For the next 2 weeks, the eyes of the world--well, much of Europe, at least--will be on Vail, Colo., where they'll be deciding ski racing's champions for the next 2 years.
The biennial event, called the World Alpine Ski Championships, is usually held in the Alps, but this time, the United States is playing the role of host, and Americans will have the Swiss, Austrians, Italians, French, West Germans, Luxembourger (there's just one), etc., right where we've always said we wanted them--in our own backyard.
Last time this happened was when the championships were held at Aspen, Colo., 39 years ago, which was before even Bob Beattie was involved in skiing.
Unfortunately, the home-slope advantage will probably not be translated into more than one or two medals for the U.S. Ski Team. Tamara McKinney has almost regained her 1983 World Cup championship form in the slalom and could also score in the women's combined, and Felix McGrath has an outside chance in the corresponding men's events.
Most of the headlines figure to go to the Europeans, including:
--Vreni Schneider of Switzerland, double Olympic gold medalist at Calgary last year in the women's slalom and giant slalom, who has tied the World Cup record with 11 victories this season.
--Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, the current men's World Cup leader, who is a threat in every race, as well as the combined.
--Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland, Girardelli's main all-around rival, who won the men's downhill at Calgary.
--Alberto Tomba of Italy, 1988 Olympic champion in the men's slalom and giant slalom, who has a chance to make up for a thus-far disappointing winter, which followed a summer and fall of \o7 la dolce vita\f7 .
--Michela Figini and Maria Walliser, the Swiss 1-2 women's downhill punch, although sometimes they feel like punching each other.
Other likely medal contenders include Helmut Hoeflehner, Rudolf Nierlich, Hubert Strolz, Ulrike Maier, Anita Wachter and Sigrid Wolf of Austria; Markus Wasmeier, Armin Bittner, Michaela Gerg and Regine Moesenlechner of West Germany; Carole Merle of France, and Mateja Svet of Yugoslavia.
The action starts Sunday with the women's combined slalom, which will be shown on ESPN at 2:30 p.m., PST, following Beattie's "Ski World" at 2. The men's combined slalom is set for Monday, and then the racers will train for the downhills, which get under way next Thursday. Both ESPN and ABC will offer extensive coverage of the championships, which continue at both Vail and nearby Beaver Creek through Feb. 12.
The sport of skiing lost one of its great pioneers when Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, died last week of pneumonia at the age of 75.
There will be freestyle skiing activity this weekend at both Bear Mountain, where Powder magazine's Legends of Freestyle Challenge will be held Sunday, and at Breckenridge, Colo. site of a World Cup meet Friday through Sunday. . . . Also scheduled this weekend are the U.S. Nordic Combined and U.S. Ski Jumping Championships at Lake Placid, N.Y. . . . The U.S. Pro Tour stops at Mt. Snow, Vt., this weekend, then goes to Loon Mountain, N.H., Feb. 2-5. There's a 3-way battle for the lead among Niklas Lindqvist and Jorgen Sundqvist of Sweden, with 200 points apiece, and Phil Mahre, who has 195.
Ski VI, also known as the Steve Kanaly Celebrity Ski Invitational, will attract about 70 movie and television stars to Bear Mountain Feb. 11-12 for a weekend of racing to benefit the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Last year's event brought in more than $150,000, according to Steve Kanaly, who is on the TV series, "Dallas." More information can be obtained by calling the March of Dimes at (818) 956-8565.
Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) will defend his championship in the Legislators' Cup race Friday at Sierra Ski Ranch, near South Lake Tahoe, against other skiing members of the California and Nevada legislatures. The race will start at 1 p.m. . . . Snow Summit will play host to the Vuarnet Vertical Airshow, featuring snowboard champion Bert LaMar, on Feb. 18. . . . The 4-day Skimeister Centennial Championships for Nordic skiers will be held at Sun Valley, Ida., starting next Thursday.