World Cup waves ‘bye
November 29, 2006
All the snow in Colorado couldn’t save a set of World Cup ski races. But $350,000 could have.Wednesday night, Gunter Hujara, the men’s alpine director of the International Ski Federation, announced that FIS won’t schedule the canceled European ski races in Colorado because of a lack of sponsorship money.”This is one of the most frustrating situations I’ve been in since I’ve worked for FIS],” Hujara said. “Because we all know we have more than excellent conditions on [the Birds of Prey] hill. Everything is ready … We can’t put races together for next week. It’s not possible to finance, to find sponsors, to find enough money to have races in the World Cup on the men’s and women’s side.”The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association attempted to line up a pair of races in either Beaver Creek or Aspen on short notice, but came up $350,000 short in sponsorship money. Total costs to put on the races were not available.”We are incredibly disappointed,” said Annette Royle, vice president of events for the USSA. “We had a a lot of support and a fair number of European sponsors, but in a week it’s hard to raise that amount.”
Earlier Wednesday, the men’s downhill and super combined scheduled for Dec. 9-10 in Val d’Isere, France, were called off because of poor snow conditions. Last week, the women’s downhill and super combined races in St. Mortiz, Switzerland, were scrapped.Hujara said the rescheduling plan would have called for a week of races in Beaver Creek, with men’s downhill training Tuesday, a downhill race Wednesday, a super combined Thursday and a women’s super combined Friday.Jim Hancock, chief of race for the women’s World Cup races this past weekend on Aspen Mountain, had mixed emotions when he heard the news Wednesday.”I think everyone’s a little disappointed,” he said. “It sounded like this was going to happen for a while, and there was a lot of excitement in town.”I was hoping they would happen.”Hancock admitted the task of getting a suitable course ready for the men and women on such short notice would have been a huge undertaking – and that was before more than two feet of snow fell here in Aspen. But the end result would have been worth the effort, he said. “It would’ve been frantic, but we could’ve gotten the work done,” he said. “It wasn’t leaving us any room to loaf around. It would’ve been very tight. We had a great event and a great weekend of racing, and that’s what we set out to do before we even thought about this.”This was a carrot in front of our face. It was real interesting.”
The news of races going down the tubes also saddened Phil McNichol, the U.S. Ski Team’s men’s head coach.”It’s a tragedy,” McNichol said. “I know everyone worked really hard to make it happen. The [team] will be bummed. We also race every weekend, so if we are forced to spend an extra week with our families, worse things could happen.”McNichol and the entire World Cup tour may spend some more weeks at home if warm conditions in Europe continue. Races slated for Val Gardena, Italy, and the women’s races in Val d’Isere for mid-December are still in question.Gerry Rinaldi, the FIS technical delegate and former Canadian World Cup racers, thought the lack of sponsorship spelled a larger woe for the World Cup.”To me this is an insult to anyone who has ever participated,” Rinaldi said. “It’s an insult to Bob Beattie and Serge Lang, who started the World Cup series in 1967 and envisioned it to become a world-class sport. Now you might as well call it the Europa Cup, because it’s only oriented towards being there.”Can you imagine this happening in the PGA Tour? They wouldn’t cancel the Masters.”
Hujara was also surprised that not enough money was available for World Cup races. “It’s difficult to understand a product that’s supposed to be the top of alpine ski racing … can’t find this money,” he said.In a last-moment effort to keep the races on the FIS schedule, Hujara opened up the floor to donations, starting with his own.”I put 50 Euros on the table,” Hujara said. “Let’s fund those races.”A representative from the ski manufacturers proposed $50,000, although other than a few dollar bills, nothing else came forward.Because the remainder of the World Cup schedule is very tight, it is unlikely the canceled races will be made up anytime.”We can’t switch around new proposals, like all of a sudden [have] a giant slalom or slalom on any glacier on the world,” Hujara said.Aspen Times staff writer Jon Maletz contributed to this story.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.