World Cup downhill racing returning to Aspen Mountain in March 2023
Men’s stop with super-G, America’s Downhill added to North American tour for coming ski season
America’s Downhill will be brought back to life next winter.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday made the official announcement that World Cup Alpine skiing is returning to Aspen Mountain in March with men’s super-G and downhill racing, part of a revamped schedule by the International Ski Federation (FIS) for the 2022-23 season.
“For years and years and years, the downhill track on Aspen Mountain was a regular part of the circuit,” said John Rigney, Aspen Skiing Co.’s senior vice president of revenue, on Tuesday in an interview with The Aspen Times. “The fact that we get to bring America’s Downhill back is exciting for the racers, it’s exciting for the community, and I look back to the energy that was up and down the entire racecourse during finals. People truly love the opportunity to be alongside the racecourse during true winter conditions, watching the very best in the world rip down such an iconic track. I think it opened our eyes to how awesome it used to be.”
Aspen hasn’t hosted World Cup ski racing since the 2017 World Cup Finals on Aspen Mountain, an event that can only be compared to the 1950 world championships that Aspen also hosted. The latter put Aspen on the map as a world-class skiing destination, while the 2017 finals were a showcase to the world that America’s Downhill was still a worthy track.
“When the World Cup Finals came to Aspen, that was the most important race in my career, even though I was hurt and missed it. I would have preferred to race that instead of the Olympics, instead of Kitzbuhel,” said retired Aspen ski racer Wiley Maple, who competed in the 2018 Olympic downhill but missed the 2017 finals on his home hill because of injury.
“One of the big problems with ski racing in the U.S. is people don’t know what it looks like and what it sounds like. Now that it’s back in Aspen, a place that is way more intimate than Beaver Creek and there are going to be potentially way more people there at a way better time of the year, we can see ski racing again and people can see the upper limits of what you can do on a pair of skis.”
Prior to the 2017 finals, Aspen had been a regular stop for World Cup skiing. As recently as November 2015, Aspen hosted the women’s technical racers with Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin having won the last slalom raced on the mountain outside of finals. That March 2017 final also happened to be where Shiffrin clinched her first overall World Cup title (she now has four after winning the overall again this past winter).
According to the FIS website, the last men’s races on Aspen Mountain, outside of the 2017 finals, were a pair of slaloms in November 2001, won by Ivica Kostelic and Mario Matt. American icon Bode Miller was second to Matt in that second slalom.
The last time a men’s super-G was run in Aspen outside of finals was in November 1998, a race won by Stephan Eberharter. Aspen’s own Casey Puckett was 12th in that race.
The last official men’s downhill was on March 5, 1994, a race won by Canada’s Cary Mullen. Austria’s Hannes Trinkl had won another downhill a day earlier.
“We haven’t had a dedicated men’s speed event since ’94, so it’s pretty awesome news,” Rigney said. “I’ve always said I think Alpine racing means the world to this community and it’s part of our DNA, and to have it come back is just cause for a celebration.”
Aspen Mountain did host a men’s downhill in 1995, but that controversial race was ultimately erased from the record books as not all the racers were able to finish because of the weather. Unofficially, American A.J. Kitt won and some in his circle still consider him the last to win a World Cup downhill in Aspen outside of finals.
As for the 2017 finals, Italy’s Dominik Paris edged Italy’s Peter Fill for the downhill win. Travis Ganong was the top American, finishing 17th overall. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt won the men’s super-G at the 2017 finals, edging Paris.
“Every single World Cup course is different and unique and has its own features and own snow quality and lighting, so they are all incredibly special. This one is unique because it spills right into town,” Maple said of the America’s Downhill course on Aspen Mountain. “It has a European vibe of how a downhill is supposed to feel. Who can race from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the mountain?”
The downhill course — which features a flat upper portion and steep lower section — is located on the Shadow Mountain side of Aspen Mountain, finishing at the base of Lift 1A. That area has been at the center of development talks in recent years and many believed that World Cup ski racing wouldn’t return to the mountain until that lift was replaced.
This, according to the outspoken Maple, was never the case.
“They claimed initially they weren’t going to bring it back because the lift was too slow, which is an outrageous, nonsensical claim,” said Maple, making note of many of Europe’s slower commutes, such as in Chamonix. “They literally just didn’t want to come to the U.S. again.”
In recent years, the World Cup season for the men has started in the U.S., notably with the Birds of Prey speed races at Beaver Creek, and the women’s speed racers get going farther north at Lake Louise in Canada. But after that early stretch, it’s not uncommon for the remainder of the season to be held entirely in Europe, meaning the North American skiers are away from home for much of the year.
Nov. 26-27: Killington Cup, Killington, Vermont; women’s slalom/giant slalom
Dec. 2-4: Xfinity Birds of Prey, Beaver Creek, Colorado; men’s super-G/downhill/downhill
Feb. 25-26: Palisades Tahoe, California; men’s slalom/giant slalom
March 3-5: America’s Downhill, Aspen, Colorado; men’s super-G/downhill
But with new leadership now atop both FIS and U.S. Ski & Snowboard, this mentality may be shifting. Not only is Aspen going to host the March races this coming season, but Palisades Tahoe in California will host a men’s slalom and giant slalom Feb. 25 and 26. This comes after the women’s technical races in Killington (Nov. 26-27) and the men’s speed stop in Beaver Creek (Dec. 2-4).
According to a U.S. ski team news release, this will be the most World Cup races on American soil in a single season since the 1996-97 winter.
And if you ask Maple, it’s something that needs to become more commonplace for the longevity of the sport.
“With the change in climate, North America is where it’s cold enough to have races. If ski racing wants to survive and if skiing wants to survive, it has to adapt to the change in climate,” Maple said. “Europe is flying in snow at some of the venues that we’ve been to in the last couple of years. They are epic venues, but they are blowing tons and tons of snow and it’s green grass right off the race hill.”
The Aspen races are scheduled for March 3-5. The event won’t be set in stone until the FIS congress confirms its entire season calendar on May 25.
“We love the technical races, but racing in November is very different from racing in March when the resort is in full bloom,” Rigney said. “This is going to be a monster undertaking and we’ve got a 10-month head start. Typically you have several years to prepare for these things. … It takes an entire village to pull something like this off. So we look forward to working with the community to showcase Aspen to the world once again.”