Top FIS officials assess if Aspen up to snuff for 2017 Finals
$345,000 PRIZE PURSE
When Aspen Skiing Co. offered to add a slalom race to its lineup this weekend, it also added a significant expense to Winternational.
The women’s first World Cup slalom race in Levi, Finland, was canceled Nov. 14. Aspen was next up on the calendar and offered to add a race, thanks to ample early-season snow. The International Ski Federation (FIS) accepted the offer, so the giant slalom was pushed back to Friday and the two slaloms scheduled Saturday and Sunday.
Skico Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney said it is indicative of a strong working relationship with the FIS.
A prize purse of about $115,000 is being paid in each of the three races for a total of $345,000, Rigney said. The Winternational organizing committee also had to ask for more time from volunteers to handle an extra day of racing, secure additional lodging, rent equipment for a longer period and tweak arrangements with sponsors.
Despite the effort, adding a race worked well because Aspen was already geared up for two days of racing, according to Rigney.
A key to adding a race was reaching a deal with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, which shares the expenses of Winternational with Skico. “We reached a number we both could live with,” Rigney said.
International Ski Federation (FIS) Secretary General Sarah Lewis is visiting Aspen for the first time in a decade this weekend. Her impressions will help determine if Aspen secures the 2017 World Cup Finals.
Lewis, a top official in the organization that oversees World Cup ski racing, said after a ski team captains’ meeting Friday night that she will exam Aspen’s facilities and meet with Aspen Skiing Co. officials to get a better feel for how Aspen is preparing for the Finals, one of World Cup skiing’s prestige events. She went to dinner Saturday night with Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan and Skico Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney, the company’s liaison with the FIS. U.S. Ski Association executives also attended meetings.
The FIS has scheduled the event in Aspen on March 15 through 19, 2017. But on the official FIS calendar, the date is still marked with an asterisk and says “infrastructure requirements.” The FIS has made it clear they want Lift 1A replaced and the base area surrounding it upgraded before the Finals — roughly 16 months away.
Lewis told The Aspen Times Friday she couldn’t comment on whether enough progress had been made on the issues to secure Aspen on the FIS calendar. When asked if anything could derail the races in Aspen, she said there are always events that can disrupt World Cup competitions, but she stressed that FIS officials are in Aspen with the intent of planning for the 2017 event. She was highly complimentary of the Aspen organizing committee’s efforts to prepare for the Finals during Saturday’s team captains’ meeting.
Skico has applied to the U.S. Forest Service to replace Lift 1A with a high-speed lift or gondola — likely a combination of both chairs and gondola cars — possibly as early as in the summer. However, company officials have insisted that more progress must be made with base-area hotels before the company will make a multi-million dollar investment in a new chairlift. (See related story on page A5.)
Meanwhile, Skico is going full bore with planning. Banners touting the 2017 World Cup Finals are hanging in the finish area of the arena where World Cup races were held Friday through today for Aspen Winternational. The organizing committee and press office were giving out stickers, hats and promotional material advertising the 2017 World Cup Finals in Aspen.
Rigney said there is a lot of planning that goes into the event, so the organizing committee has to get started this far in advance. The size of the World Cup Finals dwarfs Winternational. There will be men’s and women’s downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom races along with a team event. All events will be held on Aspen Mountain.
Rigney said the races this weekend are being used to experiment with the layout at the base. The hospitality tent was moved up the slope. More space was created for the racers and support staff in the finish area as well as for media. Additional stands will be moved in for the Finals.
“We’re going to take advantage of every square inch,” Rigney said.
The Finals could draw in excess of 5,000 spectators, he said. He estimated that 1,500 people watched Friday’s giant slalom. Significantly more spectators attended Saturday.
Rigney said planning for the World Cup Finals will ratchet up a notch in March — 12 months ahead of the event. About 20 percent of the inventory in the Aspen and Snowmass Village lodging industry will be required for the event, he said. Those rooms need to be locked down about a year in advance or the properties need to know they can sell them at what is typically a busy time of ski season. The properties will make them available for the World Cup Finals at a discounted rate.
“Both Aspen and Snowmass are fully behind this,” Rigney said.
He hopes to know by Monday if the FIS is fully behind it as well.
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