Skiing's annual Turkey Trot--the race between Mother Nature and skiers eager to open the season by Thanksgiving--went down to the wire.
At best, it was a dead heat, with just enough snow, both natural and man-made, for (a) the start of the World Cup season in Europe and (b) recreational skiing in the States.
Sestriere, Italy, is the site of the first World Cup meet. Teams from 17 nations started Thursday and will continue through Sunday, beginning a four-month odyssey that will take them around the Alps; across the Atlantic Ocean to Calgary, Canada, for the Winter Olympics Feb. 13-28; down to Colorado, then back across the Atlantic for the finals at Saalbach, Austria in late March.
Once again the Swiss, led by defending overall champions Pirmin Zurbriggen and Maria Walliser, are favored to dominate the tour.
The U.S. team, as usual, is depending primarily on the women for points, and the big question mark is the condition of Tamara McKinney's left leg. The former World Cup champion suffered a hairline fracture earlier this month while training at Copper Mountain, Colo., and will be off skis until Dec. 15. If all goes well, she should resume racing Jan. 5 in a giant slalom at Megeve, France, a team spokesman said Wednesday.
The schedule at Sestriere, which got about a foot of snow early this week to go with its man-made base, calls for the men's slalom today, the women's super-G Saturday and the men's giant slalom Sunday. The women are also supposed to race in a slalom Monday at Courmayeur, Italy.
The first two races at Sestriere will be shown on ESPN at 12:30 p.m., PST, Sunday.
Closer to home, the U.S. Men's Pro Ski Tour and Women's Pro Ski Racing began Thursday and continue through Sunday at Park City, Utah. The resort isn't open for public skiing yet, but it has made enough snow to cover the PayDay run for both slaloms and giant slaloms.
Locally, Goldmine and Snow Summit opened on a limited basis, and Snow Valley is shooting for a Saturday opening.
Cold nighttime temperatures have enabled all three ski areas to make enough snow to get the ball rolling for the 1987-88 season. Goldmine will run three chairlifts, Snow Summit will fire up either one or two, and Snow Valley will have its two beginner hills ready for business.
Mammoth Mountain, which has been open since Nov. 6, reported 17 inches of snow Wednesday, with some obstacles showing. Dave McCoy's crew has 12 lifts going daily and will put eight more, plus four at neighboring June Mountain, now open. The only other High Sierra resorts currently in operation are Kirkwood and Boreal, although three more plan to offer at least very limited skiing by sometime this weekend--Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows today and Heavenly Valley Saturday.
At the moment, Brian Head, in southern Utah, has some of the best skiing in the West, with a 40-inch snowpack. Elk Meadows and Mt. Holly aren't far behind with about 36 inches each. Snowbird is hoping to open today, but a spokesman said Wednesday that it needed another foot of snow from a storm then in progress.
In Colorado, most of the major resorts will had at least a portion of their runs ready, and this includes Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands, Vail and Beaver Creek, Steamboat, Winter Park, Crested Butte, Loveland, Monarch, Purgatory, Telluride, Timberline and the Summit County triangle of Keystone, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge.
Mt. Bachelor, near Bend, Ore., is also off to its usual early start. And Sun Valley, Ida., launched its 52nd season this weekend with skiing on Lower Warm Springs, which is covered by an 18-inch combination of natural and man-made snow.