Downhill legends vie for $110,000 |

Downhill legends vie for $110,000

Bu Sam Bauman

This will be a major weekend for Heavenly with the Wendy’s Downhill Relays as well as the usual throng of snowsporters celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The Relay races, sponsored by Wendy’s for the first time, offers a format unique in ski racing. Four teams, Austria, Canada, Switzerland and the U.S. are made up of three skiers. The course, down the face onto East Bowl and winding up at World Cup, is GS dual in format. The three skiers position themselves at the top, a third of the way down and then two-thirds of the way. Gates open at the last two positions as the starting skier enters the gate area.

Total prize money is hefty, $110,000, with the winning team sharing $45,000. That divides up to $15,000 for a few minutes of speed skiing. And speed is what we’re talking about as anyone who has run the East Bowl will agree.

Racing for the U.S. will be the Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, both Olympic medalists, and Hilary Lindh, who has (or has not, depending on the latest comments) quit the U.S. ski team. The Mahres are veterans of this event, having been at Heavenly last season when MCI was the sponsor.

Incidentally, the Mahres will undoubtedly be racing on Volant skis, having switched from long-term sponsors K2 last year. Apparently Phil and Steve wanted to be more involved in ski design and were offered that chance by Hank Kashiwa, boss of Volant. Odds are they will be skiing on the new Volant titanium skis. A titanium plate in the ski shovel offers increased torsional strength for better carving. You’ll have to search to buy a pair: only 1,000 were produced for this season and most are sold already.

Another veteran of this race is Franz Klammer of Austria. Klammer is a delight to watch as the big guy slams his way down the course. He’s a true competitor and will be joined by Silvia Eder and Leonard Stock, a slim master of of the GS. Stock in the past has been a very effective racer on the relay course.

Canada’s team includes Laurie Graham-Flynn, Jim Reed and Dave Irwin. For the Swiss it will be Pirmin Zurbriggen, Max Julen and Heidi Zeller.

Spectator seating will be at the base of the World Cup run next to the Tram. It should be a good show as the racers hit speeds of 50 mph. The course may be a bit soft due to the rain at the lower levels, but at the top the more than 12 inches of fresh snow should be perfect for grooming.

On Friday, Jan. 16, there will be a pro-am race on World Cup, and on Sunday, Wendy’s continues its Family Ski Challenge, a 15-event series that invites teams of an adult and a child 12 or under to compete. The fee is $10 for each team. Finalists take part in a later family race for the championship.

Almost everything taking place under the Wendy’s banner this weekend will be to benefit the the Dave Thomas (Wendy’s chairman of the board) Adoption Foundation. Thomas was an orphan and has long been involved in helping place children for adoption.

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