World Pro Ski Tour returns to its Aspen Mountain roots on the Little Nell ski run |

World Pro Ski Tour returns to its Aspen Mountain roots on the Little Nell ski run

Head-to-head racing takes place Saturday and Sunday

Michael Ankeny, left, and Rob Cone compete in the World Pro Ski Tour stop at Granby Ranch in December. The WPST’s second stop is this weekend in Aspen.
Geoff Mintz/Ski Racing Media

Bringing professional ski racing back to Aspen Mountain was a meaningful and personal goal for World Pro Ski Tour CEO Jon J. Franklin.

The Little Nell ski run, which is the bottom-most pitch of the mountain, has seen its share of epic races over the years, a legacy the former Aspen resident is happy to bring back to the forefront.

“It’s super inspiring to bring this race to Little Nell because the first races that I saw of World Pro Skiing were back in the early ‘70s on Little Nell when I was just a kid,” Franklin told The Aspen Times on Friday. “My dad brought me out here and I got to see guys like Spider Sabich and Jean-Claude Killy race here in Aspen. Then, when I moved to Aspen in 1979, I remember going over to Buttermilk and watching World Pro Skiing there in probably ’81 or ’82. For me, it’s a legacy project to bring this tour back to Aspen Mountain and particularly Little Nell.”

The WPST is slated to make its return to Ajax this weekend, with head-to-head racing scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday. The event had originally been scheduled for Dec. 10-12 in Aspen, the tour’s season opener, but it was pushed back to January due to a lack of early-season snow.

Granby Ranch then stepped in to host the first races of the season from Dec. 17-19, with Aspen now being the second of four planned stops on the tour this winter. Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs will host WPST races Feb. 13-15, while Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico will close out the season. Those dates have not yet been announced.

All told, there will be 11 total races, eight for men and three for women, with three of those 11 taking place this weekend in Aspen.

“We really love being at Little Nell and it looks great,” Franklin said. “It’s a great course. Little Nell is almost the classic race hill, really the classic pro tour race hill. We are super appreciative of the Aspen Skiing Co. to partner with us on this and allow us to bring pro skiing back to Little Nell.”

The WPST is the latest iteration in a tour that dates back to 1969, when Aspen’s own Bob Beattie helped found what was then called World Pro Skiing. The tour has attracted some of the sport’s best stars over the years and is known for its unique head-to-head format, which puts two racers on the same course against each other at the same time. This is believed to be a more spectator-friendly form of competition compared to the standard World Cup affair, which is single racers competing against the clock.

However, the tour’s popularity waned and it eventually folded in the 1990s. After two decades away, it was revived in 2017 as the World Pro Ski Tour and among its first stops that season was a visit to Snowmass Ski Area — home of the Spider Sabich Race Arena, named for the famed ski racer and former Aspen resident — in March 2018.

“Going to Snowmass was interesting and great because of the legacy of Spider Sabich, and they held it up at the Spider Sabich Race Arena. But not as many people could access it, obviously, as you can if you are finishing right into town,” said Franklin, who took over as the tour’s CEO ahead of the 2019-20 season. “For us to finish the race right in the heart of town is super important and super meaningful for not only us, but for our sponsors and for the TV networks and for everyone involved on the tour.”

Franklin’s first season with the tour was ultimately cut short after the pandemic shut down the ski areas early in spring of 2020. After a slow start last winter due to unknown rules and regulations surrounding the pandemic, they ultimately raced four times as part of a strong finish to the season.

This winter is the first under Franklin with a full schedule. It also includes a more robust sponsorship lineup and for the first time since its return will have a dedicated women’s tournament. The Rocket Mortgage women’s tour will make its debut Sunday on Aspen Mountain, with the top women earning the same payout as the men despite an overall smaller purse due to a smaller number of athletes.

That said, the de facto men’s races on the WPST have always been “open” divisions, meaning women have always been allowed to compete head-to-head against the men, and still can. The three-race women’s tour simply gives the female athletes their own division for the first time since the WPST’s return.

Jon J. Franklin is the CEO of the World Pro Ski Tour.
Courtesy photo

“I grew up in a family where I had three sisters and they were all athletes, tennis players and ski racers and all that,” Franklin said. “I love providing opportunity for women and it was important for us to have equal prize money for the women because their racing is just as exciting.”

Among the most notable athletes expected to compete this weekend in Aspen are Vermont’s Nolan Kasper, who competed in the past three Olympics with the U.S. ski team, and Aspen’s own Wiley Maple, who started the 2018 Olympic downhill in Pyeongchang. Maple has since retired from World Cup racing, making the WPST his comeback, of sorts, on the professional level.

Qualifying is scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday on Aspen Mountain. The round of 16 (or round of 8 for the women) is scheduled to start around 1:30 p.m. both days, with finals expected to take place somewhere around 3 p.m.

Spectating is free from the base of the mountain and will include must-see views of the final jump ahead of the finish area.

“That third jump that you can see from gondola plaza looks big and massive,” Franklin said. “It’s going to be super exciting for the fans. They’ll come off that third jump and then have a couple more gates and finish at high speed. The adrenaline will be pumping, for sure, and with the big screen TV you can watch the guys come right out of the start and come into view over that jump. We are super excited about it.”

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