World Cup ski circuit weathering financial downturn |

World Cup ski circuit weathering financial downturn

Andrew Dampf
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Italy's Cristof Innerhofer celebrates on the podium as his teammate Werner Heel pours sparkling wine on him, after winning an alpine ski, Men's World Cup downhill race, in Bormio, Italy, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Simon Palfrader)

BORMIO, Italy ” At least there’s snow this year. An abundance of the fluffy white stuff from the Rockies to the Alps is helping the World Cup ski circuit weather the international economic downturn.

“Fortunately, we’ve had a fantastic start to the winter all over the world,” said Sarah Lewis, secretary general for the International Ski Federation (FIS). “A poor winter would have made things more difficult.”

The only races postponed so far this winter were due to wind or too much snow.

Still, with the financial crisis joining global warming as skiing’s biggest concerns, there are worries for a sport that has huge logistical expenses and relies on industry sponsors.

“It’s definitely becoming harder for ski companies now. Skiing is one of those disposable-income activities,” said Ted Ligety, the Olympic combined champion from Park City, Utah. “For individual racers it’s harder to get sponsors.”

Organizers at most of the traditional stops on the circuit have contracts with sponsors signed several years in advance.

Lewis said that all the sponsorship contracts for the World Championships in Val d’Isere, France, in February, have also been signed.

“Of course we have to be ready to react, but we haven’t had any specific organizers forced to pull out of events because the contracts have already been signed for this season,” Lewis said.

But if the crisis continues, some companies may not be able to hold up their agreements.

Amer Sports, owner of the Salomon and Atomic ski brands, recently announced slow sales over the last two months, and Canada’s Whistler ski resort, which will host the Winter Olympics in just over a year, said spending there is down by about 10 percent this season compared to last winter.

Veteran downhiller Marco Buechel said he heard that three companies wanted to sign on as bib sponsors for races in Switzerland but couldn’t afford to.

“I was talking to the guy who makes these deals,” Buechel said. “Everything was done and they just needed to sign and at the last moment they said no. They simply don’t have the money anymore.”

While he trains with the Swiss team, Buechel comes from Liechtenstein and races essentially as a one-man squad. He proposed a ban on summer training in the southern hemisphere.

“If nobody goes, we would all save a lot of money,” he said. “We would train in Europe on the glaciers, it would be no problem at all.

“The ski companies would save a lot of money. For me alone, for the training in South America I had 60 pairs of skis. I paid more than $10,000 in extra luggage fees, and that was just one way.”

However, as Buechel noted, the ban would not work well for the U.S. and Canadian ski teams.

“We would be screwed,” Ligety said.

Organizers of the year-ending downhill in Bormio ” held Sunday ” said it costs them between $2.1 and $2.8 million to stage their race ” considered the most costly of the season because it is only one race in the most expensive discipline.

This season’s World Cup calendar ” for men and women ” includes 72 races in 14 countries. The season had its traditional opener on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, in October, then moved to Levi, Finland, in November before a stretch of races in Canada and the United States.

The traditional races in the European Alps dominate January and February, with men’s races in Kvitjfell, Norway, in March before the season’s finals in Are, Sweden.

“We try to be attentive to travel. It’s not like we’re jumping right and left across the world,” Lewis said. “When we have races in North America they are all grouped together, and the same for central Europe and Scandinavia. The finals in Are follow races in Norway. It’s all based on logical travel arrangements.”

There are also women’s World Cup races scheduled for Bulgaria this season, and many of the circuit’s top skiers ” including Ligety, Bode Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal and Hermann Maier ” were spending New Year’s in Russia for a promotional parallel slalom on a huge scaffolding structure in downtown Moscow.

The event scheduled for Friday night was jointly organized by the FIS and the Russian federation as part of the buildup for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“I think they should do more big city, dual stuff like that. It’s cool for us the athletes and good for the sport, showing more people,” Ligety said. “You can see Russia being a huge ski industry once it comes together.”

Ligety has gotten an inside look at the industry through his startup goggle and sunglasses company ” Shred Optics.

“It doesn’t help us that we’re in the economy we’re in, but we’re still in the growth stage where it’s still OK in this kind of market,” he said.

In Val Gardena last week, FIS officials invited five top skiers ” Maier, Miller, Svindal, Didier Cuche and Erik Guay ” to a meeting where the athletes could make recommendations and express their worries in a formal setting for the first time.

“The guys were definitely discussing a few of our marketing rules that they were wondering why they existed,” FIS official Mike Kertesz said. “In such a tough economic time they need to be as marketable as possible, and they had some good points.

“Bode was definitely at the forefront of creating a marketable product, and really working toward getting a package so we can sell it to the federations and sell it to sponsors and try to really work on getting a global plan.”

Miller had been asking the FIS for years to listen to his recommendations.

“I’ve talked to those guys lots of times. This was more official, starting up a dialogue,” Miller said. “I think it’s a really positive step. If things get done, I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see.”

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