The International Ski Federation (FIS) awarded Aspen the 2017 World Cup Finals for the top men and women ski racers, Aspen Skiing Co. officials said Thursday.
The decision was announced in Barcelona, Spain, at the annual FIS Congress, said John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and events. He attended the Congress with another member of his team.
“This is big news for the entire Aspen community,” Rigney said via telephone from Barcelona, where he was celebrating Thursday. “We’ve been working on it for the better part of a year.”
Aspen competed against a resort in Andorra and Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in the bidding.
It will be the first time that Aspen has hosted a World Cup men’s event since 2001. Aspen Mountain has hosted women’s technical events for several winters, though not in 2013-14. The World Cup Finals is the biggest ski race event Aspen has hosted since the World Alpine Championships in February 1950 put the resort on the international ski map. Aspen has historically dubbed its World Cup races Winternational.
The 2017 World Cup Finals will be held on Aspen Mountain March 13-20. It will feature the downhill, Super G, giant slalom and slalom for men and women as well as a combined team event.
“All events will be on Aspen Mountain,” Rigney said. Training will likely be spread among the four Skico ski areas.
For the finals, only the 30 top men and women in season point standings compete. So, Aspen won’t host the entire ski teams of international racers, but it will host the best of the best, Rigney said.
The globes that are awarded to the top scorer in points in each individual discipline will be presented after the finals. In some cases, the crown comes down to the final race.
The 2017 event is the first World Cup Finals to be hosted outside of Europe since 1997, when Vail played host.
Vail and Beaver Creek will host the 2015 World Championships, an event just one step below the Olympics in stature in ski racing.
An article by the publication Ski Racing in October said the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) approached Aspen and a handful of other U.S. resorts in 2012 about the possibility of bidding for the 2017 World Cup Finals. Beaver Creek didn’t want to bid because the finals come at such a busy time — right when spring break crowds are typically inundating ski resorts, the article said.
Rigney said Skico approached the Aspen and Snowmass Village lodging communities to gauge their interest in providing rooms at such a busy time.
“Aspen-Snowmass properties were excited about the opportunity,” he said. That enthusiasm cemented Skico’s resolve to place a bid. A pitch was made to the FIS at its fall meeting in October.
USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt was instrumental in helping Aspen land the event, according to Rigney.
He wasn’t comfortable estimating yet how many racers, coaches and support staff will attend the event. Unlike a typical World Cup event where all members of a national team participate, the finals feature only the 30 best skiers in the point standings of each discipline. However, the media interest from Europe will be immense, Rigney said, especially if some titles are yet to be determined that late in the season.
“The races will go off in prime time in Europe,” Rigney said. “It’s a bright spotlight. It has huge implications.”
He said there will be 15-plus hours of international television coverage.
The event will also be an on-site spectator’s dream. Since there are only 30 racers per event, more than one event will be held on some days. The schedule wasn’t immediately available. However, speed events will be at the front end of the eight days and technical events will be toward the end, according to Rigney. Ski racing fans will love the event, he said.
“I think ski racing is so near and dear to so many in Aspen-Snowmass. It was worth taking a crack at it,” Rigney said.
Ski Racing reported in October that hosting the event would require Aspen to “update safety systems to accommodate modern downhill and super G.”
USSA officials have referred to Aspen Mountain as an outstanding hill capable of hosting all four events.
When Aspen hosted a men’s World Cup ski race in 2001, there were two slalom races. Skico’s website indicates that 1994 was the last time Aspen Mountain was the scene for men’s downhill races. It held two that year, one being a make-up for an earlier race canceled in Germany.
In 1995, there was a major controversy when the FIS halted a men’s super G race with American A.J. Kitt in the lead, and canceled the downhill. The FIS jury initially awarded the victory to Kitt but revoked the award three days later after other countries protested.
That fractured relations between the international ski racing organizers and Skico for the next few years. The men returned in 1998 and again in 2001. Women’s races have been held consistently, though not every season, since 2002.
However, the World Cup Finals return Aspen to a higher status among host resorts.
“It’s a unique opportunity to bring the very best of the world here,” Rigney said. Aspen’s successful record of hosting World Cup races likely convinced the FIS to award the town the finals, he added.
“This is an incredible coup, and a testament to the passion and capabilities of hundreds of staff and volunteers who have dedicated so many years to supporting Aspen’s Winternational event, Rigney said.
(This story has been updated from earlier Thursday.)
“I think ski racing is so near and dear to so many in Aspen-Snowmass. It was worth taking a crack at it.”
John Rigney, Aspen Skiing Co.