Little Chickadees at the Birds of Prey
If you and your kids have never watched a World Cup ski race live and in person, you need to add it to your family’s To-Do List. In early December, I spent the day at Beaver Creek watching a men’s GS race on the infamous Birds of Prey course with my two aspiring chickadees. We are still talking about it.
It was part sporting event and part festival—with giveaways, music, and skydivers landing in the finish corral. The boys called it “the most awesomest time ever.” I would call it the deal of the century.
Of course, the main thrill was watching the American Ted Ligety blow the competition off the side of the mountain on a course where such racers as Hermann Maier, Bode Miller, and Daron Rahlves have collected gold. We have a new saying around our house when we want something done fast. “Do it Ligety split!
My youngest son camped out by the finish corral stalking the racers for autographs. His official Birds of Prey T-shirt is now covered in a half dozen mostly indecipherable John Hitchcocks. It’s not that easy to sign a t-shirt while wearing padded ski gloves.
Having such access to the world’s best ski racers is notable. We’ve certainly never left the gridiron with Peyton Manning’s autograph. But what struck me was that the whole shebang was absolutely free. Consider this: According to the Team Marketing Report, the average cost of tickets to an NHL hockey game for a family of four is $228.40. To take the same family to the ballpark for an MLB game would set you back an average of $207.68 (MLB fan cost index) .
In a world where family fun invariably means a slow bleed to your wallet (think about the last time you took the kids to an amusement park), spending an entire day enjoying a spectacular event free of charge was refreshing.
If there’s one downside to watching an alpine ski race live, it’s that you can’t see the race start to finish. You end up watching most of the run on a Jumbotron in the finish corral. As the racers crest a lower knoll on the course, you can watch them descend the final section and blast through the finish.
Shifting your view from the big screen to the slope is revelatory. The moment you glimpse the skier on course in real time, you realize just how dang fast they are moving. With the perspective of the whole mountain, it becomes eminently clear that these athletes are humming.
The Birds of Prey track is 4,806 feet long, dropping 1,400 vertical feet. Racers fly down it at speeds upwards of 50 mph in just over a minute. That’s 75 seconds. Less time than it takes me to whip up my daily latte.
The day’s crowning moment came on the shuttle bus back to the parking lot. I happened to sit down next to a ski racer and her dad. It was none other than Mikaela Shiffrin, the 17-year-old phenom who is crushing it on the World Cup. She had served as a forerunner for the men’s race. We chatted about her finish time, which would nearly have placed her in the top 30 in a field of 70 big burly man racers. Imagine rubbing elbows with one of the world’s best ski racers…on a free bus at Beaver Creek. Very cool.
Be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s Birds of Prey World Cup race in December and for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek in 2015.
For more on our day of at the races, check out my blog post on at Vail’s new Epic Moms website.