Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety will compete Thursday in Steamboat for WPST
What: World Pro Ski Tour — Steamboat Springs
When: Thursday, Jan. 2
9:30 a.m. – Qualifications
11:30 a.m. – Round of 32
1:30 p.m. – Alpine Bank WPST Junior Challenge
5:30 p.m. – Round of 16 to finals
Where: Howelsen Hill, 845 Howelsen Pkwy.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The streets of Steamboat Springs are frequented by Olympians who call the mountain town home. And this week, two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety will join their ranks as he travels here to compete in dual slalom as part of the World Pro Ski Tour, also known as the WPST.
Ligety will be one of a few dozen slalom skiers who will gather at Howelsen Hill, the oldest operating ski area in North America, to battle for the Moose Barrows Trophy over three rounds of action on Thursday, concluding with the finals under the lights.
The race is the second of six in the WPST series that concludes with the World Championships in April at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. However, Ligety didn’t compete in the initial competition in Vail, so his inaugural WPST race will be in Steamboat.
A few other notable athletes competing in the WPST are Olympians Nolan Kasper and Phil Brown as well as Garret Driller, who won the Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic night race at Howelsen on Dec. 22. Driller thinks his recent race on the hill will give him a slight advantage.
“I’ve spent many years coming to Howelsen doing normal FIS races and all the other slaloms, the night races. I definitely have a little edge over someone who hasn’t done that,” he said. “I feel like quite a few of the competitors also have raced here a lot over the years. There’s gonna be a lot of Colorado natives and skiers that have been around for a long time. They also know the hill.”
Driller is also competing on the NorAm circuit in hopes to make it to the World Cup, and eventually, the Olympics. He’s hoping he can fare well in his second year with the WPST to earn some money to pay for travel for the NorAm schedule.
While there will be some big names in the race, an appealing part of the World Pro Ski Tour is that it’s open to anyone who wishes to compete. Anyone with the proper gear who is willing to pay a small entry fee can race with the likes of Ligety in the qualifying round.
“We want to give everyone a chance,” said Jon Franklin, CEO of the WPST. “We’re looking for that Rocky Balboa story where a kid, who races around Colorado but wouldn’t normally get a chance to take on a double Olympic gold medalist like Ted Ligety, has a chance to do it. If you’re fast, you’ve got the opportunity.”
In the 1960s, the WPST was in its early stages. By 1970, it had major traction, and Steamboat resident Billy Kidd became the first and only skier to win the WPST championship and the FIS title in the same year. When the world celebrated the turn of the century, the WPST no longer existed.
Almost 20 years later, in 2017, the WPST was revived and rejuvenated. Once again, dual slalom was attracting top athletes looking for something new, and the head-to-head action was attracting spectators.
“This year, we kind of resurrected and went bigger,” Franklin said. “We brought in more capital and found more sponsors, and we really tripled the amount of television that was being done.”
Each race is broadcast live on FloSports and is also aired at a later time on CBS Sports Network. Additionally, the WPST has a six-part docuseries called “Life Between the Gates,” which will air on Outside TV.
The WPST is offering two apres parties following rounds on Thursday. The first, from 3 to 5 p.m. will be at Aurum Food & Wine, 811 Yampa St., with the second starting at 8:30 p.m. at Carl’s Tavern, 700 Yampa St.
There will be plenty to entertain spectators while watching the races as well. There will be a DJ on site providing music between rounds, and there will be giveaways and contests.
“It should be fun for the whole family,” Franklin said.
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Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight in Glenwood and formerly trained with the AVSC.