GRANBY RANCH, Colo. — The final run of the 2021-22 World Pro Ski Tour, presented by Rocket Mortgage, opening race could not have been any tighter. Competing at a brand new venue in Granby Ranch, Colo. on Saturday, it was Rob Cone and Nolan Kasper in the last heat and it came down to an actual photo finish.
The defending champion of the last two WPST seasons, Cone was riding a five-race winning streak coming into Saturday’s opening race. He handily won each of his heats until he came up against Kasper in the finals.
The two burst out of the start gate in the final run, dancing around each gate in perfect synchronicity, each fighting to build speed with every turn. As they crossed the finish line, their fists reached to the ground simultaneously. Upon several slow motion reviews of the race footage, it was finally determined that Kasper took the win by .016 seconds.
“It’s an expensive hundredth, that’s all I know,” said Cone after watching Kasper take the $10,000 victory check. “Kidding aside, it’s a total drag race, as expected today. You needed to nail the start and try to get any energy you could on the course.”
Kasper, the 2018 Pro Tour overall winner and former Olympian with a World Cup slalom podium to his credit, started the day on top, leading qualifying rounds, which allowed him a bye in the first elimination heat. He said the flatter course was reminiscent of the World Cup slalom in Zagreb in which every second required a full-gas effort.
“You actually get more tired because you have to push the entire way,” Kasper said. “Gravity is not doing it, you have to. The course is a little longer than what we’re used to and flatter, so you really have to work it the whole way.”
As far as the photo finish, Cone said that he wanted to scrutinize the footage.
“I really want to see that tape. I also don’t want to see that tape. I wonder if there’s enough to overturn the ruling,” Cone joked. “It was so tight, I knew I didn’t know. It was tough. There weren’t a lot of places to find time on the hill. I felt like I was neck and neck with Nolan. He edged me out by a little bit, apparently.”
Kasper said that in spite of the tight finish, there wasn’t a question in his mind who had the final edge.
“To be honest, I knew I was ahead. Rob, I think he knew as well,” Kasper said, noting that Saturday marks his inaugural victory over Cone. “I don’t think he was around when I was winning in 2018, so it’s nice to get some redemption. He’s beaten me a few times.”
Michael Ankeny, the only other WPST racer to beat Cone over the last two seasons, ended up third on Saturday, edging Tour newbie Drew Duffy by less than a 10th of a second in the small final.
“It was fun to see someone dethrone Rob,” Ankeny said after the race, “but I’m sure he’ll be firing on all pistons tomorrow. The level of skiing is super high out here today. It’s fun to be back.”
Ankeny actually coached Duffy for a year during Duffy’s time racing for Dartmouth. Having graduated last spring, Duffy said that competing on the WPST has been a long time coming. Now living and working full-time in Denver, he’s hoping to bring Saturday’s momentum into Sunday and into the rest of the season.
“I’ve been planning on getting out here since 2017,” Duffy said, adding that other than a couple of NorAm races, World Juniors and the Stowe Duals that he raced as a J5, he hasn’t had a lot of parallel racing experience.
“My goals today, I just wanted to be quick in qualifying and start the season with a decent result,” he said. “I wish I was on the podium, but Michael and I had a tough race.”
The World Pro Ski Tour, presented by Rocket Mortgage continues Sunday with another race at Granby Ranch, where Bode Miller was onsite Saturday to announce the construction of a ski academy he’s planning to build at the small resort with a targeted opening date of 2025.
While declining to compete in the Granby Ranch Pro Tour, Miller said he has held the event in high regard since childhood and that he considers the head-to-head format “the epitome of the sport.”
Following Sunday’s race, the Tour continues in 2022 with men’s and women’s racing at Aspen Jan. 7-9, Steamboat’s Howelsen Hill Feb. 13-15 and World Championships in Taos, N.M. in the spring, dates to be announced.
Race coverage provided by Shauna Farnell of Ski Racing Media