DEER VALLEY The first step in running the first World Cup ski cross in North America will start this morning with early qualifications.
There will be 50 men vying for one of 32 openings and 22 women trying for 16 openings.
Qualifications are based simply on speed and nothing more. The fastest skiers down the turny, bumpy, jumpy course will race, and the slow ones won't.
In the finals on Saturday, speed will be one of only a dozen factors needed to win. Unlike a downhill or super G, where picking the right line and making clean turns counts, in ski cross the pack of four skiers will be applying strategy, a quick start, balance, passing skills, jumping skills, acceleration techniques, control and awareness along with speed.
This is not like any alpine race these skiers have ever run, pointed out Tyler Shepherd, newly appointed ski cross coach for the U.S. Ski Team.
Like any other race involving more than one person, the first to cross the finish line wins. Along the way they will fight for that position on a course with everything from a series of rollers, to a downhill turn, to corner jumps, to short traverses. Unintentional bumping is allowed and falls are not uncommon. Intentional bumping or blocking is not allowed and warrants disqualification.
At this point the best ski cross athletes are all former alpine racers. For example:
• Casey Puckett of Snowmass, Colo., is the top American. He was a four-time Olympian with the U.S. Ski Team and retired after the 2002 Games. He is currently 6th in the overall rankings and is a two-time gold medalist in the X Games ski cross.
• Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Calif., is the all-time best U.S. skier in speed events downhill and super G. He retired in 2006. He won this year's gold in the X Games ski cross.
• Jake Fiala of Frisco, Colo., retired from the U.S. Ski Team after the 2002 Olympics but on occasion returns to World Cup circuit. This year he finished in the top 10 in a race in France. He won a silver in the X Games last year and said he's planning to put more time into ski cross this season.
• Zach Crist of Ketchum, Idaho, is also a former alpine racer with the U.S. team. His skiing and hockey skills, he said, give him the skills he needs for ski cross. He won a gold in the X Games and has made it to the podium (top 3) a dozen times.
• Errol Kerr of Truckee, Calif., is considered one of the rising young stars. His early background was as a young downhill, super G and giant slalom racer. He showed he can race at the top level in this year's X Games. He won every round going into the finals where he was beaten by Rahlves and Puckett.
• Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic is the skier to beat. He is currently No. 1 in WC ski cross, having won the three races held in Europe this season. He was a technical skier in alpine racing, specializing in the slalom and giant slalom.
On the women's side, the American contingent is young and not competitive at this point. The top U.S. racer is Langely McNeal in 33rd place in the overall standings.
Ophilie David of France is No. 1 in the WC ski cross standings. It is said she has won every alpine title there is to win except an Olympic medal. In ski cross, she has 18 top 3 finishes in WC events.
Meryl Boulangeat of France is currently the No. 2 leader in ski cross. She turned to ski cross in 2006 and has made it to the podium in four WC races.Qualifications will begin today at 9:30 a.m. The finals on Saturday will start at 11 a.m. Other WC events include aerials Friday starting at 6 p.m. and dual moguls on Saturday starting at 6:30 p.m.