Women’s World Cup returns to Aspen in November | AspenTimes.com

Women’s World Cup returns to Aspen in November

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN – It will be turkey and technical races at this year’s Aspen Winternational.

On Thanksgiving, two days after the lifts open for the 2009-10 season, women’s World Cup racing returns to Aspen Mountain for a sixth consecutive year. Two-time defending World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn of Vail and the world’s top women will compete in giant slalom Saturday, Nov. 28, and slalom the next day, the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Tuesday. It is the circuit’s lone U.S. stop of the season and falls little more than two months shy of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

While an early date presents great challenges (the resort is hosting Thanksgiving weekend races for consecutive years after alternating between November and early December dates from 2004 to 2007), it also creates a multitude of opportunities, said John Rigney, the Skico’s vice president of sales and events.

“You’re trying to prep a mountain for the skiing public, we’re up against fall temps, and you’re trying to get everything else across the four mountains ramped up for business,” Rigney said. “Thanksgiving does have its opportunities, though, in that it’s a great way to kick off the season. … We’ll be on worldwide television on Thanksgiving weekend.”

One hundred million people watched the Aspen World Cup races last year on television, and 10 million watched them live in Europe, Rigney said.

“We’re a global resort, and to get that message out internationally that we’re open for business, we’ve got snow, and we’ve hosted a couple of great races, it’s huge,” Rigney added.

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While it has a “small degree of preference” for a December date – one that provides “more of a weather cushion and fewer gray hairs,” Skico Senior Vice President David Perry joked – securing a November date was hardly a surprise. The tentative season schedule was formulated last fall at an FIS meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. It was finalized in the last week, Rigney said.

While the international ski community’s decision to give Aspen the early date puts pressure on the resort (coincidentally, the last time a Winternational race was postponed was in December 2007, when snow postponed the much-anticipated return of “America’s Downhill”), Perry said it is also a compliment.

“Even with the huge weather challenges, we’ve been able to pull off excellent events,” he said.

The U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and International Ski Federation have seen the Skico do it and appreciate it, Perry added.

“I think that’s one of the reasons they like coming to us in November,” he said. “Not many resorts in the world can pull off reliable races [this early].

“We’ve established Aspen as a classic World Cup venue. … Car racing has Daytona and the Brickyard. Ski racing in the U.S. has Aspen and Beaver Creek. … We’re proud to have that stature.”

That repute will likely be buoyed given this is an Olympic year. Locals who turn out will be able to catch a glimpse of a pair of charismatic U.S. team members: reigning Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso, of Olympic Valley, Calif., and Vonn, arguably the sport’s brightest star. Both could be major players in Vancouver.

“There are great subplots here,” Rigney said. “The two-time defending overall World Cup champion is an American and will be on American soil in what can be termed a home course, if you will, at the very beginning of the season. … People are thirsty for information, and we’ll provide it for them.”

The audience will also be tuning in, Perry said, noting that there was a small spike in television viewer numbers in December 2005, when Aspen hosted races before the Torino Games.

“Here in town it wasn’t that different than a normal year, but when you look at the overall attention, ski racing fans and the amount of world media were at a higher level,” he said. “Every four years, the mainstream media grabs hold of winter sports from November through January in advance of the Olympics. The attention and the scrutiny is ramped up significantly.”

All eyes will be on Aspen this November. Rigney and Perry both said the resort and the community will be ready.

Vonn has no doubt, either.

“Aspen is such an incredible venue for racing,” she said in a news release. “The crowd there is always so supportive of all racers. … We get such a boost racing in front of a hometown crowd.

“I’m hoping Vancouver feels just like Aspen.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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