International Ski Federation official: We want to race in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Atle Skaardal, International Ski Federation's race director for women's World Cup events, discusses Aspen's hosting of the 2017 World Cup Finals while on a tour of the course Tuesday.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

A top official with the International Ski Federation (FIS) said while visiting Aspen on Tuesday that no one in the organization is preparing at this time to yank the 2017 World Cup Finals from Aspen because of the condition of Lift 1A and its base area.

“I don’t think that’s a topic we’re spending any energy or time on right now. We want to have this happen here,” said Atle Skaardal, race director for women’s World Cup alpine ski racing.

Instead, FIS is focused on working with Aspen Skiing Co., the community organizers and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to put on the best event possible, he said. There’s good faith on all sides that progress will be made with the chairlift and surrounding base area in the 21 months before the event is held, he said.

Aspen was awarded the event in fall 2014, but reports soon surfaced that some officials with FIS would pull the event if Aspen didn’t commit to the upgrades.

The annual World Cup Finals are one of the most prestigious events on the alpine skiing circuit. They trail only the Olympics, held every four years, and World Championships, held every other year. The 25 top point leaders in men’s and women’s disciplines will compete in downhill, super G, slalom and giant slalom. A team event also will be held. All nine races over five days of the event will be held on the Lift 1A side of the mountain.

Skaardal came to Aspen on Monday and spent four hours on Tuesday walking the course and base area with John Rigney, Skico’s vice president of sales and events, and other local officials. He said “the hill is amazing” and the courses will be challenging. Skaardal competed in Aspen in downhill and super G races during the late 1980s and early 1990s while he was a member of Norway’s ski team.

Skaardal said Aspen is one of the 16 to 18 “classic sites” on the World Cup circuit that are among the best of the best resorts. However, the Lift 1A base area fails to meet the World Cup’s brand standards and falls short of the rest of the Aspen experience, he said.

Skaardal picked his words carefully when asked by The Aspen Times if the 2017 World Cup Finals are secure in Aspen.

“This is already a decided case,” Skaardal said. “But requirements must be filled, same as it’s always been. I am convinced that everything is going to turn out in a perfect way for everybody.”

He said the FIS takes the same approach with all resorts that host World Cup races. The organization expects resorts to make upgrades regularly that are fitting for a prestigious event. That includes investing in safety infrastructure, adequate chairlifts and base facilities that reflect the image of a world-class event.

“It’s nothing special for Aspen,” he said.

Skico’s position remains the same, Rigney said. The company wants to see the base area redeveloped but will not install a multimillion dollar chairlift unless it knows that additional tourist accommodations will be built on that side of the mountain, he said.

Aspen’s political mood makes it questionable that any hotel that requires exemptions on issues such as height, parking and employee housing would get approved.

Skaardal said local land-use politics is out of the FIS’ arena. However, he said he felt the upgrades to the Lift 1A side of the mountain would benefit Aspen as a whole, not just during World Cup events. A better chairlift would attract more skiers to the challenging terrain beneath Aztec, he said. An upgraded base area on the west side of the mountain would allow Aspen Mountain to handle more skiers, he said.

“I think we have to be honest enough to say that face-lifting the base area would be good, for sure,” Skaardal said.

Once that is done, it will help cement a long-term relationship with FIS, he said.

“The timeline is a tough thing here because 2017 is coming up fast,” Skaardal said.

When asked if FIS has scouted alternative sites for the 2017 event, he replied, “Alternative sites are already there. Everybody is knocking on the door to get into the World Cup calendar.”

Skaardal stressed that Aspen is part of FIS’ long-term plan.

“So I don’t think it’s necessary at this time, at this stage to go that far,” he said, referring to looking at alternatives for 2017. “At the same time, it’s important to have everyone understand, it’s important to have this process done and executed in time for the Finals in 2017.

“We’re here. We want to do it. We’re prepared to do it. Failure is no option,” Skaardal added.