BEAVER CREEK — A downhill run like the one laid down Friday by Kjetil Jansrud on the tough Birds of Prey course may not have been flawless, but it was darn close and enough to give him the win by more than a half-second.
Jansrud of Norway, who this season has stood atop the podium in all three speed races — two downhills and a super-G — finished with a time of 1:40.17. Swiss skier Beat Feuz, coming off of a disappointing 2013/14 season, was second in 1:40.71, two one-hundreths of a second faster than Steven Nyman of the U.S. Ski Team.
“It’s hard to call anything a perfect run but it was as close to a perfect run as I could have had,” said the 29-year-old Jansrud. “You sort of expect mistakes in Beaver Creek.”
That’s because Birds of Prey is widely considered to be among the world’s toughest downhills. The course drops 2,470 feet in about 1 minute, 40 seconds, and over the 1.6-mile distance has an average pitch that can hit 32 degrees in sections. The top racers exceed 70 miles per hour on Birds of Prey.
Aspen’s Wiley Maple withdrew from the race after dislocating his elbow Thursday during dryland training, said Patrick Riml, U.S. Ski Team alpine director. Wiley’s father, Mike Maple, confirmed that he “slipped and fell while running. Huge bummer.”
Otherwise, it’s been a good week for the Americans.
“Our guys did a great job,” said Riml, who praised the team’s overall conditioning as well as their solid training runs. Travis Ganong of Squaw Valley was fifth, Ted Ligety finished 28th and Andrew Weibrecht overcame a tough start position, 62nd, to finish in 30th place.
Teammates Marco Sullivan, Bryce Bennett and Thomas Biesemeyer finished outside of the top 30, meaning they did not earn World Cup points.
Fresh from an impressive 22nd place finish last week in Lake Louise, Canada, Maple was strong in the week’s first training run, ending up in 29th. Riml said he expects Maple to return to action later this month.
While the next men’s downhill is scheduled for Val Gardena, Italy, in two weeks, it may need to move from the Dolomites due to snow conditions.
Back at Beaver Creek, because race organizers were able to pull off two successful training runs, the final day of downhill training was canceled. Nyman said he used Thursday to free ski with his 3-year-old niece, Vivian.
“That helped me to get my head out of the game,” said Nyman, 32, who said he still battled nerves prior to the first of three Audi FIS Ski World Cup races that will be held here this weekend.
On tap for Saturday is a super-G, where Jansrud is considered the favorite and Sunday is the giant slalom, where all eyes will be on American Ted Ligety, winner of five titles in that discipline.
The Birds of Prey course has been good for Nyman in the past; he was third here in 2006 and second in 2007. On Friday, he had the fastest split time on the top part of the course, by .52 seconds, which features strong gliders.
Injuries and inconsistent results have plagued Nyman in recent years, however. His comeback started last April at Aspen Highlands when he won the first of the two-run FIS-sanctioned downhill races. Nyman said that race marked a new beginning for him on several fronts.
“I basically blew my equipment apart,” he said. It started with “downsizing my boots” which made him rethink everything from binding positions to different models of skis. “Then I changed my whole set-up.”
“At Highlands, I knew I was on to something. Those races helped me to make these steps forward,” he added.
Highlands was a springboard to some of Nyman’s current success, he said. That was bolstered by more intensive summer dryland training and participation in PSIA clinics to reinforce technical skiing skills.
Like Maple, Nyman was an “invitee” to the U.S. Ski Team this year, which means he has to fund a portion of his training and travel fees.
Nyman finds this a little ironic. “They ask you for 20 grand to do your job,” he said.
While Jansrud’s time was the second fastest time on the full-length course (Bode Miller set the standard in 2004 with 1:39.76), the 1 minute 40 second mark was not broken on Friday, as had been highly anticipated.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of the ski industry. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014.