During the Winter Olympic Games, the prospect of glory and riches tends to hover over every turn and sprinkling of snow. What happens in early February, when the world’s eyes lock on this rarefied sport, is revealed by every result.

A group of speedhounds known as Birds of Prey raced in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains this weekend, featuring the usual collection of speedhounds considered by many sports scientists to be the best all-around winter athletes. On two fibreglass composite sticks, they hurl themselves down a nearly two-mile sheet of ice. Despite tearing a knee ligament less than a year ago, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway won two of the first three races to reassert his claim as the best of the best.

Despite his talent, Kilde is best known in these parts as the boyfriend of Mikaela Shiffrin, arguably the best female skier in the world, who could add a slew of medals at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. She is a beloved local who lives just a few ridges away from Vail. The sport’s biggest star, Shiffrin, struggled in her downhill race in Lake Louise this weekend after winning her 71st World Cup race and 46th slalom in Vermont last weekend.

Defeating Austria’s Matthias Mayer by two-thirds of a second and reading a congratulations from Shiffrin, Kilde said of his girlfriend Saturday. “We help each other.”

Seeking hints for Beijing? Kilde and Shiffrin appear to be the Games’ golden couple. NBC, the US Olympic broadcaster, adores golden couples.

It’s a miracle these races are happening this weekend. Despite some snow last month, the Colorado mountains have been mild lately, with chilly nights and mornings giving way to sunny, 50-degree afternoons. Except for a few runs, the mountains are mostly green and brown.

In order to build a suitable base and gain approval from ski federation inspectors, technicians spent weeks blowing man-made snow onto the course. Hundreds of workers with picks and shovels worked long days to maintain the narrower than usual strip of snow for the race.

“Not as much terrain as we are used to,” said Ryan Cochrane-Siegle, sixth.

ng The ski hill’s short-term elephant is games; the long-term one is climate. Ski racing requires cold temperatures and snow. Shorter winters are squeezing the start and finish of World Cup seasons and making summer training on high-altitude glaciers riskier.

The top racers wanted to start early in the schedule before the course started to break down from the sun, warm temperatures, and ski edges.

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games will be held in Yanqing District, where it will be cold, but little snow will fall, and every flake ski racers cross will be man-made. Skiers prefer it that way because man-made snow is hard, densely packed, and stable.

They are less excited about travelling to a mountainous country with an authoritarian government. The International Olympic Committee has been criticised for its embrace of China’s government, most recently in response to sexual assault allegations made against a top Communist Party leader by tennis star Peng Shuai.

“It’s a big problem,” said Kjetil Jansrud, 36, a five-time Olympic medalist from Norway. “As athletes, we are stuck.”

A day later, Jansrud was involved in a violent crash coming out of one of the course’s sweeping turns. Jansrud skied into the netting on one side of the slope as he flew out of bounds.

The American men have skied cleanly so far as they try to regain the standard set by now retired stars like Bode Miller and Ted Ligety over the past 15 years.

The most encouraging result came from Travis Ganong, a 33-year-old Californian who tore a major knee ligament a few years ago.

We needed that,” said Steve Nyman, 39, the team’s veteran who is recovering from his own injuries. “Seeing a guy on the podium gets us all going.”

The Swiss and Austrians, who usually dominate this sport, didn’t need much firipodium these past few days. Marco Odermatt, 24, of Switzerland, won the Super-G on Thursday and took second on Friday, continuing his country’s Alpine traditions.

And if it’s a Super-G this year, you can bet Meyer, one of the smaller skiers on the tour, will be skiing in his trademark upside-down U position. Meyer won the Super-G and downhill Olympic gold medals in 2014. Meyer finished second in the super-G on Thursday and led for a good half-hour on Saturday before Kilde beat him out.