Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey racecourse was built during the summer of 1997 in preparation for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. Designed by Olympic Downhill gold medalist Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, Birds of Prey starts west of the top of Chair #8 and finishs at the bottom of Red Tail at the confluence of Chairs #10 and #11.
The course features a vertical drop of 757 meters and contains an average gradient of 27 percent, increasing to 45 percent in the middle of the course and again in the final third of the course.
The first competition on Birds of Prey took place December 2-6, 1997, with a pair of men’s World Cup Downhill races and a men’s World Cup Super-G. The course was officially opened with a ceremonial Native American blessing, performed by tribal elder Red Ute, along with a traditional ribbon cutting.
Germany’s Stefan Krauss was the first racer down Birds of Prey in the opening day of Downhill training and Italy’s Kristian Ghedina was the first race winner, capturing the opening Downhill on December 4, with a time of 1:41.16. The remaining two races of the inaugural weekend of competition were won by Austrians Andreas Schifferer (Downhill #2) and Hermann Maier (Super-G).
During the 1999 Championships, Birds of Prey was the site of the first ever World Championships gold medal tie as Maier and Norway’s Lasse Kjus each mined gold for their Super-G efforts, with times that were identical down to the thousandth of a second. Maier’s Austrian teammate Hans Knauss finished third, a mere one-hundredth of a second off the pace.
An estimated 20,000 spectators were on hand Feburary 6 of 1999 to witness the World Championships men’s Downhill competition, the largest crowd in U.S. ski racing history. The race was won by Austria’s Hermann Maier, one of his record eight victories on Birds of Prey.
The fastest World Cup or World Championships Downhill race time ever recorded on Birds of Prey is 1:39.59, courtesy of the U.S. Ski Team’s Daron Rahlves in 2003. That win also ended a 19-year American Downhill victory drought on U.S. soil, marking the first time since Bill Johnson’s 1984 Downhill win in Aspen that an American male had stood on the top step of a World Cup Downhill podium in the United States.
History was also made on Birds of Prey in 2004 with the one-two American Downhill finish of Bode Miller and Rahlves, marking the first time that U.S. men have claimed the top two spots in a World Cup Downhill and the first time since Phil and Steve Mahre captured gold and silver medals in slalom at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo that Americans had gone one-two in any discipline.
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