World Cup is back: Does anyone care?
World Cup ski racer Kristina Koznick doesn’t have a ring jutting from her nose or tattoos adorning visible body parts. It’s safe to say she won’t pull a “Crippler 540″ maneuver like a spectator would see at the ESPN Winter X Games. And she can’t throw a football like the Broncos’ Jake Plummer.But none of that matters to Aspen Middle School students Thianna Durrance and Bobby Moyer. Koznick is their hero.World Cup ski racing is back in Aspen after a year’s hiatus and, yes, some people really do care.”I love the World Cup. I’ve been involved with it every year [possible],” said Thianna, 13, an eighth-grader. She’s got a busy World Cup schedule.Her choir is singing as part of opening ceremonies on Friday and she gets to present awards after the slalom race on Sunday. But the best part will be cheering at the bottom of the race course on Aspen Mountain for Koznick, an American who races as an independent, and Jessica Kelley, an Alpine C team member.Durrance and other members of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club formed fan clubs this week. Six to eight kids in each club “adopted” a favorite racer or two. The kids made T-shirts and posters honoring their heroes and they will scream with extra gusto for their racers on the hill Friday, Saturday and Sunday.Thianna, an aspiring racer, had to be on Koznick’s fan club. “I actually know her,” she said. She likes watching Koznick to study her technique and she likes watching the racers in general because she can see “how much they care.”Bobby, 10, a fifth-grader, is also an aspiring racer. He hopes to be like Bode Miller, the stud of the U.S. men’s ski team. Koznick is his favorite female racer. Bobby said none of his friends in his classroom are racers, so they weren’t as excited about the World Cup’s return. He thought he might have convinced one classmate to watch the races.Just look at the parkingIt’s clear that not all adults have the same enthusiasm for World Cup ski racing as Thianna and Bobby, either. World Cup won’t pull nearly as many spectators to town as the Winter X Games – particularly not from the 18 to 35 age group.Peter Olenick, 20, from Carbondale, won medals in two skiing events in last winter’s X Games so he is obviously devoted to the sport. Yet World Cup racing doesn’t quite do it for him. When asked if he would watch the World Cup races, he responded, “Probably not – not too into that whole scene. I’m going to go ski at Snowmass instead.”People his age flock to the X Games.”They do intercept [parking] lots for the X Games. Heck, we don’t do that for World Cup,” noted Jay Hammond, a Roaring Fork Valley resident who has worked on and often run a course crew during World Cups over the past 20 years.Nevertheless, Hammond said Aspen still has a hard-core group of ski racing fans who are thrilled about the international spectacle’s return. But ski racing, once the king of winter sports, now has niche appeal. The X Games has something for everybody and it presents various skiing, snowboarding and snowmobile competitions in an entertaining way, Hammond noted.”We look at World Cup skiing and it sort of pales in comparison,” he said.Limited appealIt’s John Rigney’s responsibility to try to make World Cup appeal to a broader audience. The director of event marketing for the Aspen Skiing Co. has created a World Cup village with an international flavor at the gondola plaza. The themes include a “Matterhorn” climbing wall and Viking boat for kids and a Bavarian beer garden for adults.The Skico also scored Big Head Toad and Monsters to perform a free outdoor concert Saturday night, followed by fireworks.Rigney said you cannot rely on pleasing people solely with a race. “The other stuff is designed to keep the party rolling,” he said.The appeal is limited. Visitors won’t come to town specifically for the races.Julie White, an avid skier and frequent visitor to Basalt from Denver during Thanksgiving, said she didn’t even know about the races before arriving in the valley Tuesday. As a former racer, the idea of watching a World Cup race appeals to her. Alas, its appeal isn’t enough to make her stick around for the weekend. She said she would want to combine skiing with spectating, and there wasn’t enough snow as of Wednesday to lure her onto the slopes.Still big overseasDavid Perry, a senior vice president with the Skico and head of the marketing efforts, said the interest in World Cup has waned a bit even with locals. He said he asks people how they would feel if Aspen didn’t have any races.”The answers are a lot more ambivalent than they were even a couple of years ago,” he said.Nevertheless, he feels the race is vital to Aspen’s interests. A large segment of the community is still behind the race, rallies to present it and feels it important for a longtime ski town, Perry said.Then there is the international exposure. “It legitimizes Aspen as one of the top resorts in the world,” he said. That’s important because about 15 percent of the Skico’s business comes from international guests.Television coverage will reach an estimated 30 million viewers in Europe. The 10 a.m. start times put the races on prime time live in European countries.An estimated 2.4 million viewers are expected in the United States, where the Aspen races will be aired on NBC and the Outdoor Life Network.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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