‘Ski Tour’ to make stop at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

‘Ski Tour’ to make stop at Snowmass

Devon O'NeilSummit County correspondent
Vail Daily/Shane Macomber

It’s hard to determine what is the most attention-grabbing component of the inaugural “Ski Tour” – and that’s the point.There are the competitions: a no-holds-barred skiercross race featuring some of the world’s best and ballsiest downhill demons, almost all with World Cup alpine backgrounds, and a superpipe competition with a field just as stout as the tour’s racing arm, showcasing talents like Tanner Hall, Simon Dumont and CR Johnson, among many more.There is the entertainment: a promised national headliner band to play at each of the Tour’s four stops, as well as more lavish parties than most ski towns see in a season. There is the TV: network, that is – ABC, which will give a prime afternoon slot to each of the four stops on the Tour.And there is the prize money: big, lump sums, $125,000 per stop and $25,000 per victory.

When the organizers of this series sat down to plan their attack, it’s obvious they were not interested in anything less than a festival.The Ski Tour is the brainchild of a pair of former college alpine racers turned businessmen from Sun Valley, Idaho, and is set to introduce a new kind of competition to America’s skiing nation this winter. Snowmass is among four venues slated to host one of the stops; the Tour is scheduled to visit the resort on Feb. 22-25, making it the third stop in the men’s-only series.The Tour kicks off at Sun Valley Jan. 11-14, with Breckenridge (Feb. 2-4) and Squaw Valley (March 8-11) also on the schedule.When trying to comprehend the event in its entirety, keep in mind what venue coordinator Maureen Baker said: “Competition is only 50 percent of what we’re trying to achieve.”Indeed, according to the Tour’s overview, “The objective is to create a cultural event that brings the sizzle back into skiing and makes for the most entertaining event of the season at each resort.”Kipp Nelson, a self-described “wannabe athlete” and one of the Tour’s two founders, along with fellow former CU racer Steve Brown, said they modeled the Ski Tour not after any single event, but combined the best aspects of three events.

He cites the Winter X Games, first and foremost. “To us, the X Games is the Super Bowl,” the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association board member said, “and we’re trying to become the regular season.”The Olympics, with its celebrated 2006 success in snowboarding’s halfpipe and boardercross disciplines, also factored into the tour’s makeup. Nelson said he’s hoping skiercross and skier halfpipe will be added to the Olympic docket in time for the 2010 Games in Vancouver – as is projected to be the case – and that he’s using the tour as a potential showcase for those sports in advance of a pending decision by the International Olympic Committee.Finally, Nelson said, there is the Telus Festival in Whistler, the preeminent combination of partying and competitions in the opinions of many. He wants the Ski Tour to exist on the same nightlife level as Telus.To get to that point, there are plenty of parties slated for each stop, including a private “wrap-up” soiree to take place at a “mansion or other upscale venue.”The bands have not yet been booked, but Nelson said he’s “talking to tons of ’em,” trying to figure out scheduling. Breckenridge Ski Resort event manager Pete Isert, who is handling the resort’s side of the operations, said he attended a Ski Tour planning conference at Nelson’s home in Sun Valley at the end of September. The legendary Wailers played there to an audience of 100 or so guests.

“So I don’t think he’s gonna skimp on the music,” Isert said.As far as competition fields go, Nelson said he had to secure some “brand-name guys” to attract sponsors and TV coverage. Thus the Crist brothers, Daron Rahlves and Erik Schlopy are on the skiercross list. But there will also be hordes of other internationally tested racers, including Frisco’s Jake Fiala.”I think it’s gonna be pretty cool,” said Fiala, who spent a decade on the U.S. Ski Team before retiring from World Cup racing in 2005. “It’s pretty good prize money, and some of the best skiercross guys are going to be there, so it should be good competition.”Nelson said the tour won’t be conducted as an invitation-only event, but neither will it be open to any old Joe. “You can’t just show up and register,” he said, adding that the qualifying criteria includes about 20 events from last season and one or two at the beginning of this winter.”We’re kind of hitting the top rung of our sport,” he said. “It’s not in our formula to have 400 people in the field.”More information on the tour will be available soon at http://www.theskitour.com.

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