Aspen remains a definite maybe for extra World Cup races
November 26, 2006
Wondering if the world’s fastest women are coming back to Aspen next week? Check back Wednesday.That was the message Sunday night from International Ski Federation women’s race director Atle Skaardal after the conclusion of this year’s Winternational World Cup races on Aspen Mountain.Skaardal hoped to make an announcement Sunday regarding whether one of the canceled women’s races in St. Moritz, Switzerland (Dec. 9-10) would move to either Aspen or Beaver Creek next week. That decision has been delayed until Wednesday because officials in Val d’Isere, France, still are hoping to host a men’s downhill and super combined the same two days.There’s a strong possibility a lack of snow will force the cancellation of those races, and either Aspen or Beaver Creek could host a super combined for both men and women. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has been in serious discussions with the FIS about picking up some of the missed races, but was unable to guarantee anything as early as Sunday with the Val d’Isere races still in question. To secure a corporate sponsor and finance a World Cup event on such short notice, it’s much easier if one venue hosts both the men and women, Skaardal said.”It’s a huge job for a ski federation to take over races on such short notice and USSA has done a great job until now,” Skaardal said. “We, from FIS, really appreciate that, but they need some more time which is very easy to understand.”
Three months of preparation went into pulling off this past weekend’s races, and the prospect of hosting another World Cup event – on as little as a week’s notice – would be a huge undertaking, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said.It’s also a great opportunity.”We’ll do everything we can to pull it off,” Hanle said. “If everything falls into place, our team is ready to go. We will need huge support from the community. We’ll have a lot of people to house and shuffle and feed, and we’ll need a lot of volunteers to get back out there. Certainly it’s a little daunting to be able to pull something off like that this quickly but if everything works out with FIS and USSA, we’re on board to give it a shot.”The proposed makeup races would occur between Dec. 7 and 9.Skaardal said the scenario of hosting a joint women’s and men’s super combined in the United States makes the most sense. There are only three super combined races apiece on the men’s and women’s calendars, and Aspen and Beaver Creek both have ideal courses for the discipline, which pairs a super G with a slalom. There also will be an inaugural World Cup globe awarded to the male and female winner of the discipline title, which is why the races have such a high priority. The missed downhill races could be made up later in the season in Europe, Skaardal said. Skaardal called the situation there “critical”. The opening World Cup races on the glacier above Soelden, Austria, were canceled because of warm weather and rain; the situation in Val d’Isere looks grim.
The women are expected to race in Val d’Isere the week after the men. The next stop on the women’s tour is Dec. 1-3 at Lake Louise, Alberta.”It’s a very small chance that [Val d’Isere] can make it, but they still think it’s possible, that’s why they like to wait until Wednesday before they take this decision,” Skaardal said. “In some spots it’s almost green, and in some others it’s close to finished. I would say [the course] is about 60 percent finished. The men’s course would need a lot of work still, but as I said, they still think it’s possible. That’s why they’re waiting.”The likelihood of USSA picking up races hinges on whether it can get both men and women at the same venue and whether it’s able to secure an international sponsor to pick up most of the costs, including prize money. Annette Royle, USSA’s vice president of events, said one of the primary ways to secure sponsorship is television coverage, and with a race being scheduled so quickly, it’s likely such an event wouldn’t be televised domestically. It would be televised live in Europe, however, which provides incentive for European sponsors.”We have contacted those partners that we have relationships with and we hope that within the next day or two we’ll get a firm offer from someone,” she said. “We’re seriously working it, trying to make it happen. It’s a great opportunity to have another home-town event to race at home and have our hometown kids here and have another speed race.”As to the financial benefit for the Skico, Hanle said it’s hard to place a dollar amount on the marketing value of hosting World Cup races. With the snow situation as bad as it is on the other side of the Atlantic right now, the chance to host another race – and have it broadcast live in Europe – might convince more Europeans to book vacations to Aspen.”I talked to our international sales rep last night,” Hanle said. “He said, ‘If we get more races, I’m all for it.’ It’s tremendous exposure in Europe, especially when they don’t have the snow.”
He also said Aspen is a community that embraces World Cup racing, and an additional race is something the community likely would rally around.”There’s a great tradition of ski racing here,” he said. “The last two days have been perfect. The community comes out and everybody’s into it.”The chance to help the FIS also ensures credibility when it comes to hosting future races, Hanle and Royle said. Races before Christmas are some of the most sought-after on the World Cup circuit because of their marketing value, but it creates a host of problems for the FIS when venues can’t deliver the dates they promise.If races continue to be canceled in Europe this season, Skaardal said it would create a scheduling “crisis.””It proves what we’re capable of delivering and it proves what the U.S. can do with early-season snowmaking,” Royle added. “We actually are on the calendar preliminarily for a December race next year, and it gives us a little bit more credibility to what we can deliver.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.