FIS sends clear message: Aspen must replace Lift 1A
Aspen remains on the International Ski Federation’s calendar to host the 2017 World Cup Finals in alpine ski racing but its position is tenuous, according to an Aspen Skiing Co. official.
“We are the hosts, but for all intents and purposes, there is an asterisk by our name,” said Skico Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney.
“FIS remains steadfast in their desire to see a new lift and new base area,” Rigney added, referring to Lift 1A.
FIS, World Cup ski racing’s governing body, held its annual calendar conference in Varna, Bulgaria, this week. Rigney attended the conference with Deric Gunshor, Skico’s senior event marketing manager.
Rigney said FIS officials delivered the message in one-on-one meetings and in small-group sessions that Aspen must make the upgrades in order to guarantee that it hosts the World Cup Finals in March 2017.
“They made it clear they want a new lift by 2017,” he said. “They’re not outright threatening us, but their message is clear.”
A statement issued by FIS about the meeting in Bulgaria said there were discussions about the long-term calendar, but it didn’t elaborate. The FIS press office couldn’t be reached for comment.
Skico officials have insisted that the company won’t install a new chairlift without a clearer picture of what is getting built for lodging at the base of Lift 1A. One proposal for a lodge has been converted into luxury residences. Another proposal for a hotel at the south end of South Aspen Street has stalled, though the property recently changed hands.
Skico Chief Executive Officer David Perry said in January, “Replacing Lift 1A on its own is not an option.”
Rigney said he believes the company’s position will remain the same despite the desire of FIS officials to see the chairlift replaced.
“I think it’s safe to say we’d respond the same as we have every step of the way,” he said.
So how will the FIS respond if Skico doesn’t replace the chairlift?
“That’s the multimillion dollar question. I can’t answer that,” Rigney said.
He added that he has posed the question to FIS officials but it “doesn’t easily get answered.”
“I think they would be willing to pull the event if they don’t get what they want,” he said.
Rigney said he understands the concerns of the FIS. It wants to make sure all conditions at the venue for its second-biggest event of the year are top-notch. It is essentially protecting its brand, he said.
On the other hand, it wants Aspen on the schedule because of its place in ski-racing history and the resort’s international reputation, he said.
It’s unclear when the dilemma will get resolved. FIS officials are scheduled to visit Aspen prior to the next major meeting in October in Zurich. They will check out the race terrain on Aspen Mountain and confer with Skico officials. By the October meeting, the 2017 World Cup Finals will be 17 months away, leaving little time to find a resort to replace Aspen.
Rigney said Skico and its community partners would continue preparing for the event, which will include on-mountain work by Skico to improve safety, prepare finish lines and erect a broadcast facility.
“We’ve got to keep going full speed ahead,” he said. “Hitting the pause button would essentially be giving up.”
That said, Skico understands there is a risk involved, according to Rigney. But he views it as positive that the race remains on the FIS schedule and that Aspen has an opportunity as a community to work on solutions.
“I didn’t expect it to get derailed at this point,” Rigney said. “I think it’s good news. Of course, I would have been crushed if they arbitrarily ripped the event away.”
The company could order a chairlift as late as spring 2016 and get it installed prior to the 2016-17 ski season, according to Rigney.
The chairlift dilemma has implications on races other than the World Cup Finals. Aspen Mountain is a consistent host of women’s technical events in November. Aspen is on the FIS calendar for 2015 and 2016; however, Skico might pass on the November 2016 races to focus on preparing for March 2017, according to Rigney.
The FIS schedule for November 2017 and November 2018 simply says “USA” on the dates that Aspen typically hosts the races.
“The underlying message there is they are waiting to see how things play out with the base area before they confirm Aspen for those dates,” Rigney said.
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