Exclusive: Ski Racers Play the Waiting Game


St. Anton, Austria Feb. 5, 2001--Upon arriving in St. Anton under sunny skies yesterday, it was hard to understand the cancellation of the weekend races. The town looked more like it had been hit by a giant slurpee than a ferocious mountain storm. High up on the mountain, however, it was a different story. There, 800 or so workers and an armada of snowcats was laboring to clear over 4 feet of snow in some areas-enough snow to bury two Pisten Bully's and take them out of commission. The schedule is a work in progress, as updates come throughout the day. The plan of the moment is this:

Combined slalom for men Monday night. Women's downhill Tuesday at 10:30, followed by the men's downhill at 12:00 and the women's' slalom at night, starting at 5:30 PM.

In the meantime, everyone took advantage of the break in the schedule to refresh themselves. For Daron Rahlves, who now is regarded as a favorite in the Downhill, that meant a whole lot of powder skiing on Sunday. Some might remember that he attributed his double win in Lillehammer last year, to an attitude adjustment and a few days of powder skiing in Squaw Valley, Calif.

For the most part, however, the downhillers will be saving their energy for race day from here on out, as this new St. Anton course had proven to be more demanding than expected. It offers virtually no flat or straight sections, and, according to some coaches was "over-set" for the terrain. That means in addition to the bumps and rolls, are relentless turns that allow the racers' legs no rest. One journalist who is a regular on the tour said he'd never seen the guys so tired at the end of a run, and described Ghedina collapsing against the finish fence "like a wet noodle." And he's one big, tough piece of pasta. Add that to the fact that, with all the new snow, conditions on race day will be totally different from the rock-hard course they saw in the final training run, and it's anyone's guess now who will win.

The cancellations did not dampen the spirits of the thousands of race fans that showed up in St. Anton for the weekend. Upon hearing of the cancellations they simply moved the celebration from the finish stadium to the streets, where music blared and gluhwein flowed freely all day and night. Imagine 50,000 plus energized fans funneling into one narrow slushy pedestrian village with schnapps stands no more than 10 feet apart. Not pretty.

As in World Championships past, Austria Haus is party headquarters for the ultra connected. In Vail during the 1999 Championships the Austrians built an annex to Pepi's deck, an encampment featuring weiners galore, bottomless beer steins, oom-pah bands and enough schnapps to melt your lederhosen. They even brought a massive bank guard from Innsbruck to deflect anyone without the proper pass or Tyrolean accent. This year, however, USA House may be the hottest ticket in town.

The US Ski Team has created a home away from home at Bobo's, a southwestern/Mexican style restaurant nestled under the Hotel Kristall and smack on the main drag of St. Anton. There, from 4:00-7:00 daily, USA House passholders rendezvous for an apres-ski chat and perhaps a Bode Burger or plate of Rahlves Ribs. Besides the good company and good food, visitors at the bar get to served by their favorite waitress Sonja who's most conservative outfit is a psychedelic half-tube top trimmed with a pink feather boa and tinsel belt. There are no sponsors underwriting this house, but the ski team has negotiated a "very reasonable deal," presumably within the $150,000 budgeted for this event. Of course, that was before Rahlves Super G victory celebration established and busted the champagne budget. But nobody seems to mind that expense.