DEER VALLEY Casey Puckett, Daron Rahlves and Jake Fiala, all former members of the U.S. Ski Team, qualified with good times for today's ski cross here.
You can toss out the times, however, when the three get in the starting gate for the finals. This race won't be about time. The skiers will be running against three other skiers, and the first across the finish wins.
It is a race that both Puckett and Fiala said allowed them to extend their ski careers and an event they described as "fun."
Ski cross is like a four-car road race except along with banked turns, there are rollers, jumps and high-speed traverses. Unintentional bumping is allowed; intentional bumping is not. Which means some contact is expected. To many of these racers, it is a totally new part of ski racing.
The most important element in this race, however, is the ability to start off in the lead or be able to pass, which on this course won't be easy.
"It's narrow," said Puckett, after posting the second fastest qualifying time. "It's going to be difficult to pass. You'll need to get the lead out of the start and stay there."
Fiala also admitted that the start is the most important single factor in winning, and course designers are trying to put features in their courses that take away this advantage and allow for passing. One official said he's attended races where the course did not allow for a single pass.
"The start, and passing, is something that's difficult to practice. In the start you've got to pole hard and have your arms and hips in sync. If you get the lead then you can skate. If you're behind, with someone else's ski in your way, you can't. Some of the European racers seem to have the start down, and that's an advantage."
Puckett, the fifth racer to qualify, posted the fastest time to that point and only one of the 47 other racers was able to post a faster time. His time was 1 minute, 5.96 seconds.
The No. 1 qualifier was Michael Schmid of Switzerland in 1:05.94. The No. 3 qualifier was Davey Barr of Canada in 1:06.03.
Rahlves, who has not raced many World Cup events, has few points and thus was pushed to the back, was the 47th racer to qualify. He had the eighth-best time 1:07.12.
Fiala, who also has only a few WC points, qualified 12th. His time was 1:07.47.
Only 32 of the 52 entries in the men's event made it into today's finals. Less than three seconds separated the No. 1 and No. 32 qualifiers.
In the women's event, only one U.S. skier qualified. Langely McNeal of Sun Valley qualified 16th, which gave her the last opening in today's race.
She said she skied well but found that the new snow made for a slower course. Qualifying was delayed two hours because of heavy snow.
Critiquing the course, she said it was one that "worked the legs the whole time and if you don't hit the turns right it can ruin your whole run. You've got to be smart, look ahead and use the terrain."
Her time was 1:14.81. The No. 1 qualifier in the women's event was Ophelie David of France in 1:10.99, and the No. 2 qualifier was Meryl Boulangeat of France. Boulangeat is currently No. 1 in WC points and David is No. 2.
The only other U.S. qualifiers in the men's event was Errol Kerr in 26th.
Under the ski cross format, qualifiers will be broken down into groups of four and placed in a bracket. Each group will race and the first two skiers to cross the finish advance to the next round. The men will race four times and the women three times.
As Puckett noted, the start is all important and next is the ability to pass. He believes it's is going to be hard to pass, "but sometimes I think one thing and find out when I race that it's something totally different."
The course builder, Jeff Ihahsi, said he believes there are four to five places on the course that will allow skiers to pass if they are positioned right.
Today's first run starts at 11 a.m. This is the first World Cup ski cross event in North America. The ski cross was accepted last year as an Olympic event for 2010.Starting at 6:30 p.m. will be the finals in the WC dual mogul competition.
E-mail: [email protected]