The 2015 Audi Birds of Prey World Cup returns to the resort this weekend (December 4 to 6), as the fastest men on skis compete in downhill, super G, and giant slalom races. As it has been for more than a decade, this will be the only U.S. stop on the men’s World Cup tour. (The World Cup women’s races were in Aspen last weekend—the only U.S. venue on their calendar.)
Sure, the World Cup isn’t as big as February’s World Championships, which only takes place every two years and brings in skiers from more than 70 countries, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this weekend’s event. Many of the skiers who medaled in February will be back on course—and fired up for a fresh season. The races are free to watch, and with all the fanfare—live music, fireworks and prize giveaways—it’s sure to be a great show.
Here’s everything you need to know before you go:
Once at Beaver Creek, all races will be held on the Birds of Prey course, which finishes mid-mountain at Red Tail Stadium (same place as the World Championshipss). The Beaver Creek Village parking garages will be closed to the public, so the Bear Lot at the base of Beaver Creek in Avon is your best bet for parking if you arrive early enough. If not, the Rodeo lots near the Avon City Market will serve as overflow, with free buses running regularly to and from Beaver Creek Village and the race finish area. Unlike at the World Championships, however, there will be no uphill access (via hiking or snowshoeing) to Red Tail on Dally Road. With a bit of luck (and hard labor), there will be ski/snowboard access to the finish area down Red Tail run on Friday. Read more spectator information here.
Where to Watch
It’s free to sit in the grandstands—the stomping ground of Austrian die-hards waving flags, American fan clubs decked out in hero attire, and the ever-present symbol crasher. A Jumbotron displays every turn of each race, so this is by far the best spectator spot. But if you want the charge that comes with hearing a racer carving hard before seeing him fly by in a colorful flash, there is on-course viewing along the fence leading up from the finish line, as well as a ski access point off the Cinch Express lift.
Here’s what you can expect on each day:
Start time: 10:45 a.m.
The fastest of all alpine events—racers can reach speeds up to 80 mph—the downhill at Beaver Creek sees skiers going airborne for more than 50 feet at a time over the course’s many jumps and rollers. Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal, who swept the first speed races of the season last weekend in Canada, and Kjetil Jansrud have dominated the event the last couple of years. Also keep an eye on Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng (he won gold at the World Ski Championships) and Beat Feuz, and cheer hard for American silver medalist Travis Ganong and Birds of Prey multi-champion Steve Nyman.
Men’s Super G
Start time: 11 a.m.
Considered by many World Cup racers to be the most technical super G of the entire tour, the Birds of Prey course is a slightly shorter version of the downhill, cutting off only the top gliding section and diving directly into the straight-down plunge known as The Brink, taking racers through a surge of jumps, sudden turns, and shadowy corridors. But Super G’s biggest challenge is that, unlike the downhill, racers don’t get a test ride prior to the event. After the gates are set, the athletes only get to inspect the course one gate at a time, envisioning their lines and hoping they don’t miss any gates once they’re charging down the mountain at 75 mph. Super G is a tough discipline to master, especially at Beaver Creek (read more about the tenacious Birds of Prey course here), but an Austrian named Hannes Reichelt won gold at February’s World Championships and has been a recurring presence on the podium.
Men’s Giant Slalom
First run: 9:45 a.m.
Second run: 12:45 p.m.
When it comes to the giant slalom, considered the perfect fusion of speed and downhill, have you heard of a guy named Ted Ligety? Shame on you if not. He is the best American giant slalom skier of all time, an Olympic gold medalist, and a guy who has won so many World Cup and World Championship medals, we’ve lost count. He’s won six—count ’em, six!—of the last seven giant slalom races he’s entered at Beaver Creek alone, including the gold medal race in February. Ligety has his own style of cutting GS turns, which involves nearly scraping his hip on the snow around every gate. It’s a wonder of physics you just have to see in person.
As if you needed another reason to take in the races this weekend, the party gets started on Thursday afternoon in Beaver Creek Village with live music by local bluegrass fave Hardscrabble, prize giveaways, and food and drink tents. The energy snowballs Friday and Saturday with free afternoon concerts, free ice skating, athlete autograph signings, food and drink booths, more giveaways, and fireworks.