World Cup racing at home in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

World Cup racing at home in Aspen

Nate Peterson

Supporters of the U.S. Ski Team cheer for their favorite racers during the 2004 World Cup slalom on Aspen Mountain. (Aspen Times file)

The Winter X Games draws bigger crowds and more exposure. Other events such as the Snowmass Freeride Series don’t cost as much money.So why keep World Cup skiing in Aspen?”It’s a strong commitment to tradition,” Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said Tuesday. “It’s important to the community. It’s important to the town. It’s important to the skiing company.” So important, in fact, that the Skico continues to make the commitment to host World Cup races in Aspen, even though the races don’t make any profit, Hanle said.The Skico isn’t necessarily throwing its money away just to preserve history.

A World Cup event means millions of Europeans will tune in to watch coverage of the races in Aspen on live TV. That exposure helps to ensure that Aspen’s steady base of international travelers remains firm, Hanle said.”Europeans can see that the United States has snow and that Aspen has snow,” he said. “That leads to people wanting to book a vacation to Aspen.”The investment in Aspen’s rich ski-racing history, however, is the main reason the Skico continues to invest in World Cup skiing, Hanle said. It’s a history that goes back to 1967, a year after the World Cup circuit formed, when Aspen hosted its first World Cup races. Since then, Aspen has held World Cup ski racing 22 times. The longest stretch without a World Cup stop was seven years between the first set of races in 1968 and the memorable 1976 Winternational. The wait was worth it.

Austria’s Franz Klammer – forever known to fans as “The Kaiser” – followed up his memorable win at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, with an electric downhill win in Aspen.After that, the World Cup didn’t return until 1983. Five years later marked the first time that World Cup racing came to Aspen with women only. The last time there was a gap between Winternational races was two years ago, before the women returned last year. Hanle said there’s the possibility of more off years in the future, but noted that the Skico has no intention of ever cutting off its relationship with the Worlds Cup’s governing body, the International Ski Federation, and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.”Certainly it had nothing to do with our interest in World Cup skiing,” he said. “There are a lot of politics involved with the FIS in terms of scheduling and money. … We want to continue to host World Cup skiing in Aspen. Every time the races have been here, we’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from the FIS and USSA.”

Hanle said this year’s races are expected to draw bigger crowds than last year, with the Olympics on the horizon in February and an additional super G race. A deep American women’s team is also fueling the pre-Olympics excitement.”The big media outlets from all over the country are here,” Hanle said. “We’ve seen interest from USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the L.A. Times. It’s a lot more attention than in years past. … It looks like the U.S. team is sort of peaking at the right time. The better the team, the more attention they draw.”Still, it’s not necessarily the type of attention the Winter X Games draws, with its average daily crowds of more than 20,000 fans. But that’s not what’s important, Hanle said.”This makes for a well-rounded roster,” Hanle said. “We haven’t strictly gone to the X Games as our only big event. We’ve stayed with a part of the history of skiing. It’s an event that is rooted in that tradition.”The next chapter starts this week.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com