I’ve been to approximately 2 professional ski races in my life. The first was in 2017, when Sugarloaf, in Maine, hosted the US Alpine Championships. Sugarloaf is my home mountain, so I was really just there to ski, but a few friends dragged me to the fence so we could watch the pros zoom past us. To be honest, I really don’t remember much of it. The second was earlier this month, when I went to the Birds of Prey World Cup, hosted by Beaver Creek. If you’re not interested enough to read the rest of this post, then let me just get one thing into your head before you go: If you’ve never been to a professional ski race, or, more importantly, if you’ve never been to one of the FIS’s Alpine World Cup races, go. It’s a pretty incredible sight to see.
I woke up around 6:30am on Friday, December 2, hoping to make my way up to the mountain and get there before anything started. Taking my time to get ready (as it was a Friday, I wasn’t that concerned about traffic) might have been the best decision I made that morning, because, after packing my bag, making my lunch, and downing some coffee, I received an unfortunate email informing me that strong winds and snowfall had caused race officials to cancel Friday’s competition. It was unfortunate, but it sometimes that’s just the way it is. Instead, I got some work done and relaxed, hoping to prep myself a bit more for the next day.
On Saturday, December 3, departure was scheduled for a good bit earlier. I was hoping 6:30am would be a reasonable time to hit the road. “It’s early December,” I thought, “traffic won’t be that bad, we should be able to make it up bay around 9 and catch the beginning of the race.” (My buddy wanted to check out the race as well, so I thought I’d bring him along) Unfortunately, skiers and snowboarders in Colorado are a bit more committed to early season skiing than I anticipated, so our arrival time just kept on climbing as my car sat motionless on I-70. Eventually, however, we did arrive and we were able to catch a good portion of the race.
Beaver Creek is pretty darn cool. The village is gorgeous, and every parking spot, including the free parking, has a little gate with attendees there to help you out when you’re lost. They showed us where to park (street parking, at that point) and told us how to get to the race center. Despite the race taking place fairly deep onto the mountain, Beaver Creek offers a free shuttle service to take you to the finish line, so you didn’t need a lift ticket or any sort of competition ticket to watch the race.
I know very little about ski racing, and I had no idea what to expect from the crowd. Most of the ski “events” I’ve been to in the past were just straight up parties, like any pond skimming tournament or annual mountain celebration, so I was partially expecting the crowd to be very rowdy. They weren’t, at all, but not in a bad way. They weren’t dry and boring, they were loving the competition, cheering for American racers and anyone else who was close to earning points (anyone in the top 30 spots get World Cup points). The watch area was very well set up, complete with food and drink vendors, a large television screen for spectators to see the entire race, and a set of bleachers in the back, where I found myself enjoying the competition.
Despite reportedly feeling under the weather, Aleksander Kilde took first on Saturday, becoming the third racer ever to win back-to-back downhill races at Bird of Prey, so, that’s pretty darn cool. Marco Odermatt came in just .06 seconds behind Kilde, taking second, and Canadian James Crawford took third. Three American racers were able to earn some World Cup points, with Ryan Cochran-Siegle taking seventh place.
My descriptions of the event may or may not entice you to attend the next time an Alpine World Cup race occurs near you, but I assure you it was far more fun then I could ever describe it. All together, it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had related to skiing. I just wish I brought a better camera (and understood photography a bit more) so I could actually take some interesting photos…