Aspen to host Freeski and Snowboard World Championships this March
Aspen is set to host two of the world’s premier skiing and snowboarding competitions next month at Buttermilk Ski Area.
The 2021 Freeski and Snowboard World Championships will come to town barely a month after Buttermilk hosted some of the same athletes at Winter X Games, adding to a growing competition schedule here in Aspen this season. On top of World Championships, Buttermilk will host a World Cup Grand Prix immediately after.
Worlds will include slopestyle, halfpipe and big air contests for men’s and women’s skiing and snowboarding, while the Grand Prix will only include slopestyle and halfpipe. An official announcement is expected in the coming days from U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
“It’s really important to these athletes and we are psyched we can give them another chance to get back to Aspen and show off their talents to the world,” Aspen Skiing Co. senior vice president John Rigney said Tuesday. “In a tough year you have to play a lot of defense. But you also have to play offense occasionally and doing an event like this and sharing the Aspen story to millions via the coverage that comes with the event is a good thing. It reminds people we are open for business and we are looking forward to their return.”
The World Championships, held every other year, originally were scheduled for Feb. 18-28 outside Beijing, which is still scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics a year from now. But the International Ski Federation (FIS) canceled all Olympic test events in China this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, including worlds.
For a brief time it looked as if Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, would step in, but the city ultimately backed out late last month.
Rigney said hosting the X Games without any issues and Pitkin County coming out of Red-level restrictions put in place in January helped them look at the idea of hosting these events.
“It wasn’t as much we were chasing this, but when the opportunity came up we made it clear we wanted to focus on two things,” Rigney said. “One, pulling off a successful X Games, and two was seeing the community come out of Red. And once we got through those two critical mile markers, we reopened the dialogue and it came together pretty quickly.”
Aspen being named the World Championship host makes it two in a row in the United States for the event after Park City, Utah, hosted in 2019. Sierra Nevada, Spain, hosted worlds in 2017.
Halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira is likely the only Aspen local who would compete in worlds this year. He finished eighth in his only world championship appearance in 2019. Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck is the two-time reigning world champion in men’s halfpipe skiing.
Summit County’s Chris Corning, who has ties with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, is the reigning world champion in men’s snowboard slopestyle.
“We’ve got the knowledge and capacity to pull this off in a safe manner. Knowing that and working in cooperation with our partners at the county, we decided to go for it,” Rigney said. “Right now we are in a full-on sprint to figure out what it’s going to take to pull this off. But we have a great template to work off of. We wouldn’t have signed on if we didn’t think we could do it right.”
X Games, which went from Jan 29-31 at Buttermilk, was hosted in a “bubble” without fans and with daily COVID-19 testing for anyone cleared to compete or work at the event. Only 500 people were cleared to be inside the X Games venue.
A similar situation could be in play for the World Championships in March.
Competition is scheduled to get underway with the first qualifiers on March 10, with worlds going through March 16. After a day off, the World Cup starts on March 18 and goes through March 21.
The Aspen Grand Prix is a makeup for the canceled Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix and will be the first U.S. Olympic qualifier ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games. Snowmass hosted a Grand Prix and Olympic qualifier in 2018 ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Aspen also hosted the 1950 world championships for alpine skiing, an event that is largely credited with helping turn the town into a world-class skiing destination. Then came the 2017 World Cup Finals, highlighted by Mikaela Shiffrin winning her first overall title.
The World Championships and Grand Prix join the Revolution Tour (Feb. 22-26 at Buttermilk) and alpine skiing’s NorAm finals (April 5-16 at Aspen Highlands) as other signature events the town is still set to host this season.
“Right now we are just going to have to react from muscle memory and band together and pull it off,” Rigney said. “I’m sure we’ll learn a lot. I’m sure we’ll be calling in every favor known to man to rally the broader company to help put this on.
“But I tip my cap to our teams for rallying and agreeing to try and give this is a go. It’s been a very hectic and crazy year on a lot of fronts, but this also is incredibly exciting and it might be a once in a generation thing.”
March 10: Ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle qualifying
March 11: Ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe qualifying
March12: Ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle finals
March 13: Ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe finals
March 14: Snowboard big air qualifying
March 15: Ski big air qualifying
March 16: Ski and snowboard big air finals
March 18: Ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe qualifying
March 19: Ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle qualifying
March 20: Ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle finals
March 21: Ski halfpipe and snowboard halfpipe finals
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.