The course is more than half done now. With lactic acid flooding the thighs,
racers will encounter a jump called Muzzle Loader, then tuck hard and grip with
their right edges as they gather speed through Offtrack, a treacherous sidehill
so named because of the many grooming machines that have slid sideways off it
into the woods. This section forms the entry into Buffalo Jump, which sends
skiers onto the surface of Rendezvous Face, the 74-percent slope that leads
into the finish and includes a devilish left turn just off the top of the face,
leading to a right-hander close to the bottom. "Miss that one, and no
matter what you have done on top, you could lose the race," says Russi.
Firecracker Alley, the gentler closing hill on the women's course, top racers
reached 81 mph in the Nor-Am race last March that was won by the U.S.'s Picabo
Street. On the men's final section, which to a recreational skier looks and
feels as steep as a climbing wall, racers will likely approach 85 mph. Anyone
who falls here will be collected at the bottom in pieces.
As if the course
and competition weren't factors enough, the downhill, scheduled for 10 a.m. on
Feb. 10, will be slave to some of the most fickle weather in North America.
Last year, World Cup races scheduled for Snowbasin were wiped out by excessive
snow. The year before that, the hill was snow-starved. "Having lived here
for eight years and seen the weather patterns," says Demschar, "if
you're going to tell me that both downhills will go off on the day and time
that they're scheduled, I'd say you have a very good relationship with the
weather god. I think it is likely that there will be delays and possibly
This, of course,
is the final torment. Skiers will have to wait, counting hours and watching
clouds, running the race in their minds, fighting fear.