It's here. The weekend that Mt. Washington Valley residents and visitors have been talking about since the announcement was made last summer: the $40,000 Volvo Cup, a World Pro Skiing event, at Mt. Cranmore from February 10 to 12 .
The best pro racers in the world will descend on the area that first introduced modern skiing to America for three days of hard racing, producing the fastest times clocked in the world.
Top among the competitors will be Kearsarge, N.H., residents and former Olympians Tyler and Terry Palmer who return for the first time in over a decade to the mountain where they first learned to race and ski. Both the brothers, whose home is a short two miles from the start of the course, are having outstanding seasons. Tyler, the top American on the tour for the last two years, has already scored one slalom victory at the English Leather Cup in Stowe, Vermont, and is looking to Cranmore to pick up some needed points in the hotly contested battle for first in the World Pro Skiing standing, a position left vacant when the phenomenal Frenchman, Henri Duvillard, retired last winter.
Terry is off to one of the best starts of his career. In the first four events of the season, he was able to string enough quarter-final and semi-final finishes together to earn himself a tie for fifth in the overall. He commented on the race, "It's been a long time since I've raced with so many of my friend and family watching - since my amateur days on the US Ski Team, but I've got to try to treat this like any other race or I may psyche myself right out of a chance to win."
Also listed among the racers is Dave Currier of Madison, N.H., who retired after five years on the US Ski Team to join the World Pro Skiing tour this season. In his rookie debut, Dave was third in the downhill at the $80,000 Budweiser Cup in Aspen, Colorado. Unlike the Palmers, his former US Ski Teammates and Olympians, Dave has continues to race at Mt. Cranmore, which might just give him the slight edge or "home course" advantage.
Sixty-five pros who travel the World Pro Skiing circuit are expected to compete in one or all three phases of the competition. They include Josef Odermatt of Switzerland, the presumed heir apparent to Duvillard's crown, who is presently in a fierce contest with rookies, Ander Arnold of Austria, and Jim Hunter from Canada, for the number one spot in the standings. Also expected to compete are Hank Kashiwa from Colorado, the 1975 champ; Perry Thompson, California, fourth overall last year and second only to Tyler's third among the Americans' Werner Beiner, Austria; Manfred Jakober, Switzerland; Otto Tschudi, Norway; and Ken Corrock of Idaho.
The $40,000 Volvo Cup is the seventh race in a series of 13 with a total prize purse in excess of a half million dollars. Each event, like the Volvo, is a three-day competition sanctioned by the International Ski Racers Association (ISRA) and comprised of two of skiing's three events: slalom, giant slalom, and downhill. The downhill was added only this year and has so far met with great success.
Qualifying and preliminary events are run on the first day. On Friday, February 10, the activities start with a Pro Challenge at 10 a.m. Any racer who pays an entry fee of $50 is eligible to enter this round of competition. Participants whose times fall within 5% of the best pro's time then advance to the qualifying round, at 10:30 a.m., the outcome of which will determine which 32 of the 65 racers on the tour will be entered in the slalom and giant slalom on Saturday and Sunday. Regardless of an individual's place in the standing, all racers must first qualify on Friday.
The top four overall racers and best two Valley residents at the end of the Mt. Washington Valley Pro Spree, a four-race series held at four of the Valley's ski areas in January, earned free entry to the Pro Challenge. They were Kurt Belson of Pico Peak, Vermont; Gary Higly, West Mt., New York; Stuart Bownes, Waterville Valley; and Wayne Wright, of Mt. Snow, Vermont. Sheldon Perry of Wildcat, who tied for fourth, and Jeff Lathrop of Attitash will be representing the Valley.
A Pro-Am, the "Race to Beat Cancer," will be run in the afternoon, starting at 2 p.m. Close to 100 racers are already signed up to participate in the race, which should net close to $10,000 for the New Hampshire division of the American Cancer Society.
On both Saturday and Sunday, the highest ranking 16 racers from the field of 32 are seeded on the single elimination ladder. Other names are drawn by lot and placed in the remaining slots. The tournament is now exclusively match racing. In each match, two runs are made, with the racers trading courses after their first dual.
Although the racers compete head-to-head in the dual slalom format, it is the clock that signals who wins. Omega Sports Timing computes the elapsed time difference between the two racers as they cross the finish line, and the winner is determined by the overall time differential after two runs. He then advances to the next round.
The Saturday GS and Sunday slalom are run as separate races, each with its own $20,000 purse. The breakdown is as follows: first, $5,400; second, $3,000; third, $2,200; fourth, $1,400; 5-8th, $800; 9-16th, $333; and 17-32nd, $133.
The Volvo Cup marks the first time a World Pro Skiing event has been held in the state of New Hampshire. It likewise solidifies the mutual interest and investment that Volvo of America has made in the Mt. Washington Valley. Referring to the $175,000 Volvo International Tennis Tournament, which is held in North Conway in August, Bjorn Allstrom, President of Volvo of America, explained, "For a number of years now, our company has sponsored professional tennis, which has been an excellent medium for exposure of the Volvo name. When Volvo entered the recreational products field a couple of years ago and began marketing cross country ski equipment, ski boots, and ice hockey gear, it was only logical that we look for a winter activity to support."
And that's this weekend, February 10-12, at Mt. Cranmore--the three days in winter when World Pro Skiing and Volvo and the Valley combine for a thrilling and spectacular sporting event.