Heavenly jumps back into World Cup competition | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Heavenly jumps back into World Cup competition

A ’70s-style disco ball spins majestically from a Heavenly tram as rock music pipes out of several strategically positioned loudspeakers. Concessions, souvenirs and T-shirts exchange hands at kiosks throughout the resort. Heavenly’s ‘Perfect Turn’ staff performs an exciting synchronized piece, waving fluorescent glow bands as they weave down the slopes. Heavenly Ski Foundation racers solemnly hoist flags representing racers from the 32 countries that will convene on the South Shore. The resort’s ‘Snow Cat’ grooming machine makes a demonstration appearance for the public. World Cup acro specialists gracefully move under a lighted course with precision and panache as they vie for a spot on the podium. Finally, fireworks blast above piles of fresh snow and the sublime backdrop of scenic Lake Tahoe …

And that’s just Friday night as gala opening ceremonies kick off the first World Cup skiing event at Heavenly in 13 years.

“We’re trying to make it a fun, carnival-like atmosphere,” said Heavenly communications director Monica Bandows of the freestyle moguls, aerials and acro competition that will land on the South Shore Friday through Sunday. “I think the experience is going to be great for everyone involved. It’s going to be a very prestigious event for us and it’s good to finally be back on the World Cup circuit.”

Heavenly’s return to the elite freestyle circuit, officially titled the “Sprint Top Gun on Gunbarrel,” will be one of only two freestyle World Cup events in North America this season.

The moguls competition begins Saturday on Heavenly’s world-reknown Gunbarrel Run. Gunbarrel, consistently rated as one of the United States’ most challenging trails, features a steeper-than-steep 30-degree pitch and a 1,500-foot vertical drop from the course’s start to finish.

Headlining the moguls field will be 1998 Winter Olympics gold medal mogulist Jonny Moseley, who lives in nearby Squaw Valley. Moseley, nicknamed “Big Air” and the unofficial homespun poster boy for American freestyle skiing, is virtually a legend in these parts and should pique interest in the weekend’s event.

“I’m really excited about World Cup freestyle skiing coming back to California,” said Moseley, who represents the American Skiing Company as its learn-to-ski ambassador stationed at Heavenly. “Tahoe’s always been a real hotbed for my sport. Having the top skiers in the world coming to Heavenly is going to be quite a show!”

Several Tahoe racers will have the unique – and maybe once-in-a-lifetime – opportunity to compete in front of a hometown crowd on their home course against the world’s best freestylers. Bump skiers Chris Hernandez and Brooke Ballachey will represent the South Shore in the event, which will feature over 200 of the world’s elite freestylers. Shelley Robertson and Shannon Bahrke will represent the North Shore.

“It’ll be nice to have so many friendly faces,” said South Shore resident Brooke Ballachey, a 19-year old U.S. Freestyle Ski ‘A’ team member. “I’ll know all the faces – people I have grown up with, taught us how to ski and skied with. It’ll be amazing hanging out with them and having them watch me ski.”

The Sprint-sponsored event will conclude Sunday with an aerial competition at Heavenly’s launchpad site. The launchpad is located near the resort’s new Gunbarrel Express high speed quad. Acro skiing finals will finish Friday evening on the competition’s first day.

The event, which Heavenly secured in negotiations last fall, is already well under way. Teams, coaches and fans from around the world began arriving Monday. Most of the event’s courses have been approved and completed as official practice runs for World Cup competitors begin today.

“Everybody here (at Heavenly) is kind of shocked that it’s here already,” Bandows said. “I’m not quite sure everyone knew all the work that goes into hosting this kind of event. It’s a good (responsibility), but at the same time it’s a lot of work. We’ve been pretty busy here.”

The competition should be able to ride the coattails of ESPN’s popular Winter X Games, held last week in Crested Butte, Colo. Bandows estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 spectators will attend the weekend event, which will be taped by a professional film crew to air nationally Jan. 30 on NBC.

“It’s awesome that there’s a World Cup event in Tahoe,” said Hernandez, who is recovering from an ACL knee injury and is scheduled to return to World Cup competition this weekend. “People will finally get to see what our competition is actually like. A lot of people see it on TV, but it’s a different perspective watching it from the bottom of the course.”

Up until recently, snow levels at Heavenly had been unseasonably low, causing anxiety among race organizers. As a precautionary measure, Heavenly has been making snow – nearly 600 tons – as insurance against the whims of Mother Nature. The recent two-foot dump at Heavenly, well …

“That’s just icing on the cake,” Bandows added. “It’s great timing, though we were prepared if it didn’t come. It should look really pretty for the television cameras, which is always important.”

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