2017 World Cup Finals in Aspen could pave way for more speed events

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Fans check out the Winternational World Cup races from the grandstands at the base of Aspen Mountain, which is scheduled to host the World Cup Finals in the spring of 2017.
Christina Capasso / Special to The Aspen Times |

Aspen Mountain might not ever host World Cup downhill races or men’s races with the regularity it once did, but Aspen Skiing Co. officials said holding the World Cup 2017 Finals could open doors to more speed events.

Aspen Mountain will host the World Cup Finals from March 13 to 20, 2017. The high-profile event will bring the top men and women ski racers in speed events — the downhill and super G — as well as the technical events of giant slalom and slalom.

No speed races have been held on Aspen Mountain since 2007, when the women raced a downhill. No men’s events of any type have been held in Aspen since 2001. Many race fans regard the downhill race as the premier event.

“We’re definitely going to have an opportunity to put our best foot forward in 2017,” said John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and events. The World Cup Finals, he said, will be a “great first step” in determining the future of ski racing in Aspen.

“We’re definitely going to have an opportunity to put our best foot forward in 2017.”
John Rigney, Aspen Skiing Co.

Rigney said Aspen must make a significant investment to host the World Cup Finals. Representatives of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the International Ski Federation (FIS) visited Aspen in September to walk the courses on Aspen Mountain and discuss what Aspen must undertake, according to Rigney. Many of the improvements involve safety infrastructure. Safety requirements have changed since Aspen Mountain last hosted a speed event. Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said FIS also would like to see Lift 1A replaced. He said Skico is engaged in talks with partners to try to achieve the lift replacement.

Rigney declined to say how big of a financial investment will be required to host the Finals. He said the ski association, race sponsors and other partners will be asked to help fund the improvements.

Rigney acknowledged that Aspen officials hope that investment pays off after the Finals with additional speed events.

“You don’t want to build the church for Easter Sunday,” he said.

Kaplan said many factors will be involved in determining if Aspen gets to host speed events, including scheduling of the World Cup circuit in North America, preparations for Olympics and World Championships and commitments at other resorts. He said he doesn’t believe Aspen will be an annual host of speed events but will more regularly than it has been in the 2000s.

Skico officials also would enjoy bringing the men racers back into the mix. Rigney stressed that Skico is very content hosting women’s World Cup ski events.

“We love hosting the women and all the stars we have on the hill today,” he said.

The women’s team boasts 19-year-old phenom Mikaela Shiffrin and veterans Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn, who is trying to battle back from injuries this season.

The bottom line, Rigney said, is that Skico would like to mix in women’s and men’s races as well as both speed and technical events after it hosts the World Cup Finals.

Aspen remains on the FIS calendar for women’s technical races in November 2015 and November 2016, according to Rigney. Skico is willing to discuss giving up the November 2016 races since it is hosting the Finals later that season, he said. The decision will be made at the annual FIS Congress in June.

“We’re open to doing it,” Rigney said of hosting both the November and March races during 2016-17. However, preparing the courses twice and asking the lodging community to provide rooms for two events in one season is a large undertaking, he said.

The Finals trail only the Olympics and World Cup Championships in stature. Only the top 30 men and women in the season standings in each discipline will compete. All events will be on Aspen Mountain. It will be the biggest ski race Aspen has hosted since the February 1950 World Alpine Championships put the resort on the map.

Rigney said the international interest in the Finals will dwarf what Aspen experiences at its usual World Cup races. More people will travel to Aspen for the event, both domestically and internationally. TV coverage will be extensive. The Finals are highly coveted by European resorts. This is the first time they will be hosted outside Europe since they were in Vail in 1997.

Aspen received great exposure from the World Cup women’s ski races this weekend. The grandstand holding 500 people at the finish line was packed both Saturday and Sunday, and hundreds of additional spectators were at the finish and lining the course. The races were shown live on Eurosport and Brazilian TV for the first time, and they had same-day delayed coverage on NBC.

Estimates are that 50 million people worldwide will watch each race, according to Rigney.

“One hundred million people will understand Aspen is open for business and we have excellent snow,” he said. “It kind of serves as a kick-start to the season.”