Searching for Speed in Val Gardena and Val d’Isere

Megan Harrod
2015-12-17 17:48

VAL GARDENA, Italy (Dec. 17, 2015) – At first glance, you might not think it’s December in Val Gardena, Italy. The hills are ablaze with the hues of dark brown and green. The Saslong features only a light dusting of snow as it towers over the downhill and super G track. But don’t let that fool you; the Saslong downhill track—a classic on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup—is buff. The crew has done an amazing job of prepping the course here, and the Americans are poised to dominate.

At 3,446 meters long, the Saslong offers a challenging downhill with a lot of terrain, most notably the fabled camel humps. It’s a good thing Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) likes to ride camels. Of the three times an American Downhiller has won on the famed Saslong, it has been Nyman. He digs this track so much that teammate Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA) has nicknamed it #SvenGardena.

Travis Ganong took third and fourth in the two training runs on the Saslong. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Alexis Boichard) 

The Attacking Vikings may beg to differ this year. Although both Nyman and Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, UT) have been strong in this week’s downhill training, they’ve had a target on their backs from Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud. Svindal, who was out last season due to injury, hasn’t seemed to skip a beat, taking both training run wins and three World Cup wins so far this season. But with Nyman and Ganong grabbing second and third during Wednesday’s training run and third and fourth on Thursday, and American Downhiller teammates like Jared Goldberg (Holladay, UT), Sullivan and Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) stacking it in the top 20, Saturday’s downhill should be good.

The Italian action starts on Friday with a super G and downhill Saturday. Then it’s over the Dolomites to Alta Badia for a giant slalom Sunday where Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) has won twice, the last time in 2012.

Over in Val d’Isere, France, Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) is ready to snag herself another prize cow for Christmas. If Vonn wins, she can add this cow to an already growing herd, headlined by Winnie—named after her physio Lindsay Winninger—whom she won last year.

Lindsey Vonn grabbed third and first on the two training runs in Val d'Isere. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Christophe Pallot)

Vonn was third in the first downhill training run on Wednesday, and first on Thursday—ahead of Switzerland’s Lara Gut and Lichtenstein’s Tina Weirather—on a course where she has eight downhill and combined wins. Alice McKennis (Glenwood, CO) has been top 10 both days.

Laurenne Ross (Bend, OR) and Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, CA) have also skied fast in training—Ross snagging a couple of top 15 finishes and Cook grabbing a top 15 yesterday before DNF-ing today. Teammate Jackie Wiles (Aurora, OR) will look to find more speed after finishing 37th and 26th on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Racing begins Friday with the alpine combined, followed by Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s giant slalom in Courchevel.

Alice McKennis was top 10 during both training days in Val D'Isere. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Christophe Pallot)

Val Gardena (SG, DH) and Alta Badia (GS, Parrallel GS) Starters

Bryce Bennett – SG, DH
Tommy Biesemeyer – SG
David Chodounsky – GS, PGS
Tommy Ford – GS, PGS
Travis Ganong – SG, DH
Jared Goldberg – SG, DH
Tim Jitloff – GS, PGS
Ted Ligety – GS, PGS
Wiley Maple – SG, DH
Steven Nyman – SG, DH
Marco Sullivan – SG, DH
Andrew Weibrecht – SG, DH, GS

Val d’Isere (SC, DH) and Courchevel (GS) Starters

Stacey Cook – SC, DH, GS
Megan McJames – GS
Alice McKennis – DH
Laurenne Ross – SC, DH
Lindsey Vonn – SC, DH, GS
Jackie Wiles – SC, DH

Steven Nyman
It’s usually a pretty close race. I set myself apart last year, but the only guy that kept up was Kjetil [Jansrud]. Right now we have Travis and Aksel [Lund Svindal] and Kjetil and myself, we’re kind of ahead of the game right now. But you have to risk everything, and you really have to throw down. With all this terrain, all the jumps and all of the blind rolls, you can really mess up and there’s usually some good crashes every year, and it’s a good show. I’ve crashed here more than I’ve won here because I always risk it. But I really enjoy the jumps, I really enjoy that movement; it’s something I’m really good at, so I feel comfortable here ever since I laid eyes on it.

Everybody asks [what my secret is]. I don’t know, it’s my long legs—I can get back down to the ground quick. Aksel and Jansrud—they’re both tall guys. Travis, he’s a shorter guy, but he’s pretty good with terrain—he grew up in the western U.S. In the west, we free ski. We ski a lot of jumps, we test ourselves on different terrain, and I think that’s why the North Americans are pretty good at this.

Travis Ganong
I am having really good feelings right now on my skis. The equipment is just feeling really good. We have these new skis—we had only one pair the first couple of races, and now have a couple more pairs. So we’re breaking them in here. With all of the rollers and the bumps and terrain, I feel really grounded and really solid on my feet. That’s what’s key here at Val Gardena. In the past, I’ve always gotten a little bumped and thrown around. But right now with the equipment, I feel really grounded and catlike and able to really suck up terrain and find the backside of rolls. It’s really fun to ski right now…I feel like I’m in control. This hill is about gliding, but it’s also about terrain management—figuring out how to link all the terrain together and carry all of your speed.

Lindsey Vonn 
[On the combined]

I’ve had about two days of slalom. I feel like in slalom, I just have to wing it. And I feel good. Like I’ve been saying the last couple days, I feel really balanced on my skis, so I’m hoping for a good downhill run. I’ll definitely have to ski very fast in downhill and then hopefully just have a solid slalom run.

Stacey Cook
I caught air in a place I wasn’t expecting. I was trying to be a little more aggressive today and hit it at the wrong angle, I guess, and just kind of launched into the fence. The fence came up quick. I thought I had it, in my mind, but then I didn’t have it anymore.


Friday, Dec. 18
4:30 a.m. - Women's SC-DH, Val d'Isere - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
6:00 a.m. - Men's SG, Val Gardena - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
7:30 a.m. - Women's SC-SL, Val d'Isere - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
1:00 p.m. - Men's SG, Val Gardena, Universal HD
2:30 p.m. - Women's CO, Val d'Isere, Universal HD

Saturday, Dec. 19
4:30 a.m. - Women's DH, Val d'Isere - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
6:00 a.m. - Men's DH, Val Gardena  - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
11:00 a.m. - Women's DH, Val d'Isere - Universal HD
12:30 p.m. - Men's SG, Val Gardena, Universal HD

Sunday, Dec. 20
3:30 a.m. - Men's GS1, Alta Badia - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
4:30 a.m. - Women's GS1, Courchevel  - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
6:30 a.m. - Men's GS2, Alta Badia - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
7:30 a.m. - Women's GS2, Courchevel  - NBC Live Extra - LIVE STREAM
2:00 p.m. - Men's GS, Alta Badia, Universal HD
3:30 p.m. - Women's GS, Courchevel, Universal HD