Vail Valley prepares for 2015 ski championships

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file Austria's Hermann Maier, center, celebrates his downhill win at the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail. Norway's Lasse Kjus, right, won five medals at the championships, Norway's Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, right, won two. Local officials are already thinking about how the valley can be looking its best when the championships return in 2015.

VAIL, Colo. – Five years isn’t that much time when talking about preparations for the World Alpine Ski Championships – town leaders in Avon are already thinking about how the town will put on its Sunday best for the event.

When the announcement came in June that Vail and Beaver Creek would host the 2015 championships for the third time, Vail Resorts announced that plans were also in the works to upgrade the Birds of Prey downhill course by increasing the finish area for the men’s events and building a new Red Tail Camp restaurant.

Vail Resorts also announced it would build a new women’s speed course at Beaver Creek that would “rival the men’s course,” and would serve as the combined events and nation’s team event during the 2015 Championships.

The projects need Forest Service approvals, and Beaver Creek spokeswoman Jen Brown said Vail Resorts has not yet submitted any 2015 projects to the Forest Service.

“It’s simply too early for specifics at this time,” Brown said.

The Vail Valley Foundation, the organization that will host the Championships, is already playing host to the International Ski Federation, the governing body of the World Championships, and the European Broadcasting Union this December.

“We’re already into it in a fairly substantial way three months after the vote,” said Vail Valley Foundation spokesman John Dakin.

The December meetings will help clarify the expectations for 2015 and will give the Foundation a chance to see reactions to their initial plans, Dakin said.

“The good news is we’ve got five years, but the bad news is we’ve only got five years,” Dakin said.

Beaver Creek built the Birds of Prey downhill course in 1997 in preparation for the 1999 World Championships, which led to the annual World Cup downhill race at the resort every December.

Don Dressler, snow ranger for the Forest Service’s Holy Cross Ranger District, said he expects the ski areas to submit their proposals soon. Until the final proposals are submitted, though, the Forest Service isn’t really involved.

Once they are submitted and accepted by the forest supervisor, the proposals and the public process surrounding them are in the Forest Service’s hands, Dressler said.

Dressler said depending on the comments and concerns that are raised by the public and groups like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service may have to complete an environmental impact statement analysis, which could take anywhere from nine months to more than one year.

All of the Forest Service’s analyses will determine whether the proposed uses are consistent with the current uses of the lands, Dressler said.

“We fully anticipate having a proposal soon,” Dressler said. “We’re looking forward to working with the resorts and the communities on this analysis and this process.”

Dakin said he expects approvals to take 18 to 24 months, and then there’s construction.

“We’re targeting potentially 2013 as a possible date for a test event, but that’s assuming everything goes according to plan,” Dakin said.

The town of Avon is already considering 2015 as it plans for a major redevelopment project. Last week the town’s Urban Renewal Authority members talked about the town’s Main Street project that has been stalled in recent years by the economic downturn.

The town wants to “dress up the area” between the Westin Riverfront gondola and Harry A. Nottingham Park in time for the 2015 Championships, said member Brian Sipes, but needs to figure out a way to do only portions of the original project for much less money.

The project that was once estimated to cost more than $12 million has been cut down to about $8.5 million, an amount still too high for the town to complete it by 2015.

The Urban Renewal Authority members discussed ways to build portions of the Main Street project without doing any of the expensive underground utility work as one possible option. Members plan to talk about the project further at their October budget retreat.

“Our thinking caps need to go on,” Sipes said. “What can we do under current budget restraints.”

Dakin said it’s exciting that the town is already thinking about how it can put its best foot forward for the championships, adding that the massive redevelopment that has happened in the valley, and in Vail particularly, in recent years is already a “very compelling story” because it was all built and developed before Vail and Beaver Creek ever won the 2015 bid.

“The world is going to see a whole new Vail Valley in 2015 that wasn’t tied to the championships,” Dakin said.

The town of Vail has no immediate plans for projects specifically related to 2015, said Town Manager Stan Zemler, but Zemler said the town is prepared for 2015 already after so much redevelopment in just the last five years.

“But I’m sure there will be some additional things we contemplate and do,” Zemler said.

Zemler said the town doesn’t yet know which events are actually taking place in Vail, and once the Vail Valley Foundation makes that known, the town would have a better sense of what, if anything, needs to be done.

For now, the town of Vail is focusing on getting the three largest remaining projects completed and opened – Solaris, the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton. The town has also begun improvements to the Lionshead parking structure, with more work on that project expected to begin next spring.

The Beaver Creek Resort Co., much like the town of Avon, had some improvement projects on the books that had to take a back seat when the economy crashed. Ludwig Kurz, the company’s interim executive director, said some of the stalled projects could get revived with 2015 in mind.

Work includes road and landscaping improvements, as well as improvements to Beaver Creek’s entrance, Kurz said.

“We are hopefully that with the economy hopefully turning around and the 2015 (championships) coming up, we will be able to put pieces of (the proposed projects) in place that will help us shine for 2015,” Kurz said.


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