The Aspen Skiing Co.’s philosophy of preserving bridges rather than burning them helped secure the return of alpine ski racing for the World Cup this winter.
US Ski & Snowboard made a surprise announcement on May 17 that Aspen had the men’s Super-G and two downhill races March 3-5.
The opportunity came almost out of the blue, said John Rigney, Senior Vice President of Revenue at SkiCo. While SkiCo officials have tried to maintain good relations with the International Ski Federation and the US Ski Team, they have not pressured specifically to race for the 2022-23 season.
“It wasn’t such a great orchestrated plan,” said Rainey. “We have always kept relations alive, not only with the US skateboarding team – we do a lot with them – but also with FIS officials. We will check in once a year.”
Last December, a squad from SkiCo visited US and international ski officials during the World Cup races in Beaver Creek.
“We kept the dialogue open and repeated, ‘Hey, if things change, we will always remain committed to hosting the World Cup in the Alps and nothing has changed here,'” said Rainey.
A few months later, the construction of the bridge paid off. US ski team officials called and asked if Aspen was interested in the Spring 2023 event.
“Obviously this has brought up a thousand questions from me about how this might happen given that these calendars are usually organized four or five years in advance,” he said. “The short answer after a quick (indoor) group meeting was, ‘Yes, we’re playing, tell us more. We’re interested in trying it out if you’re interested in returning to Aspen.”
US Ski & Snowboard President and CEO Sophie Goldschmidt felt it was important to bring more World Cup racing to the US and worked with new leadership at FIS to make it happen, according to US Ski & Snowboard spokesperson Courtney Harkins. Goldschmidt has had races at Aspen and Palisades Tahoe added to the previously scheduled races earlier in the season at Beaver Creek and Killington.
Harkins said a stronger racing lineup in the United States “will draw more interest into the sport locally and help inspire the next generation of American athletes.”
Aspen’s return to the World Cup fold may have been made possible by a change of leadership at FIS, the governing body for World Cup racing. Sarah Lewis was removed from the position of Secretary General of the Islamic Salvation Front on 9 October 2020. She has held this position since 2000.
The FIS insisted during the final years of Lewis’ reign that Aspen had to replace Lift 1A and improve the base area facilities on the western side of the mountain to ensure the return of World Cup racing. When Aspen hosted the 2017 World Cup, Lewis was complementing the effort but told local media that World Cup racing would not return until improvements were made.
Rigney said it appears that not everyone in the FIS leadership shares this view.
“We opened the doors for everyone in 2017 and did a really good job,” he said. “The spring race in Aspen is amazing. I think that resonated with a lot of people, including the new leadership in the FIS. This is one of those things that has remained in our interest.”
The FIS is usually a routine organization. World Cup calendars are usually set at least four years in advance. But with US skiing and snowboarding pushing to add American sites, the FIS broke with tradition and, in Rigney’s words, “had a change of philosophy on the calendar.”
He said it was a logical conclusion that the change in FIS leadership was crucial to Aspen’s chances of getting back on the calendar.
“I can only reply that we were on the calendar on a regular basis, hosting the best event we’ve ever hosted, and raised the bar more than any resort had done before, and then we were on the sidelines for five years,” Rigney said. “So I have to believe that the change of leadership probably opened doors that had been somewhat closed for a long period of time.”
When Lewis was eliminated, SkiCo officials reminded FIS officials that they were still interested in the World Cup races, but were not enthusiastic about it. In fact, Rainey joked with his FIS acquaintances, sending pictures of him every spring riding the 1A elevator. “I’m just trying to keep the topic light,” he said.
“We’ve kept the relationships alive and reminded (partners) that the race venue has not changed,” said Rainey. “It’s still the same spot as the Kicks race it was 70 years ago. We were never convinced by the narrative that was out that maybe the time of the place has come and gone. We think it’s also ‘now’ and if on the road we have a new base area there, the all the better. “.
He said he hadn’t heard a “peep” about the need to replace the 1A elevator. Replacement remains in the plans as long as separate redevelopment efforts for core facilities continue.
Harkins said Aspen was a natural choice to add to the calendar.
“Aspen has an incredible history in alpine skiing,” she said. “Hosted the first World Championships outside of Europe in 1950, the World Cup Finals in 2017 and numerous World Cup races in between, the resort has produced some of the world’s greatest skiers throughout the last century.”
SkiCo officials realized “a few weeks” before the May 17 announcement that Aspen would likely regain World Cup racing. By then, SkiCo officials had quietly consulted with the main lodging partners to see if rooms needed for the World Cup entourage could be made available at that time of year and checked in with Aspen city officials to see if private use permits could be obtained for the festivities in the heart of the city. Downtown during the race event.
Rigney said hosting races in early March rather than early in the season removes some of the biggest challenges. Aspen regularly hosted ski races in March until the 1990s, but in recent decades races have been more frequent early in the season. When the races are in March, there is less concern about clumps of snow and fewer problems for companies with employees than in November.
“We love doing it in March because it shows Aspen at its best,” he said. “This place is still rocks and the cable car ride in the spring is very beautiful.”