Beaver Creek, CO, Nov. 29, 2000--The road up to Beaver Creek is watched over by a large bronze eagle, a dynamic reminderof what lies ahead for skiers from around the world.
This sculpture also sees double duty as the permanent trophy for Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey World Cup men's alpine events,displaying the names of the competitors that have managed to tame "The Birds".
The local sign maker can easily be forgiven if he professes a somewhat limited knowledge of the names of World Cup men'sracers as there is really only one that he has had to concern himself with over the past three winters; that of Austria's Hermann Maier.
The defending World Cup champion will have yet another opportunity to further stake his claim of ownership to the twisting ribbonof real estate on Beaver Creek Mountain December 2-3 as the resort plays host to the 2000 Ernst & Young Birds of Prey,featuring Café de Colombia World Cup men's downhill and Super G competitions.
Last November's Birds of Prey event, held during the Thanksgiving holidays, served up a heaping portion of Hermann. Afterwatching Switzerland's Didier Plaschy capture the relocated slalom as a spectator, Maier proceeded to claim victories in the giantslalom, downhill and Super G.
"Hermann literally feasted on Birds of Prey for Thanksgiving last year",quipped Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation."He seems to have found a different, and obviously faster, line in several of the course's key technical sections. Right now, Maierowns Birds of Prey."
Since Birds of Prey celebrated its world premier on December 4, 1997, a total of 10 World Cup or World Championship raceshave been contested on the steep and technically demanding track. Six of the eagle's bronze plaques bear Maier's name, whilehe was not entered in two more of the events.
Only Italy's Kristian Ghedina and Maier's teammate, Andreas Schifferer, have bested the "Hermannator" on Birds of Prey, thosewins coming in the first two races ever run on the course. Norway's Lasse Kjus managed the historic gold medal tie with Maier inSuper G during the 1999 Championships.
Of course, there are many skiers potentially capable of unseating Maier this coming winter. A healthy Kjus would top the list, alongwith a number of Hermann's own teammates, who would love nothing better than to emerge from his lengthy shadow. One needonly look at last season's World Cup downhill rankings, which saw Italy's Ghedina as the only non-Austrian in the top eight places.
The American charge for the 2000 Ernst & Young Birds of Prey competitions will be led by 27-year-old Daron Rahlves (SugarBowl, CA) and local hero Chad Fleischer (Vail, CO).
Rahlves, primarily considered a Super G specialist, stunned the world in March with his back-to-back World Cup downhill wins onthe 1994 Olympic course in Kvitfjell, Norway.
Fleischer is fresh off a fifth place downhill finish last weekend at Lake Louise, Alberta. He appears to be back on track after missingmuch of last season with a shoulder injury.
"If Chad is fully recovered, he's bound to be a factor on his home hill," Folz offered, and Daron should have a great deal ofconfidence coming into these races. It's going to be exciting to see how things develop as everyone begins to gear up for theWorld Championships in St. Anton."
Downhill training will get underway on November 29, with the men's downhill slated for Saturday, December 2. The World Cupmen's Super G is on tap for Sunday, December 3. Both races are scheduled to start at 12:15 p.m. and all stadium seating is free.Free spectator transport buses to the Birds of Prey finish stadium will depart from the covered bridge in Beaver Creek Village.
In addition to the action on the racecourse, the 2000 Ernst & Young Birds of Prey weekend will also be highlighted by the newBlack Diamond Ball, a festive Super G Public Pick and numerous stadium promotions.
For additional information on the 2000 Ernst & Yooung Birds of Prey weekend, contact the Vail Valley Foundation at (970)949-1999.