Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the Audi FIS Ski World Cup have gone hand in hand for as long as the club’s alpine program director, Johno McBride, can remember.
“We love being a part of it and love helping,” McBride said. “Anything we can do above and beyond to help with the World Cup is really kind of special just to be part of it and see it and feel it.”
The club helps with many aspects of the World Cup, including putting up start tents, setting up gates, and watering the course. The kids, mostly the 16-and-older age group, will be on slip crew while the younger kids help out in other ways.
“The little guys mostly help carry the flags for the flag ceremony and help during the bib draw,” McBride said.
Thursday evening’s bib draw was particularly entertaining as AVSC kids paraded out carrying flags. Other kids followed behind wearing cowboy hats that had a bib number taped underneath, while some walked out wearing the bibs the athletes were waiting to draw. It was easy to see the enthusiasm in each of their eyes as they raised their hands hoping one of the racers would choose their hat.
The role AVSC plays in the World Cup is vital to the success of the event. Although many people volunteer their time for the World Cup, AVSC coaches have a eye out for what needs to get done because they know what they’re doing around gates and steep, icy hills.
“It’s stuff we do all the time. Most of it’s kind of old hat for us,” McBride said.
The group consists of about 250 kids, and he said just about all of them will be on the mountain for race days, whether they are cheering on the athletes or helping out on the course.
“I think for the kids, probably the most important thing that they gain from this is perspective,” he said. “They get to see what a World Cup course looks like. They get to understand how much work goes into it. They get a chance to see the best skiers in the world in person, up close and personal. They get to hear them go by at 75 miles per hour, which is a different experience than watching it on TV.”
He may be president of the AVSC Board of Directors now, but Ryan Smalls was once one of those kids lining the fences to watch the races.
“To have been one of those little kids when the World Cup came to town and to be able to dream big that one day you could be a champion of the future, it’s really special,” he said. “I have no doubt there will be a bunch of little kids lined up at the fence at the airplane turn during the races.”
Smalls is an Aspen native who grew up alpine racing for AVSC. This is his first winter as board president, though he has been on and off the board since 2002.
“We always like to think of ourselves as the best ski town in the world, and we can’t be the best town in the world without having the best skiers in the world here. So (World Cup’s) huge for the club, and it’s huge for our community,” he said.
Cheyenne Brown, a member of AVSC’s post-graduate program who works with McBride and AVSC coach Casey Puckett, was one of four forerunners for Friday’s downhill race.
“(Forerunning) has been one of the most incredible experiences, and I feel so honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I pinch myself every time I step in the gate, every time I’m anywhere near the course …. It feels so special to be here.”
Brown grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, and spent three years racing for Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. She joined AVSC’s post-graduate program this winter and raced as one of the 16 professionals in AVSC’s annual Audi Ajax Cup in December.
She described herself as a sponge when she’s around the World Cup racers because she wants to learn as much as she can in the time she spends with them. She participated in the opening ceremony Thursday night, parading out to the ice rink carrying the American flag alongside the AVSC kids.
“I remember being that age and being so starstruck by these people and in awe of how amazing they are. I remember the feeling of standing in front of Julia Mancuso and Lindsay Vonn and how special that moment was,” she said.
Attending World Cup events, especially ones in the United States, reminds Brown of her love of the sport — both now and when she was growing up. It’s also what motivates her to get better, so she can get closer to them, she said.
“Seeing your heroes ski the same slope you ski on is insane,” she said. “It gets me fired up for ski racing.”