Soelden, Austria, Oct. 27, 2000--In the heart of the Tyrolean Alps, the stronghold of the great Austrian alpine ski team, the FIS Café de Colombia begins Saturday (Oct. 29) with defending giant slalom World Cup champion Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria and runner-up Sonja Nef of Switzerland facing off in an early-season race which can easily produce surprises. Four U.S. women will be in the starting lineup.
The early-season glacier races were begun by the International Ski Federation in the early 90's to create pre-season excitement for the sport. After years of juggling between glaciers in Austria, Switzerland and France, the FIS calendar is likely to stick with Soelden, where the previous races on the Rettenbach Glacier have produced some of the most exciting races and spectator interest of the season.
The village of Soelden lies at the end of a narrow valley, the Oetztal, about an hour southwest of Innsbruck. And while Soelden lies at a comfortable 4,500 feet above sea level, skiers will start at exactly 10,000 feet above sea level - one of the highest starting points on the World Cup!
Weather in the valley has been warm, but turned cool on Friday with temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit in town but around freezingand between cloud layers on the glacier course.
The men trained on what is known as the 'Icebox' run Friday, while the woman had a chance to free ski (without gates) on the glacier racecourse in advance of Saturday's giant slalom. The men race on Sunday.
While cloudy skies have dominated the days leading to the race, clear skies are likely over the weekend.
Course conditions are expected to be quite good for the woman's race, with officials hoping for colder temperatures to harden the course forSunday's men's race.
Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) will be the first U.S. skier out of the gate. Koznick, who is training on her own outside of the U.S. Ski Teamprogram, will start 18th. U.S. Ski Team racer Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) will start 27th. Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), who lastyear scored World Cup points in each of five disciplines, will start 43rd. Alex Shaffer (Park City, UT), returning from a knee injury last year,was confirmed as a starter just a few days prior to the race and will start 52nd in the field of 70.
Start time is set for 9:45 a.m. Middle European Time (3:45 a.m. EDT) for the first run, with the deciding second run of giant slalom at 12:30p.m. (6:30 a.m. EDT).