Five best places to catch the U.S. Ski Team in Colorado

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If you live in Colorado and love alpine ski racing, get ready for a season of unprecedented access to the best of the best, thanks to Tuesday's grand opening of the new U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain and several key events, including two World Cup races in December.

After spending some time on the slopes with the likes of Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, and Julia Mancuso on Tuesday, we figured we'd put together a handy guide, in chronological order, to help you find them, too.

5. Copper before gold. Yesterday's grand opening at Copper Mountain marked the start of a new 20-year partnership with the U.S. Ski Team to create an early season training facility for alpine ski racing. "As you all know, we set a goal of being best in the world a number of years ago and we accomplished that in Vancouver in 2010," said Bill Marolt, president and CEO of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), in his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "In order to be a best in the world organization, we have to be able to provide best in the world support for our athletes. What you see up here on the mountain is a best in the world facility.... the training that's going on right now is unparalleled: This is the only place in the world today that we could have this kind of an operation and this kind of facility." Olympic gold medalists Picabo Street and Ted Ligety were on hand for the grand opening, and dozens of athletes -- including Bode Miller and Julie Mancuso -- were training in full swing on the slopes, which now feature a full-length downhill course as well as slalom and giant slalom courses under the Super Bee lift.

4. Ladies first. Root for Julia Mancuso and Colorado locals like Lindsey Vonn, Sarah Schleper, and Alice McKennis over Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-27 at the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Audi FIS Alpine World Cup at Aspen Mountain, the only women's World Cup event in the U.S. this season. Check out the fireworks over Aspen Mountain on Saturday, and don't miss the free Taste of Winternational both days at 11:45 a.m. for food samplings from Cloud Nine, Aspen Ski Company Catering, The Cliffhouse, Ullrhof, Sam's Smokehouse, Bumps, and the Lynn Britt Cabin. For dinner try the Bud Light Dine Around which runs from November 24-December 1, 6-9 p.m., with prix fixe menus at Ajax Tavern, BB's Kitchen, Elevation, Jimmy's, L'Hostaria, Matsuhisa, The Red Onion, Rustique, The Restaurant at the St. Regis, Syzygy, Ute City, and Zocalito. 3. The future's so bright they've gotta wear goggles. Like living it up in Aspen? Stick around for the FIS Aspen Nor-Am Cup, November 28-December 1, for a sneak peek at the next generation of up-and-coming men's and women's Downhill, Super-G and Super Combined racers as they throw down on the Winternational World Cup course. The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club is hosting, and has invited more than 100 of North America's top competitors. 2. Fly like an eagle. The Audi Birds of Prey World Cup at Beaver Creek, December 2-4, is the only men's World Cup event in the U.S. this year and your best opportunity to see World Championship gold medalist and reigning overall giant slalom champion Ted Ligety defend his title. Better yet, it's spectator friendly (and free): Beaver Creek is building a Finish Stadium to accommodate thousands of fans, and will host several events open to the public including the Eddie Bauer Mountain Jam après-ski bash on Saturday, December 3 and the racers' bib party (TBA). The Birds of Prey downhill course is on the double black diamond run Golden Eagle, and will also be hosting the World Alpine Ski Championships in 2015. Consider this a very impressive warm-up. 1. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fastest of them all? After starting its season in Colorado, The U.S. Ski Team will end it here too, with the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Winter Park, March 28-April 1. It's the second year in a row Winter Park has hosted the championships on Lower Hughes, under the Zephyr Express lift. "It's free for spectators and you'll have a great view of the finish right from our base area," says Winter Park spokeswoman Mistalynn Lee. "We'll also have an autograph session again this year, so if you're looking to meet some of your heroes this is your chance."

For more insider tips at Colorado ski areas this season, don't miss The Edge, our 2011/2012 Winter Activity Guide.

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