World Cup hopes raised, then dashed |

World Cup hopes raised, then dashed

Brent Gardner-Smith

It’s now official that there will not be a pair of women’s World Cup ski races held in Aspen in November 2003.

While it has been known since last November that Aspen was not slated to host its fourth World Cup race in as many years, a tentative schedule released in February showed Aspen back on the schedule for the upcoming season.

But in the end, despite efforts by the Aspen Skiing Co. and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, it was not to be.

David Perry, a senior vice president with the Skico, returned this week from a scheduling meeting in France of the International Ski Federation, known by its French initials as the FIS.

The FIS sets the schedule of the World Cup ski races, which are mostly held in Europe after an early-season swing to North America.

“We did everything in our power to get the races here,” said Perry, who went to Europe with Aspen’s Chief of Race, Jimmy Hancock. “And I am disappointed because Park City has four races, and Beaver Creek has two, and we have zero. But there is no one to blame.”

According to Tom Kelly, the vice president of public relations for USSA, the scheduling saga that has left Aspen without a race started four years ago.

At the time, the FIS wanted to hold an end-of-season finals competition in the United States, so it removed all the traditional early-season races held in the United States off the tentative schedule for 2003-04.

However, the USSA didn’t want to lose the early-season events, and it took several years for the FIS to accept “no” for an answer.

By the time the FIS gave up on the finals-in-the-United-States idea, they had already committed to several events in Europe in December 2003, which left only two early-season weeks available for the United States, not three as has had been the case.

Therefore, in November 2002, the Skico and the USSA both knew that only Park City and Beaver Creek were on the 2003-04 schedule.

“We have never had an Aspen World Cup in our business plan for this year,” said Kelly.

However, in February at the World Championships in St. Moritz, the USSA learned that the FIS, with no explanation, had put Aspen back on the tentative schedule.

So both the USSA and the Skico made an attempt to have an Aspen race this year.

“But World Cups cost millions of dollars and, even with full sponsorship, the net cost to us is at least half a million dollars,” Kelly said. “It’s a big gap. And maybe if the economy was a little bit flusher, people might have been willing to take a little more risk, but it’s just not a prudent business decision. We just can’t do it at this point in time.”

The Skico had agreed to spend more to bring the races – a women’s Super G and slalom – to Aspen, but the gap in funding was still too big, according to Perry and Kelly.

Aspen is still popular with both FIS and USSA officials as a race venue, and the resort does have a spot for women’s races on the tentative 2004 schedule.

“Everybody wants to be in Aspen,” Kelly said.

This winter will be the first of the last three winters without a World Cup race in Aspen. There have been other breaks in Aspen’s World Cup schedule over the years.

After a steady stream of races in the 1980s and early 1990s, Aspen pulled out of hosting the events in 1995. In 1998 a race was held, but then Aspen Mountain saw no World Cup action until the fall of 2000.

In regard to another of Aspen’s recent big winter events, the ESPN Winter X Games, Perry said the Skico and ESPN are now negotiating the “fine points” of a deal, and he hopes to have an answer by the end of May.

“Our expectations are still high,” Perry said of Aspen being the first resort to hold the X Games for three straight years since it left Mount Snow in Vermont. “But,” he added, “I don’t count anything until the ink is dry.”

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