Print This Page >
Town Downhill brings thrills to Snow King
Despite outside competition, the Mini-Hahnenkamm remains a Jackson event.
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: March 13, 2013
Sculpted by Jackson’s dedicated ski-racing community, Snow King Mountain was ritualistically transformed into the sparkling stage of Jackson’s Mini-Hahnenkamm last week.
First, the Pro Bump appeared on the rise just above town. About the same time, tiny black dots appeared at the King’s highest chute, marking the starting gate.
Day by day, bits of protective fencing began to trace a winding perimeter down the mountain’s steep face, and late in the afternoon toward the end of the week, Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club kids buzzed above Old Man Flats like scavengers waiting for a peck at the gates their coaches had set.
When training runs began Saturday morning, the course was glistening with the prestige of the World Cup course from which it draws its nickname.
The Town Downhill, also known as the Mini-Hahnenkamm, commands a following that parallels a cult holiday.
Prospective racers watched all week as skies cleared and temperatures dropped. By the end of the week it was easy enough to spot participants finding their arc on the face of Snow King. Their dangerously long skis carved wide turns at unchecked speeds.
Friday night, racers were sharpening their edges and scraping wax from the bottoms of their skis on ski benches tucked into basements, garages and barns.
For all but the junior division, Saturday was dedicated to course inspection and a single training run.
The 12- to 14-year-olds raced from the base of Grizzly, avoiding the steepest, most technical section of the course. But the 15- to 17-year-olds raced from the top of the course with the rest of the skiers, avoiding only the Pro Start high up in the S-Chute which, despite the hard work of many, was unusable this year.
In the afternoon of the first day, racers met at Lift, the new restaurant at the base of Snow King, for the yearly bib draw. In the order they finished in the training run, the top 16 pro men and women selected the order they would race Sunday morning.
At the completion of the bib draw, the pro division starting order was set, and racers returned to their wax benches to prepare their skis for the races.
A final course inspection began early the next morning. Racers side-slipped down from the start through the first turn, into the second and then tried to imagine how they would approach the double gate that formed a channel against the safety netting and then swing into the terrifying Style Hung.
The Style Hung is an awkward roll in the mountainside that skiers hit at high speeds while hooking across the hill, before flying blindly into an even steeper pitch below.
Racers calculated with trembling knees where the Style Hung would launch them and how they would recover to make the gate at the bottom of the slope known as the Compression Turn. Only two turns later, they would have to battle an almost 180-degree turn known as Shitzenpanzen.
From there they pictured how they would maintain their speed across the cross-mountain traverse known as Old Man Flats into the Pro Bump, which they would hit at speeds of nearly 60 mph and which would shoot them out into the air above Jackson and onto the lower section of the course.
The 2013 Town Downhill had an added feature in its 31st year. To the thrill of the crowd below, two gates after the Pro Bump and a roll in the course launched skiers in the middle of a turn sideways through the air dramatically.
Racers had to recover acrobatically to set up for the final turns.
Within earshot of the roaring crowd, racers tried to hold a tuck through a large swinging turn on the lower face of the King known as the Money Turn and then streaked into the finish.
As racers made their way to the top for the 10 a.m. start, announcers could be heard on the speakers below announcing “World Cup” conditions.
Jamie Farmer, a Jackson native racing in his fifth downhill, agreed. He said it felt like somebody had been hitting the course with a fire hose for the past week.
The quality of the course would be proven throughout the day as the ideal race conditions — hard, cold snow — remained in almost perfect shape, and the top pro-division racers posted faster times in their second afternoon runs.
Only the pro division would log two runs on Sunday. All other divisions had only one opportunity at the course.
Colby Granstrom, of Lake Stevens, Wash., won the men’s pro division, posting the fastest time of the weekend down the hair-raising course in his second run Sunday.
Granstrom finished his second run in 48.59 seconds, beating his earlier run by almost three quarters of a second. He posted a combined time of 1 minute, 37.85 seconds.
Miles Fink-Debray, of Sun Valley, Idaho, posted the second-fastest individual time of the weekend in Sunday’s second run, finishing in 49.13. Combined with the time from his first run he finished with a total time of 1:38.64.
Jackson native and ski club coach Zach Schwartz took third with a combined time of 1:41.00. Schwartz was also faster in his second run on Sunday.
Jackson native Kristen Irvine won the women’s pro division with a combined time of 1:48.44.
Ski club coach Kristin Waddle took second with a time of 1:51.51, and Summer Owens, another Jackson native and ski club developed racer, took third with a time of 2:07.51.
Granstrom, a U.S. Ski team member, called the course as “technical” and as “gnarly” as any downhill he had ever skied.
Rick Hunt, a stalwart of the Town Downhill, is happy to see high-level, out-of-town skiers competing.
For the last two years, grants from the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board have allowed race organizers to up the prize money.
Jackson Hole is one of the last places in the country to organize and support a nonsanctioned downhill race. It draws more than 200 competitors and 500 spectators.
Hunt sees outside competitors coming and winning the race as a success.
He would like to continue to develop the ski race until it attracts World Cup-level skiers from around the world.
“I would like the Town Downhill to become the ski club’s marquee event,” Hunt said. “It embodies all the best things about ski racing, and it has a long tradition in this valley.”
The Town Downhill receives its nickname the Mini-Hanhnenkamm from a downhill held in Kitzbuhel, Austria. The Austrian Hanhnenkamm is legendary for being the most terrifying downhill on the World Cup circuit.
Even with its intimidating turns and spectacular setting, comparing the Town Downhill to the Hanhnenkamm is bold. If it were not for the hard work and professionalism of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club and the passion of local racers and volunteers, the comparison might be rash.
“This race brings the whole community together,” Hunt said. “It also reminds the valley of its true identity. The entire alpine staff at the ski club makes it happen. We are truly lucky to have such an amazing race.”