Ski Tour set to launch at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com
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Ski Tour set to launch at Snowmass

Peter Olenick mid "whiskey flip" at Breckenridge Honda Ski Tour halfpipe
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SNOWMASS Two friends, one crazy idea.The latter is about all former University of Colorado alpine racers Kipp Nelson and Steve Brown had less than a year ago when they set out to revitalize professional ski competition in America. That, plus enough capital and credibility to actually get people to listen.Not that there weren’t plenty of raised eyebrows.”People in the ski industry were skeptical,” said Nelson, a U.S. Ski Team trustee who lives in Ketchum, Idaho. “They were going, ‘Oh no, you’re not going to bring back another professional ski tour.’ They thought we wouldn’t be able to attract the athletes. They thought that it wouldn’t work.”The jury is still out on that last statement – although there’s no denying that Nelson and Brown have already won over a number of those early skeptics after their innovative Honda Ski Tour kicked off last month to rave reviews at Sun Valley.

After a stop at Breckenridge earlier this month, the traveling ski circuit/music festival/seemingly nonstop party arrives Thursday at Snowmass for the third of four events this season. In tow will be a band of world-class men’s skiercrossers and halfpipe aerialists (Olympians and Winter X Games stars among them) and 10 big-name musical acts, including the weekend’s headliner, dancehall reggae star Sean Paul.Local skiercrosser Casey Puckett, a former Olympian turned Winter X Games star, is one of those who truly believes in Nelson’s and Brown’s vision. “I’ve been very impressed with the whole package,” said Puckett, who has won both tour skiercross events so far. “The concerts, the whole philosophy of making it a full experience for everyone. It seems like everything they do is top-notch, and I’ve really been proud to be a part of it.”I’m really rooting for it to succeed.”Nelson’s definition of success is different than most people’s. While he and Brown have secured some impressive corporate sponsors for the event, including the title sponsor, Honda, and secured a television contract with ABC, the two are still footing most of the bill.Each tour stop costs about $2 million, and the sponsors are only covering about one-fourth of that, Nelson said. “We’re definitely taking a cold shower financially this year,” said Nelson, who previously worked as an international banker for 20 years in Hong Kong and London. “What we decided to do was to try to make a different model. A lot of ski events out there are done with crappy ski areas, no entertainment and crummy prize money packages. It could take us 10 years to get to where we want to go if we started out small. We wanted to invest a bunch of money and do it the way we wanted the first year.”

Nelson’s hope is that the tour breaks even after its third year, he said.Truly, the objective was never about money, but instead, to build a fan base for skiing. And to have a little fun.”We started this because it was good for the ski industry, for the towns,” he said. “When I break even, then I can hand it over to someone else, and they can make money.””The place that I come from, the music and all that stuff is great, but for me, the whole thing was created to legitimize ski competition,” he added. “There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been unbelievably lame. … I also think there are too few competitions. I went to the board of the U.S. Ski Team and went, ‘Wow, is it right that there’s no ski competition after the Winter X Games before Easter?’ “The X Games is the Super Bowl, but there’s no regular season.”Puckett agrees. He said the smartest thing Nelson ever did was seek out the advice of the athletes and build a tour based on that input. The fact that the tour is handing out as much as $500,000 in prize money during its four stops also ensured instant credibility with the sport’s big names -among them, Winter X Games halfpipe stars Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont, and former World Cup racers Puckett, Daron Rahlves and Zach Crist.



“It’s great for the athletes because it’s a tour that we can go out and compete and there’s a good carrot to shoot for,” Puckett said. “It’s really good competition, and it’s helping us build toward the Olympics.”The International Olympic Committee’s decision to add skiercross at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games is one of the reasons the tour chose the fast-paced sport – which was born at the Winter X Games – as an anchor for the circuit. The Ski Tour’s skiercross competitions are International Ski Federation-sanctioned.”It’s all about where skiing is going,” Puckett said. “[Kipp] just wants to pump new energy into skiing, which took a backseat to snowboarding for a while there. The Olympic bid, that made up his mind, and it was music to our ears. We all think skiercross is exciting to watch and exciting to compete in, but until now, there hasn’t been a tour to really support what we’re doing.”Nelson said it’s no sure thing that his and Brown’s brainchild will grow to become what the two originally envisioned – a professional tour comparable to what golf and tennis already have. In the end, there will be no regrets. A lot of people have preposterous ideas, but few have the gumption to take such a huge risk.”I don’t want to own any of this,” Nelson said. “I just wanted to see some leadership. Other [event organizers], those are brothers and sisters. I want them all at the table. There’s way to way to build a fan base when the sport is scattered in so many different directions. I want this to bring people together.” Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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