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Young Ski Racers Descend Upon Crested Butte for the 34th Annual Prater Cup

Wildflowers in Crested Butte

Young Ski Racers Descend Upon Crested Butte for the 34th Annual Prater Cup

Words by CBMR Athlete, Ashley Bembenek.

This weekend young ski racers from all over Colorado will come to Crested Butte to race in the Prater Cup. The race typically brings a few things- first and foremost snow! It seems that wherever race departments set up miles of B-netting (orange safety fencing used to intercept racers if they crash), the skies open and the snow falls. Fingers-crossed, this week’s forecast looks promising for some fresh snow!

Second, the Prater Cup brings back fond memories of growing up as a ski racer. As a kid, I spent my evenings and weekends navigating around red and blue gates (aka poles) in a strange mix of equipment. I also remember getting a lot of questions from folks on the chairlift. For the sake of the young athletes coming to town, I want to clear a few things up:

Referring to downhill or speed suits, is that suit warm? Are you kidding me! No, absolutely not!

Why are you wearing those plastic things on your arms, legs, or poles? To protect themselves from impact with the gates, especially in slalom or giant slalom (GS). Shin-guards, arm-protectors, and pole guards provide little protection in a crash. Helmets and back protectors help protect athletes in the event of a crash.

Why are your skis so long? Speed skis are long, up to 220 cm, to provide a stable platform for top speeds. During the super-G, held on Friday, the top athletes may reach speeds of 65 miles per hour! Could you imagine navigating that type of speed on short and flimsy skis?!

Why are your skis so short? Slalom skis are short to help athletes navigate tight turns.

Why are you carrying an extra pair of skis? Because they’ve been tuned and waxed specifically for the race and they need to stay that way until the athlete leaves the start gate on race day.

Why do they put blue marks in the snow? Dye, and sometimes spruce boughs, are used to enhance depth perception so racers can see the snow surface more easily. Critical areas, like jump take-offs and landings, are marked the most aggressively.

For many young athletes the Prater Cup is one of their first experiences with super-G. Crested Butte’s course tests a variety of skills including air awareness and gliding which is one reason why there will be a speed training camp in the days prior to the super-G. On race day, I’d recommend finding a spot below one of the rollers to watch the racers make their way through the jump- it’s often where junior races are won and lost.

Note: Adding to the uniqueness of the Prater Cup, racers from various teams across the state strip their team allegiances and don colors of their assigned “nations.”  Conveniently occurring during the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the Prater Cup splits athletes into different nations to encourage friendship, teamwork and collaboration.  In addition to gunning for the fastest race times, each nation is awarded points on their enthusiasm and decorations; it is common to see racers sporting homemade flags and completing fun team challenges that represent their Prater Cup nation.