Lindsey Vonn slices the Aspen Winternational race hill in 2010 (Getty Images/Doug Pensinger)
ASPEN, CO (Nov. 22) – It's been a month since Olympic downhill – yes downhill – champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) arced the first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom victory of her career. So, what do we have to look forward to when the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational rolls into Aspen this weekend – NBC Olympics analyst and 1984 Olympic giant slalom champion Christin Cooper has a few thoughts…
It's like skiing in a high altitude blender "I hear an awful lot of chatter in the early season about the toughest giant slalom hill on the women's tour being Soelden - a long icy steep sandwiched between two flats; three sustained blocks of admittedly tough terrain," said Cooper, the 1984 Olympic giant slalom silver medalist. "But as a former giant slalom ace myself, there's no tougher challenge than the Aspen course in November. Aspen is a relentless rollercoaster ride of steeps, flats, side hills, banked turns, rollovers and fall aways set over a sheet of iced manmade atop abandoned mine dump tailings. It's like skiing in a high altitude blender.
"It's the kind of course any sane ski racer would prefer to encounter in March, when the kinks have been worked out and the ski legs are firing on all cylinders. And even then (when we ran World Cups here in the 1980s), it was brutal. It just laughed when it saw us coming. As an athlete, you pray for a sunny day so the terrain is somewhat visible."
The players "Lindsey is finding her GS," says Cooper. "The display of technique and tactics she put on in Soelden was a master class in powerful strategic giant slalom skiing. And there's no doubt she's only just getting the feel of it. But that's the issue. Is her new-found confidence and timing ingrained enough yet for the dragons tail of Aspen, where no two turns are alike, and there's no settling into a powerful groove as there is on the long autobahn-style SG and DH courses she so excels on?
"Vonn's superior fitness may finally get to serve her here, but she's going to need to be a scrapper. Aspen rewards the skier who can make spontaneous, loose, aggressive adjustments on the fly to maintain her line over the undulating off-camber terrain. Look who has excelled here in recent years: strong, agile, gymnastic skiers like Worley, Rebensburg, Holzl, Zettel. Overall GS globe winners take the honors in Aspen."
Cooper's Reasons to watch 1. It has been an eternity since an American woman has won this race. What's up with that?
2. I watched the U.S. women train on the hill last Friday and they were not holding back. The hill hadn't been iced yet, but was hard manmade. Vonn tweaked her back coming over the road onto Strawpile and smartly left the scene to get therapy. Looking at her M.O. the last few years, a good sign? LV only gets laser-focused by a little physical adversity. Mancuso was nuking some strong sections, and – must have been intentional – getting some DNFs out of her system. I'm looking forward to seeing the American phenom, Michaela Shiffrin, fearlessly take on her heroes on the big stage, and with the support of an American crowd. Will she respond well to the energy, or buckle under her own expectations
3. Reisch: One, is she fit? Aspen will expose all weakness; Two, was she suffering from a sore ankle in Austria, keeping the real Maria from showing up? Three, another pummeling by LV would knock some serious stuffing out of the bird. She needs to compete in this one. If Vonn's GS is for real, Reisch no longer has the luxury of throw-away races. The rivalry is on.
And so is the return of the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup Tour. The Nature Valley Aspen Winternational opens Saturday, Nov. 26 with giant slalom, followed by slalom on Nov. 27.
How will Cooper's notes stack up? NBC has the national coverage at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 27.