fourth selection is reserved for a discretionary choice by the staff. I will let you know that this is rarely used, but it does happen. There is usually a pretty good point at which the points drop-off and selection is often obvious. But there have been times where it has been close and the younger guy or someone coming on strong directly before the Games has gotten chosen.
As of today, January 17, 2010, the men’s DH selection is as follows: Bode Miller is selected first with a podium. Andrew Weibrecht is second on points; Sullivan third on points, Nyman is fourth on points. After that we have Fisher and Macartney who need big results in Kitzbuhel and some kind of falter by Steven or Sully to make it in.
This is a bit of a surprise since our leader is Ted Ligety. Ted has a podium in Super G and will be the first selection. Miller will also be selected with a top 10. Weibrecht sits in 3rd on points and Sully sits in 4th on points. Obviously, Nyman, Fish and Macartney need to get after it a bit in Kitz to get into the mix.

GS should be a done deal as there are no more GS races on the docket before selection and this one is interesting. Ted gets in with a podium. Then comes Zamansky, Ford and Jitloff in that order with VERY LOW point totals. Please notice that there is one obvious name missing from this list and I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but Mr. Miller has not scored a World Cup point this season in GS, in his historically best event. So here is where your safety net, the discretionary spot, has to be used. I know, there are guys who more or less earned it but getting more points than Bode. But the Olympics are about 3 things, Gold, Silver and Bronze and NOTHING else. You are not there to gain experience, be an Olympian, or any other reason you can think of. You are one of the best 4 of Americans in your discipline and you are there to attempt to win a medal. There is One Gold, One Silver and one Bronze. I think my point is clear. They need to put Bode in the GS. Sorry, Jit but that’s the way it should be. I would think that the team would be Ligety, Miller, Zamansky and Ford. Miller can win races and we all know it.
Ligety and Cochran are leading this selection with a top 10 each and then Miller on points. At this point there is not a fourth guy with any points. Due to the rules the discretionary pick comes into play. There are a lot of choices but really not a lot of good ones. They could decide to have the guys’ race for it at Europa Cups this week but we are getting to the deadline and the Kitzbuhel slalom will be the deciding factor. They can only hope that someone identifies himself. They could also use someone already qualified for the games in another discipline like Tommy Ford.
The other thing that is going to become a nuisance for the tech group is the potential for a shrinking World Cup quota in slalom. They need someone to step up and get the job done.
The Kombi selection is a little different as it only has 2 objective spots and those go to Miller and Ligety. Then Weibrecht has points so I would think he has a spot. After that, I think they will either select someone out of who is already on the team or no one at all.

I think Lindsey Vonn gets a spot in DH? Then we have 3 girls with top 10 finishes. They are Cook, Mancuso and McKennis. So it seems like a done deal. There is an outside shot from Chelsea Marshall, Leann Smith and Keely Kelleher but they need big results into the top 10 and have the other girls get shut out for it to happen for them. I think the book is closed on this one.

Ummmm, Vonn gets a spot. Then Julia with a top 10. After that, Keely, Chelsea and Alice all have points but not a lot of points. So Cookie, Leann and Kaylin Richardson could all get on the board with a strong finish and steal a slot. Cookie is the only one with a lot of World Cup experience on the hill in Cortina and I would think she will be the one to break through if anyone does. She did have two top-15 finishes here in 2008.
Sarah Schleper leads the way with a top 10 finish. Lindsey has her top 10 from Soelden. Then come Julia Mancuso and Megan McJames on points. No one else has any GS points on the World Cup so it looks like a solid selection. I think that Megan is an excellent choice even if you went through the discretionary criteria. It is possible that someone could make a charge in Cortina but no one has really shown themselves.
The Maribor has passed with no points scored by the American girls. Mrs. Vonn has her podium from Levi for selection, then Schlep with a top 10. Then Hailey Duke and Kaylin Richardson have some points. Not a lot of points, by the way. The discretionary word comes up again. Who would you put in there instead of Kaylin, or Hailey? Maybe Megan McJames? She won a couple NorAm slaloms recently so maybe she could do it. It would keep the team size down and save some money. But then, why get rid of Richardson? She can be your 4th Kombi athlete too. So what about Duke? While she has not done much this year, she has managed some points after a solid season last year and has struggled since her ankle injury in the fall. At this point I would go straight off the points for slalom.
Vonn, the world leader in this category is an obvious choice again. Then Mancuso, who has been a staple in the Kombi for all major events in recent memory. I would guess that Stacey Cook would go in Kombi and Kaylin Richardson.
There will be a little fun watching the status of selections change as the teams charge for the last available slots. Good luck everyone!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bode wins the Kombi, Ligety 5th!

Miller wins, Ligety fifth in Kombi!
Wengen Slalom, the best slalom hill on the World Cup.
I know, Schladming will cry about that statement, as will Kitzbuhel. But ask the skiers, really. Away from their home press or home town, and they will tell you, Wengen is the best. It has all the elements plus more. It is the perfect length in number of turns versus vertical drop. When the FIS changed the setting rules for slalom to 30-35% of vertical from 55 absolute minimum, it made no difference in Wengen. The slalom hill is 194 meters and the Kombi is 188 (it finishes just a touch higher to keep the DH finish area safe). That is 58 turns for the regular slalom and 56 for the Kombi. I have set 4 World Cups (2 regular and 2 Kombi) on the Jungfrau slalom hill and some were with 55 minimum rules and some at the new procedures. It was no difference. I set 59 in both regular slaloms and 58 in both Kombis and was at 11 to 12 meters the whole way. I never worried about it, although I was right on the minimum. But it shows you, Wengen is the classic hill and you can set out at a consistent 12 meters and make minimum no problem. You can also set 10.5 meters and stay under maximum. But you cannot set 10 the whole way and stay under max. It is the perfect hill.
You roll out of the start just below the Allmend train station and restaurant. The top, flatter section has small twists in the hill left and right with at least 20 rolls giving fall-away turns and tough visual looks. There is a slight bend to the left at the first hay barn and then it rolls into a short steep pitch, then immediately bends right and flattens completely. It goes just slightly uphill before breaking over a tremendously steep section, if only for eight to ten turns. With an injected surface and no other way down, it is very funny watching the coaches and service guys on coaching boots and dull skis trying to get down this pitch. Everyone lined up taking turns in a high-speed slide-slip. I once watched USST service-man, Dave Coombs slide all the way down this pitch on his butt with Rothrock's race skis on his shoulder.
Then the hill flattens suddenly and bends to the left. The flat goes for a few turns and then breaks over again with another hay barn smack in the middle of the hill. It sharply rolls for 2 or 3 turns hits a compression, goes uphill a little and bends left and then breaks over and bends back to the right to the finish. The bottom is like a roller coaster, tremendously fun to watch and a great hill to get to set.
It finishes in a bowl in a shared finish with the Lauberhorn Downhill and usually draws a very large crowd that lines most of the hill and fills the bowl at the bottom. If you have a good day, it is an exhilarating rush.
So, big news out of Wengen this morning: Bode won the Kombi and Ted finished 5th. Janka second and Zurbriggen was 3rd. Benni Raich squeezed into 4th. I want to believe, and I do believe. Bode obviously must be shaking off his ankle injury. The other thing I know after having been there many times with him is that he truly cares about this race. It is important to him to win these legendary events. I would now place him as the favorite the Downhill too. I also was very happy to see Ted get a solid Kombi score and even more importantly, a good slalom run down that hill. He has been very sarcastic in his tweets lately so I was concerned about his mental state. Does this make Bode the favorite for the Kombi at Whistler? I don’t think so but the slalom hill in Whistler is much easier than Wengen which helps him a bit.
Great job boys! Good luck tomorrow and Sunday!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Flachau Summary and a Look at Wengen

Looking back at Flachau and a little window into the famous Lauberhornrennen.
I had a lot of fun watching the Flachau slalom on TV; especially considering the lack of perspective that TV gave the hill. It is a solid hill. It has excellent pitch and is very consistent in the middle. There are some short flat sections that precede rolls. It just seemed more flat and less fun on TV. I always thought of it as a very fun hill with a lot of cool terrain to work with. So I think there were some “mysterious” losses of time that were not easily explained by the coverage.
For one, the entire middle section of pitch is a right foot fall-away and a pretty strong one. The dead give-away on that is that there are 2, count ‘em 2, big right-foot delays that cross the hill pretty hard on the second run. A good sign that the course-setter is feeling “pulled’ right the whole way. It is something that was not commented on or very noticeable on video. This type of hill will obviously favor some women who are stronger with their right side, etc.
From watching that race, there were some things that were pretty obvious to me.
1. Marlies Schild is the best women’s slalom skier in the world. She gets to the new ski very early and is solid in the core. This is not only fast, but consistent. And let’s face it; skiing consistently fast is the goal.
2. Tanja Poutiainen is very solid and goes to the new ski well. But she struggles with combinations, especially hairpins and often exits late.
3. Susanne Riesch should have won. She will be a force in slalom in the future. The best thing to see was that she was in heated discussion (or upset) in talking with her coach Christian Schwaiger after the race. I am sure he was consoling her but then teaching her. Learning to win with a lead is very difficult. But it is also a necessity at all levels of FIS racing these days with the flip 30. It is a tough deal and puts on a lot of pressure. Learning to deal with it and ski your own race is tough and takes time.
4. Her sister Maria did a great job and I hope Lindsey can bounce back to get the overall lead back to wear it was. That was a huge hit to Lindsey and I hope she does not have to rely on speed wins only the rest of the season.
5. Schlep is solid now and needs to go a step up in intensity and focus. She knows she needs the early pressure to the new ski but she needs to use it to get in tighter on the pole and exit even earlier and higher on the hill to be able to roll the ski in cleanly. She definitely needs to recognize and execute hairpins better.
6. The rest of our slalom team needs to step it up. We can support them emotionally, but they need to find a way to get on the board too.
7. I will say it one more time. The French girls are scoring and moving up in slalom. Another solid result in slalom from Noens, Worley, Dautherives and Marmottan. Pretty soon, they will all be in the top 30 in slalom and what happens then?
8. The German girls are good at slalom. Aside from the Riesch family, Fanny Chmelar had a great weekend as did Duerr and Geiger. They are on a roll.
9. All 3 Loeseth (NOR) sisters scored points this week.
10. Aside from Brigitte Acton, the Canadians have nothing going on…I do have something to say about the decimation of the team through injury and it will be said at some point. I have to give credit to the men’s slalom team for hanging in there and the women’s DH team to some extent.
We have one of the coolest downhills in the world coming up in one of the most beautiful mountain towns on the planet. For those of you who have not been there, you drive up the valley toward Lauterbrunnen from Interlaken and come to the train station. Unload all your stuff, put it on the train (park your car and get a ticket somewhere in there) and jump on board. The train climbs for a while. Maybe 1000 meters? And drops you in the village of Wengen. There are no cars, only those that are owned by hotels as shuttles and certain service providers, etc. throughout the village. So for the American boys, we call the Park Hotel and they send 2 electric carts down to get us and all of our stuff. A few laps later we are all moved in to the ski room and the hotel. The ski room is under the gondola building and the hotel up on the high end of town. So it kind of feels like the whole town is yours.
There is so much to talk about in Wengen; I can only hope to get a portion of it across in the blog. To step back a little, on the way to the hotel on the one main street, we pass the town square on the right with the stage set-up for awards and draw and bands. Beer stands all around. Behind there is the ice rink, where we spent almost every evening last winter skating around or playing hockey. Between the hotel and the rink is a beginner’s slope that any ski area in the world would dream of having. It is hugely wide with a ton of different minor pitches, right in the middle of town. There are shops and restaurants and bars. The place goes off all night on race weekend, another insane stop on tour.
So at 7 AM you board the train to get pulled all the way up to the Kleine Scheidegg and then jump on the chair to the Lauberhorn start. When you get up there you can see it all. The Jungfrau, The Monch and The Eiger are most prominent and near the ski area. If you look down the opposing valley to Wengen you look into Grindelwald. All attached by lifts. Across the other valley from Wengen is Muerren, an epic ski area and original World Cup stop in its own right. As well, the jet show by the Swiss Air Force just before the race is amazing.
To me, the coolest thing about the Lauberhornrennen is the pure length and variety of it. It is a sneaky hill. You break out of the start and head down a pitch and a series of seemingly endless sweeping high-speed turns with jumps. It goes on forever as such and most of you all will never see it on TV, usually only from a helicopter after a break in the action. But the end of that long series of turns ends in possibly the most famous jump on the World Cup, the Hundschopf. After completing a 180 degree turn to the right, you get on the right foot and jump through a hole in the rock with A- Net hanging out over your head. As a matter of fact, you aim for the end of the net for the jump. You fly under the net, land and find the right foot to move left through the Minshkante and then into Canadian Corner before carrying speed into the road and the “S” turn. By now, you are on the hill for 1:20, longer than most USSA downhills. The importance of the Minschkante and Canadian Corner cannot be denied. Get yourself out to the left off the Minsch and then get hard to the left foot on the brutal fall-away to stay high and carry speed into the road. The best thing about Wengen is that it’s sneaky. You get on the road and your instinct is to relax, but the “S” in the middle is always ICY and super narrow. If you fall-asleep or are not on the game, you hit the airbags and the game is over. Even though it is dead flat here, you can definitely lose the race here. Walchhofer did last season, I was standing 10 feet away when he bounced off the little side hill and almost hit the A-Net. Then through the famous tunnel and into the Super G turns. Again, this downhill is so long and the SG section is never on TV. It leads into the Haneggschuss area which is the fastest section of World Cup DH. Ligety went 158 KMH here a few years ago in the kombi downhill. Anyway, you need to exit the SG turns with a high enough angle on the Haneggschuss to make speed for the next flat. And down into the “S” at the bottom which is always injected and you have hit about 2:20. One more turn and on to the finish pitch, your legs are totally seized up, praying to finish. I once saw Bode throw himself off the finish pitch head-first because he was “done” and went way too straight into the pitch and knew he would not pull it off so he just dove, head-first down the finish pitch. I was there, I saw it, and he won.
It’s an insane week. The Kombi on Friday, then the DH and then the slalom. The slalom hill deserves an article all to itself. I think with training tomorrow and then kombi, I might be able to do that.
Watch the Swiss here; they have been capitalizing on the home crowd in recent years. I will be shocked if Cuche doesn’t make his statement. Defago won here last year and a variety of Swiss have dominated the Kombi in recent years. Watch for Janka to come back to prominence in both races. The American boys have good guys for this race. Miller can win, so can Marco as can Nyman. It is a great hill for Nyman because his fitness is such a strong point. I think Nyman just needs to tactically figure out the bottom section. It is usually injected and is always dark and very narrow in there. Erik Fisher could do well too if he can ski the top turns better. Italy boys Heel and Innerhofer can do well here too and watch for the return of Peter Fill. I don’t think he will be on the podium but he will play in the game for a while. Always, Walchhofer can do well here as can Klaus Kroell and Georg Streitberger. Mario Scheiber has been very good of late and I would think he will continue here. It looks as though Andrej Jerman will make a statement again. He won in Bormio in convincing fashion and Wengen taxes the system similarly. If he cleans up his top 60 seconds, he will be tough to beat. The Canadians have not looked exceptional in training and I cannot figure out why Erik Guay has not been good all season. But I would not doubt a top 10 appearance by Manny Osborne-Paradis. I think all the athletes were happy for the “day-off” due to the cancellation of the second training run. It will lead to much better skiing out of the guys at the bottom of the course.
Kombi: Janka, Zurbriggen, Zrncic-Dim
DH: Jerman, Sullivan, Defago.
Marco will surface here if he can get the top turns figured out. He did well on top last year and it led to a podium. I also think we will see the resurgence of Defago after the double of Wengen, Kitzbuhel last year will give him confidence.