After successful World Cup Finals, ski icons say Aspen should lobby for March races
March 21, 2017
The widely acclaimed success of hosting the World Cup Finals has spurred skiing enthusiasts to think big about Aspen's future.
Race proponents both inside and outside of Aspen Skiing Co. believe the time is ripe on the heels of the finals to lobby for an expanded, regular spot on the World Cup calendar.
"We have to take the momentum and run with it," said Bill Marolt, an Aspen native and former president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
He was in Aspen for the event and said his hometown did itself proud, both with on-mountain race preparations and off-slope events.
“I think there has to be a plan going forward to host something in March.” — Bill Marolt
"It was a home-run event," agreed skiing icon Bob Beattie of Woody Creek, who led the U.S. Ski Team to Olympic glory in the 1960s and co-founded the World Cup circuit 50 years ago.
The two men had similar thoughts on what they would like to see occur in Aspen in the future.
In recent years, Aspen has filled a hole in the early season. It has hosted women's technical events in November for eight out of the past 10 years, but it hadn't hosted a women's downhill race since 2007, and it hadn't hosted a men's event of any type since 2001. The last men's downhill was 1995.
Hosting a race in November has worked well, Marolt said, but based on sentiments expressed in Aspen during the finals, the passion and interest is for speed as well technical races, and for racers of both genders.
"I think there has to be a plan going forward to host something in March," Marolt said.
He believes Aspen needs to sit with three or so other resorts and come up with a rotation for hosting the World Cup Finals, one of the prestige events in alpine ski racing.
The World Cup Finals are highly sought after and the sport has international appeal, so it has to be shared among resorts, he said. On the other hand, European resorts have faced an increasingly difficult time in a warming planet to host big ski events late in the season. Despite unseasonably warm temperatures throughout this year's races in Aspen, the course held up well, according to FIS officials and racers.
Marolt envisions Aspen hosting the finals at a regular interval every three or four years, and serving as a regular host for World Cup races in the off years.
"I think the possibility of an early-season race is always there," Marolt said.
Beattie believes Aspen needs to lobby the U.S. Ski Team and FIS for a unique event that brings men and women racers together in town for speed and technical events, even if it is separate from the finals.
"I'd like to see a major event on the same weekend every year," Beattie said. "I want it to be the Kitzbuhel of the U.S."
The Austrian resort is most famous for its downhill races on the Hahnenkamm course.
Beattie's preference is to see Aspen host races in March.
Aspen used to regularly host World Cup races in March in the 1970s, '80 and '90s. But getting them back in the spring presents challenges. The men and women typically come to North America in the early season. Beaver Creek has hosted the men for speed events since the late 1990s. Women have typically visited Lake Louise in Canada for speed events and Aspen for technical events early in the season.
Some observers have speculated that Aspen's best option might be to go after men and women's technical events while the men are visiting Beaver Creek for the speed events.
But John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and special events, is thinking bigger. He wants men and women's races, and he has strong thoughts on the right time of year. He said it is tough to "put on a real show" in November. Some people don't want to travel for events other than family gatherings around Thanksgiving. He's advocating for Aspen to host races in the spring.
"This is the right time to do something," Rigney said. "You want to put on something on a global scale that reaches a lot of people. This is the time of year.
"Seeing the races here in March makes me wonder if they can't figure out if they can make it happen here like they used to."
Another hurdle for Aspen is the FIS's insistence that Lift 1A and the surrounding base be upgraded and some mountain facilities be improved. FIS Secretary-General Sarah Lewis said Sunday the World Cup organizers want to return to Aspen, but technical requirements must be met before any races will be scheduled again.
That issue will take some time to play out. Meanwhile, several racers expressed interest in returning to Aspen.
Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who won his record sixth overall title, said he had the pleasure of racing on Aspen Mountain previously in NorAm competitions early in the season. Now he experienced the mountain in spring conditions.
"So I don't think it matters when we're showing up here. They're great races," he said.