With favorable early-season conditions in Colorado, training is underway for the U.S. men’s alpine team, which has been splitting time between Vail and the Speed Center at Copper Mountain this week.
The tech team has been running slalom down recently injected snow on Golden Peak in preparation for the upcoming slalom opener in Levi, Finland next weekend.
“We started training a few days ago, and the injection didn’t turn out so great the first time, but they re-injected last night and it’s rock hard right now, ” said Will Brandenburg. “Changing the snow conditions from normal hard snow to injected snow is always a transition (early in the season). The great thing about injection is I can always work on the same thing over and over because the course isn’t changing that much.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Ski Team held a time trail in Vail to determine its fifth starter in Levi. Three of the starters — Ted Ligety, Nolan Kasper and David Chodounsky — had been confirmed; the fourth was settled by a mock race between Brandenburg, Colby Granstrom, Will Gregorak, Michael Ankeny and Seppi Steigler — and the fifth is discretionary.
Despite a nagging back that almost prevented him from racing, Granstrom put down two good runs to prevail over Brandenburg by .24 seconds, earning himself a trip to the Arctic Circle next week and leaving Brandenburg as a strong candidate for the fifth, discretionary invite.
“I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time,” said Granstrom. “I’ve had quite a few injuries over the past couple of years and it’s been in the back of my head for the last year now. I’ve just been working towards it and putting everything I have into it. With all the injuries, I think I was finally ready to put down a couple good runs and was able to today.
“Getting to Levi is a step in the right direction for me. It’s not like I’ll qualify for the Olympics out of it, but it’s a chance to get some points.”
Ted Ligety ran three days of super G at Copper and then made the trip over Vail Pass for slalom training midweek. The triple gold medal-winner in Schladming is hoping to up his game in slalom this season in an effort to make a run at the overall World Cup title.
“Hopefully, I can get my slalom to a place where I can compete for medals,” said Ligety. “This summer, partially because the conditions didn’t really allow for good speed or GS training and partially because I know my only path to the overall title is to score 400-plus points in slalom, that’s why I worked a lot on my slalom.
“I feel I’m definitely skiing better slalom than I have in a while,” added Ligety. “I’ve worked on my slalom for a lot of years now with limited success and improvement based on where I have been in the past, but I feel like hopefully this year I take that step forward.”
Making a return from last season’s knee injury, Nolan Kasper has locked down his start for Levi, so the training on Golden Peak this week has been particularly crucial in preparing for his comeback to the world stage.
“At first, the snow was kind of inconsistent, but they injected again last night and it was very hard — definitely a wake-up call to say the least,” said Kasper. “It’s still a little inconsistent; some spots were pretty grippy and other spots were extremely slick. It was definitely tough going.”
Kasper said conditions on the World Cup can be similar.
“The last time I raced, we had a pretty warm season,” he said. “I think more than half the races, it was over freezing. And they were watering the hill a lot and the snow was pretty terrible. … I’ve raced Levi three times, and every time I’ve gone there it’s been really dry and aggressive snow. Everyone was dulling their edges down and you almost got high sided going down the pitch.”
Getting up to speed
At Copper, full-length downhill has been achieved thanks to the joint efforts of the U.S. Ski Team and Copper Mountain, which completed development of the early-season training venue two years ago. The Speed Center got off to a late start in its inaugural season, but has since provided elite-level downhill and super G training as early as Nov. 1.
The pitch offers something short of what the athletes have come to expect on the World Cup, but for early November, it definitely gets the job done, especially for the younger athletes, says one astute veteran.
“It’s a challenge to find the right downhill training,” said Bode Miller. “The idea of it is really strong. For the younger guys, it’s absolutely a huge asset because they have the ability to get volume on stuff that’s not going to kill them, constantly cause catastrophic crashes. It’s a mellow enough hill that also has some of the components of some of the downhills that you’ll see on the World Cup.”
One of those “younger guys,” Tommy Biesemeyer, says the Speed Center has provided the U.S. team with an advantage heading into Lake Louise, a glider track of similar stature — and he’s happy to see not quite so many foreign uniforms sharing the hill.
“The guys that we’re denying training to are the guys we want to beat,” said Biesemeyer. “For a lot of guys, (Lake Louise) is the first time they’ll run full length. You can train as much as you want in the gym. You can get in ski shape — or think you can get in ski shape — but the only way to get in the shape you need to be is by skiing. That’s what’s so great about this place. We’re at elevation and we have a minute-40 downhill track with five to six runs in a training session.”
One athlete who certainly knows what it’s like not to have full-length downhill training in November, team veteran Steven Nyman is stoked to be on snow and reportedly skiing fast.
“This is a unique opportunity. This is only my second year here; I missed the first year,” said Nyman. “We have the races coming up (this weekend), so we have an opportunity to see where our speed is at coming into Lake Louise. There’s a weird tension going into Lake Louise. Am I fast; am I not fast? You can kind of get that out of the way here.”