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Skiing / Bob Lochner : World Cup Lacks a Bit of Luster This Season

This is kind of an off-year in Alpine ski racing. There are no Olympics, no World Championships--just the same old World Cup circuit, which will get under way with a men’s slalom Sunday at Courmayeur, Italy.

Perhaps, it’s just as well for the men on the U.S. ski team that nothing out of the ordinary is scheduled. For the second winter in a row, there seems to be little promise of anyone consistently finishing in the top 10, let alone winning a race.

The void left by the retirement of Phil and Steve Mahre is bigger than ever in the slalom and giant slalom, and neither Bill Johnson, 25, nor Doug Lewis, 21, has proven that he can perform at his peak in the downhill for a full season.

So, once more, the United States must look to its women for the good news.

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Tamara McKinney, 23, the overall World Cup champion in 1982-83, is back. So are Debbie Armstrong, 21, the 1984 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist; Diann Roffe, 18, and Eva Twardokens, 20, who finished 1-3 in the giant slalom at the World Championships last February. Downhill specialist Holly Flanders, 27, who is still capable of placing in the top 10 on a regular basis, has also returned.

The Swiss, who will play host to the 1987 World Alpine Championships at Crans-Montana, are again the team to beat in 1985-86. They won the Nations’ Cup by wide margins in both the men’s and women’s competition last season. Michela Figini, 19, is back to defend her women’s overall World Cup, and Pirmin Zurbriggen, 22, is hopeful of improving on his second-place finish in the men’s standings.

To do so, Zurbriggen will have to figure a way to score more points than defending men’s champion Marc Girardelli, 22, the Austrian who races for Luxembourg. Girardelli, who must again contend with Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, 29, in the technical events will also try to add to his total by entering several downhills.

From Courmayeur, the men will go to Val d’Isere, France, for a downhill and a super giant slalom Dec. 7-8. The women, meanwhile, will open their version of the four-month “White Circus” with a downhill and a slalom at Sansicario and Sestriere, Italy, Dec. 6-7.

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The only California race on the schedule this season is a men’s slalom at Heavenly Valley March 11. The finals, for both men and women, will be held March 21-23 at Bromont, in Eastern Canada.

Bill Johnson, the Malibu resident who slipped badly last season after winning the Olympic downhill gold medal in 1984, has rejoined the U.S. ski team after settling a financial dispute.

An attempt to form a professional downhill circuit produced little sponsorship interest last summer, so Johnson has rediscovered the age-old truth that the only way to make big money in ski racing is as an “amateur.” Now, all he has to do is regain his Sarajevo form to start cashing in again.

Only three Southland ski areas--Mt. Waterman, Mountain High and Snow Summit--were operating early this week, on 8 to 24 inches of snow. The others need another storm and/or colder temperatures to make more powder.

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Nearly all High Sierra resorts however, should be open for the long Thanksgiving weekend, with base depths ranging from 18 to 72 inches. Mammoth Mountain, for example, reported 54 inches, June Mountain 40 to 46 inches. On the Western slope of the Central Sierra, Yosemite’s Badger Pass had 30 inches, and Sierra Summit had 30 to 36 inches.

All of the remaining resorts in Ski Country USA--also known as Colorado--should be open by today, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, Crested Butte and Telluride.

Vail, site of the 1989 World Alpine Championships, has four new quad chairlifts ready to go as part of its $40-million expansion project.

Aspen, not to be completely upstaged, also has two new quads.

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Utah also has plenty of snow and because of the early start to its season is hopeful of boosting last winter’s record of 2.52-million skier-days by about 5%, according to Danny Richardson, president of Utah Ski, Inc.

“It looks very good,” he said from Salt Lake City. “The demand for reservations over Thanksgiving is the strongest it’s been for several years.”

Snowbird, Alta, Park City and Brighton all opened last weekend, and the rest should be humming by today.


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