Travis Ganong is expected to be a medal contender in Aspen this week. PHOTO: Tom Kelly/U.S. Ski Team

Last October, the 50th season of the World Cup tour began on the Rettenbach Glacier in Sölden, Austria. This week, after competing on three continents, in two dozen countries and at 32 venues, the top 25 men and women from each discipline—downhill, Super G, giant slalom and slalom—will gather in Aspen, Colorado, for the World Cup Finals March 15-19. The speed events are up first with both the men and women's downhills scheduled for Wednesday.

For the men, Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) and Peter Fill (ITA) continue their season-long battle in the championship title run with only 31 points separating them going into the final race. In the contest for third, four men are in contention: Dominick Paris (ITA), Hannes Reichelt (AUT), Beat Feuz (SUI), and Bostjan Kline (SLO), who has four top-10 finishes in the last five speed events.

American downhiller and veteran U.S. Ski Team member Steven Nyman qualified for the Finals in Aspen, a downhill track he knows well, but is forced to sit this one out after a season-ending knee injury at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Already well into his rehab and beginning to train for next year's Winter Olympics—his fourth—Nyman spoke with POWDER about what the finals are like and who he likes in the downhill at Aspen.

Making it to World Cup Finals is both an accomplishment and a celebration. To make the start list means you're among the top 25 in the world and you were one of the most consistent racers on the World Cup circuit this season. With nearly 100 guys per discipline, it's an accomplishment to be proud of.

It's a milestone that every racer on tour wants to reach. But Finals is also a time when racers are tired. Many of them feel they've made it; the season is done and now they can relax and finish in one piece. But I always look at Finals as another opportunity.

My goal at Finals has been to take a lot of those guys by surprise and win. Ending the season on a high note is a huge motivator for me during the summer training months and carries into the next season.

For us to compete in the World Cup Finals at home in the U.S. is a rare opportunity. Aspen will only be the third time since their 1993 inception that the Finals are held in the U.S. (Vail hosted the Finals in 1994 and 1997 ). With the cancelation of the North American tour this season (lack of snow in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek), the U.S. men's team has been racing on the competition's home turf. Aspen is a venue the U.S. men have raced on regularly and will give us the advantage to perform on home snow. That's a big motivator.

Aspen has history, American Downhiller history. Bill Johnson won here, AJ Kitt won and was then robbed of his victory here, not once but twice, as a result of races being called or nullified by protests from German and French coaches. Since AJ's races, there haven’t been any World Cup downhills held on this track. But there have been several NorAms. Travis Ganong was racing NorAms at the time and knows this downhill track, so expect Travis to have a comfortable feeling in the downhill.

Right out of the start the track has a lot of gliding. You have to put a lot of energy into your start and get up to speed as fast as possible. At around 30 seconds the course picks up (speed and difficulty) as you drop into Aztec Bowl. It is a major gearshift from the top, changing from wide-open glide turns into steep, dark, rough, sharp turns.

You need to ski well on Aztec, but nail the bottom where you carry speed out of Aztec Bowl onto the cat track to the final sections of the piste approaching the next section, Strawpile jump.

Strawpile is at the end of the cat track after the Aztec Bowl. If you carry good speed off the cat track, racers can fly as much as 30-40 meters off Strawpile into the final section of the track.

After Strawpile jump, the hill shifts into a more moderate pitch with more rolls and a few smaller jumps. You again shift gears to a more calculating approach using the terrain to maximize your speed to the bottom. Look for Travis to nail the bottom of the course.

In the Super G, expect the downhillers to overtake the technical skiers. The Super G starts at the top of Aztec and should be a classic. It will be a 'run and gun' type Super G—faster and less turny. It'll be technical up top but will then straighten out where speeds will pick up the last two-thirds of the course.

US Men Speed Event Qualifiers
Travis Ganong (DH, SG)
Sam Morse (DH as Junior World Champion)
Andrew Weibrecht (SG)

Nyman's Picks for the Men's Speed Events
Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) already has the Super G title, wants to double-down with the downhill
Peter Fill (ITA) hot on Jansrud's tails and will leave nothing on the hill
Dominick Paris (ITA) this big guy will carry more gliding speed at the top
Beat Feuz (SUI) strong all-around skier, great glider and good in the technical sections
Eric Guay (CAN) excellent glider and on top of his game right now
Travis Ganong (USA) expect him to make time on the bottom and contend

Super G
Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) already has the title, but don't expect him to back off, he wants the win
Aleksander Kilde (NOR) won the title last season, strong results this year, wants a podium
Hannes Reichelt (AUT) knows how to inspect, could have an advantage on this course
Eric Guay (CAN) was very fast in speed events at World Championships, won two medals American Downhillers Weibrecht and Ganong—expect them to go hard on home snow!