VAIL, Colo. — It's all downhill at the World Alpine Ski Championships for the rest of this week.
Competitors from every major skiing nation in the world--and some not so major--made their first official training runs down the high-speed courses at Vail and Beaver Creek Tuesday, and as usual, it was difficult to tell which racers were going all out and which were just trying to get the feel of the best line, or applying the brakes at the bottom to sandbag their times.
However, Pam Fletcher of the U.S. ski team, who obviously likes the course on Vail Mountain, showed that she will be a threat in the regular women's downhill Sunday when she posted the second fastest time in the afternoon, after being eighth in the morning.
Fletcher, who turned 26 Monday, won a World Cup downhill here in 1986 and finished third in '87. She broke her right leg in a collision with a course worker just before the '88 Olympic downhill at Calgary and has been slow in regaining her form.
However, she said Tuesday: "I'm skiing the best I can right now. The knee isn't perfect, but it's not really bothering me either. I'll just give it all I've got."
The men's course at Beaver Creek drew conflicting comments from the Swiss skiers who finished 1-2 at Calgary. Peter Mueller, the silver medalist, said that the organizers had taken out too many bumps since last March's World Cup race and claimed, "It's too easy now."
But Pirmin Zurbriggen, the Olympic gold medalist, disagreed, saying, "It's good, I like it. They took the bumps out of the flats, but there are still plenty of other jumps."
Zurbriggen hopes to be able to ski faster than his main rival, Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, in the men's combined downhill Friday and take the combined medal, although Girardelli holds a comfortable lead after Monday's combined slalom. Girardelli was third in the slalom and Zurbriggen 11th, but the difference in their times was only .78 of a second, not an insurmountable margin under the complicated scoring system used to determine combined placings.
The two will also be among the favorites in the regular men's downhill Saturday.
In the women's combined event, which will wind up with the combined downhill Thursday, Vreni Schneider of Switzerland, who has been nearly invincible in World Cup technical events so far this winter, will be trying to hold off the challenge of America's Tamara McKinney.
They were 1-2 in the combined slalom, separated by just .12 of a second, and were relatively close to each other in Tuesday's downhill practice times.
Downhill training will continue today for both men and women.
A huge turnout of spectators is expected to make the trip through the Eisenhower Tunnel and over Vail Pass from Denver for the two regular downhill races this weekend.
Then, the schedule calls for the women's slalom Monday, the men's super-G Tuesday, the women's super-G next Wednesday and the men's giant slalom next Thursday, followed by an open day. The women's giant slalom and the men's slalom are set for the final weekend, Feb. 11-12.
The organizing committee announced Tuesday that no safety violations were involved Monday in the accidental death of the Duke of Cadiz, Alfonso de Borbon of Spain.
However, Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson refused to support or refute those contentions until he completes his investigation of the accident. Johnson said that the investigation would take about one month.
The duke, 52, a first cousin of King Juan Carlos of Spain and an official of the International Skiing Federation (FIS), was killed when he skied into cables supporting the finish banner at the bottom of the men's downhill course at Beaver Creek.