World women 's ski elit arrived in Bansko
Those complaining about turny downhill courses in the past shouldn't have spoken so soon. At least not before arriving at the women's World Cup in Bansko, Bulgaria.
The alpine World Cup has never traveled so far East and Bansko, the largest ski area in the region, has stepped up to host the inaugural women's downhill and super G races this weekend. The course that the International Ski Federation has put down, however, is not going to be easy.
"The downhill course is bordering on ridiculously turny, " said U.S. Women's Head Coach Jim Tracy. "The hill itself is OK. This one middle section has these gigantic turns. It's like a super G with four traverses in it. It's challenging, for sure."
Austrian World Champion bronze medalist Andrea Fischbacher put down the fastest training run on Wednesday (1 minute, 46.44 seconds) - more than a second and a half faster than the next in line, Fabienne Suter.
"Fischbacher was surprisgingly fast, but she did not ski it well, " Tracy said. "She had fast skis is all."
A men's Europa Cup was held on the same hill last season and Tracy said someone had determined that the course there was 24 seconds faster than the women's course and he thinks the big turns in the steeps were added specifically to slow it down.
The top of the course winds around above treeline before traversing into the first steep pitch, taking racers straight across the fall line, then down a wide face followed by a long, right-footed traverse into the next steep pitch, with the highest speeds - probably not exceeding 112 kilometers per hour, Tracy said - coming on the bottom quarter of the course, which isn't nearly as bumpy as the top half. Despite the traverses, the pitches are significantly steep - with 30-degree slope angles or more.
"It's all going to be about good body position. You'll have to fight to work to get the downhill skis to turn, " Tracy said. "All the turns are icy. It's really icy on all of these pitches. When it's so icy and bumpy, body position is going to be key. It's going to be tough."
Lindsey Vonn was the fastest American in training Wednesday, finishing sixth but nearly 2 seconds off the lead pace.
Though the World Championships course at Val d'Isere was far different than the Bansko course, many athletes and coaches complained that it had too many turns. Vonn was one of few racers to say she liked the challenge of the turny speed course at Val d'Isere, then followed through by winning gold in both the super G and the downhill. Tracy said he didn't press his girls for their opinion of the Bansko course because the main objective was mastering it.
"I didn't ask them today, " Tracy said of his team. "There's a lot of people complaining they don't like it that much. I don't want my team to get thinking like that. I want them to solve the challenge."
As for the ambience of the Eastern European resort, Tracy said Bansko feels more like a city than a village, people are "super-friendly" and more than willing to help. All of the teams are staying in the same hotel in Bansko and it was a long process to check in late Tuesday night after flying from Munich to Sofia and taking vans and buses to Bansko. Tracy said organization of the event is good, but lacks the know-how that only experience can bring. For example, there were 150 slippers on the course Wednesday morning - far more than necessary - but not enough start lists to go around. Still, he said there are already a lot of TV cameras and curious spectators and a good feel to the event.
"You ride the longest gondola on the planet, " he said. "It's over 2 miles long. It takes you up to the finish area. Then you ride two chairlifts from there."
Another training run is scheduled for Thursday and racing begins Friday with a downhill, a second DH Saturday making up for the canceled race in St. Moritz, and wrapping up with super G on Sunday.
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