This weekend, Val Gardena/Gröden will host its 51st World Cup race when the men race super-G on Friday, December 14th, and downhill on Saturday, December 15th. Next, it will be the women’s turn, due to a cancellation of the women’s speed races in Val d’Isere. Val Gardena/Gröden will be hosting the women’s circuit for the first time since 1975, with a downhill on Tuesday, December 18th and a super-G on Wednesday, December 19th.
Since 1964, the Saslong track has gained notoriety on the World Cup circuit. Located in the Dolomites of South Tyrol, Saslong is famous for its many jumps and rollers (also known as camel humps), the course feels more like a ski cross competition than anything else. The start of the men’s course begins at 2,249 meters (7,378.61 feet) and finishes at about 1410 meters (4625.98 feet). Athletes will combat a steep pitch and change in vertical, where they will gain plenty of speed coming into the Gobbe di Cammello (Camel Humps) section mid-course. To master the track, athletes must be able to continuously absorb the changing terrain. Here, skiers can jump up to 262 feet at heights of 20 feet of the ground at top speed.
Despite the terrain, the venue has been a long time favorite of the American Downhillers, and that showed this week in training. The first day on the course, the Americans had four men in the top 10, Travis Ganong (1), Bryce Bennett (3), Tommy Biesemeyer (5), and Steven Nyman (10).
All three of American Nyman’s World Cup wins have come at Val Gardena (2006, 2012, 2014). If Nyman can win again this weekend, he’ll have tied Austrian Franz Klammer and Italian Kristian Ghedina for most wins at the venue. Bennett’s first World cup top-10 happened at the venue in 2015, and Jared Goldberg’s first (and only) top-10 finish happened here as well.
“This course is just super fun because you’re off the ground all the time and there’s a lot of jumps, a lot of little terrain, so you’re always having to work the terrain,” said Bennett. “Luckily that’s something I’m fairly good at and I enjoy it. A lot of guys have smaller shock absorbers than me, I’ve got the biggest suspension out here, so I’ll use that to my advantage.”
This track has also been good to the Norwegians. Aksel Lund Svindal has won or podiumed on the Saslong repeatedly, as well as his teammates Kjetil Jansrud, and Aleksander A. Kilde.
“I did my first speed races here, super-G and downhill in 2002 so 16 years ago. And that was kind of the breakthrough for me in the World Cup, it was my first speed race and I got a 6th place,” said Svindal. “Every since then it’s been a good course for me. Then little by little, Jansrud also getting fast speed and then in 2015 we got a triple, first ever. So it’s been a really good downhill and super-G for the Norweigan team and hopefully we can keep it that way.”
Both Jansrud and Kilde are the only men to have ever won the Südtirol Ski trophy, a recently established honor given to athletes who score the most World Cup points over the course of the weekend, now that Alta Badia’s giant slalom and parallel giant slalom as joined in on the fun. The men will race giant slalom in Alta Badia on Sunday, December 16th, and parallel giant slalom on Monday, December 17th.
Since the last time the women’s tour came through Val Gardena was in 1975, who knows how they will handle the track. As one of the more technical courses of the men’s downhill circuit, the women must be prepared to handle the terrain in order to succeed. Next week, prominent names in speed such as Italian Sofi Goggia, and Americans Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, as well as a majority of the U.S. women’s speed team will not be competing.