BEAVER CREEK — The new Beaver Creek downhill course features a gliding section near the start for a skier to drop into a tuck and build speed.
There are technical turns in the middle, followed by a steep part — maybe the steepest on the World Cup circuit — and then a giant jump at the finish.
An ideal course for Lindsey Vonn — if she were here, of course.
The four-time overall World Cup champion was supposed to make her return this week from a serious right knee injury she suffered in a crash last February. But after hurting her knee again in a training mishap last week, Vonn will sit out to rest and rehab because everything she does is with an eye toward the Sochi Games, which are less than three months away.
Her fellow competitors spent the morning learning the nuances of a challenging course called “Raptor” in downhill training on Tuesday, with Lara Gut of Switzerland posting the fastest time of 1 minute, 43.42 seconds.
No Vonn now, but there is a chance she could be in the starting gate on Dec. 6 in Lake Louise, Alberta, a venue that’s treated her so well that it’s playfully dubbed “Lake Lindsey.”
At least, U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser remains hopeful that Vonn’s ailing right knee will be ready for a return to racing in time for Lake Louise.
“It’s all going to be determined on how her knee feels,” Hoedlmoser said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s up to her. She’s the only one who knows how her knee feels.”
Hoedlmoser was there the day of Vonn’s crash at the speed center in Copper Mountain last Tuesday, when she tumbled going from sunshine into the shade on a tricky part of the hill.
Vonn partially tore one of the reconstructed ligaments in her surgically repaired knee. The reigning Olympic downhill champion will continue to go through therapy on her knee and hasn’t ruled out Lake Louise.
Her good friend and rival, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, visited with Vonn the other day just to lift her spirits. She fully expects to see Vonn back sooner rather than later.
“She’s of course sad she can’t be here,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who turned in the eighth-fastest training time on Tuesday, 1.01 seconds behind Gut. “But she was positive because she’s not out for the season and that she maybe can come back next week already. If anybody is strong enough in the head, it’s her.”
This new course — the site of the 2015 world championships — appears well suited for Vonn given all the terrain changes. Here’s some of the feedback on the hill from the fastest skiers on the circuit:
— “It’s quick. A lot of switches are quick and a lot of technical turns — intimidating sections. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s pretty awesome,” American Julia Mancuso said.
— “It’s really cool. But it’s one of the hardest,” said Austria’s Anna Fenninger, who had the second-best overall time.
— “It’s one of the most difficult downhills in the World Cup. I love it. It’s great,” Hoefl-Riesch said.
— “Every downhill in the world should be like that,” Gut said.
And yet the reigning World Cup downhill champion wasn’t around to enjoy it.
“I feel really sorry what happened to her,” said Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who captured the overall crown last season by accumulating a record 2,414 points. “We all wish her all the best. You want healthy competitors.”
Especially one with the instant name recognition of Vonn, who just so happens to be dating golfer Tiger Woods as well. She was way ahead of schedule from the torn ACL she suffered during a high-speed crash at the world championships last February before wiping out again.
“Lindsey for sure is very important for Alpine skiing,” said Atle Skaardal, the women’s race director for the International Ski Federation (FIS). “That’s very tough for everybody. These things happen. It’s difficult to avoid. It’s a sport where we have speed involved and, unfortunately, accidents happen even though we have a lot of different projects running to make the sport as safe as possible. Something can always happen.”
The timetable for Vonn’s return is completely up to her, Hoedlmoser said. There’s no rush for a return even with Sochi rapidly approaching.
“Even if it comes down to that she’s not going to be able to do much racing before (the Olympics), we’re for sure going to bring her to do training runs (in Sochi) and then decide from there,” Hoedlmoser said.
Possible for Vonn not to ski all season and still compete at a high level in Sochi?
“Yes,” Hoedlmoser said. “Because she’s the best in the world.”