Beaver Creek's tenacious run will challenge racers during this month's FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
—Photography by Cody Downard
Rarely in the world of extreme sports does a track, park, or, in this case, ski run last longer than a season or two before elite athletes demand a tougher challenge. Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course is an exception—it’s outlasted an entire generation of skiers. When the resort hosts the first FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on U.S. soil in 16 years this month (February 2 to 15), it’ll be on the same Birds of Prey that debuted in 1997 World Cup races. Designed by Swiss Olympic gold medalist Bernhard Russi, the course replaced the three-and-a-half-mile-long 1989 World Championship Centennial run, which by the late ’90s no longer challenged competitors whose speeds and skills had evolved beyond what the terrain offered. The result of Russi’s work: an 8,603-foot-long test piece, packed with technical descents, turns, and speed sections, that still demands respect from the sport’s top-caliber skiers. In its 16-year history, Birds of Prey has hosted the first-ever world championship two-way gold medal tie in 1999’s super-G race between Austria’s Hermann Maier and Norway’s Lasse Kjus as well as Lindsey Vonn’s super-G win in 2011 during the only women’s race ever held on the 2,470-vertical-foot slope. When the world’s best men return to Colorado this month, Birds of Prey will once again stand as the gatekeeper to gold.