The Aspen Skiing Co. philosophy of nurturing bridges rather than burning them has helped ensure the return of World Cup downhill ski racing this winter.
US Ski & Snowboard made a surprise announcement on May 17 that Aspen had won a men’s super-G and two downhill races from March 3-5.
John Rigney, SkiCo’s senior vice president of revenue, said the opportunity came almost out of the blue. While SkiCo officials had tried to maintain good relations with the International Ski Federation and the United States Ski Team, they did not specifically push for races in the 2022-23 season.
“It wasn’t this big orchestrated plan,” Rigney said. “We’ve always kept the relationship alive, not only with the US Ski Team — we do a lot with them — but also with the FIS officials. We checked in once a year.
Last December, a SkiCo contingent visited US and international ski officials at the World Cup races in Beaver Creek.
“We kept the dialogue open and reiterated: ‘Hey, if things change, we still remain committed to hosting the Alpine Skiing World Cup and nothing has changed here,'” Rigney said.
A few months later, the construction of the bridge bears fruit. U.S. Ski Team officials called and asked if Aspen would be interested in a spring 2023 event.
“Obviously it generated a thousand questions from me about how this might happen given that these timelines are usually orchestrated four or five years in advance,” he said. “The short answer after a quick (internal) huddle was, ‘Yeah, we’re in, tell us more. We are interested in trying if you are 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 the new FIS leadership to make it happen. , according to US Ski & Snowboard spokeswoman Courtney Harkins. Goldschmidt was successful in getting races at Aspen and Palisades Tahoe added to races previously scheduled earlier in the season at Beaver Creek and Killington.
The more muscular lineup of races in the United States “will bring more attention to the sport nationally and help inspire the next generation of American athletes,” Harkins said.
Aspen’s return to the World Cup fold was likely made possible by a leadership change at the FIS, the governing body for World Cup racing. Sarah Lewis was ousted as FIS General Secretary on October 9, 2020. She has held the position since 2000.
The FIS insisted in the last years of Lewis’s reign that Aspen needed to replace lift 1A and improve base area facilities on the west side of the mountain to ensure the return of Cup racing of the world. When Aspen hosted the 2017 World Cup Final, Lewis praised the effort but told local media World Cup racing would not return until improvements were made.
Rigney said it doesn’t seem like everyone in the FIS leadership shares that view.
“We blew everyone’s doors off in 2017 and did a really, really good job,” he said. “The spring races in Aspen are spectacular. I think it affected a lot of people, including the new leadership of the FIS. It’s one of those things that has stuck in our favor.
The FIS is generally an organization that sticks to routine. World Cup schedules are usually set at least four years in advance. But with US Ski & Snowboard pushing to add US venues, the FIS broke with tradition and, in Rigney’s words, “had a change in philosophy on the calendar”.
He said it was a logical conclusion that the FIS leadership change was critical to Aspen’s chances of getting back on the schedule.
“I can only react that we were regularly on the schedule, we had the best event we’ve ever had, we raised the bar for the finals more than any station had before, and then we were sidelined for five years,” Rigney said. “So I have to believe that the change in leadership probably opened doors that had remained quite closed for a considerable amount of time.”
When Lewis was ousted, SkiCo officials reminded FIS officials that they were still interested in World Cup racing, but weren’t pushy about it. In fact, Rigney joked with his contacts at FIS, sending pictures of him on Lift 1A every spring. “I just try to keep the subject light,” he said.
“We kept the relationships alive and reminded (the partners) that the race location has not changed,” Rigney said. “It’s still the same great racing venue it’s been for 70 years. We never bought into the narrative that was there that maybe the venue’s time had come and gone. We think that it is also “now” and if later we have a new base area there, then so much the better.
He said he hadn’t heard a “peek” of elevator 1A needing to be replaced. The replacement remains in the plans as long as separate redevelopment efforts of the base facilities continue.
Harkins said Aspen was a natural selection to add to the schedule.
“Aspen has an incredible history in the sport of competitive alpine skiing,” she said. “It hosted the first FIS World Championships outside of Europe in 1950, World Cup Finals in 2017 and many World Cup races in between, and the resort has produced some of the greatest skiers of the world over the past century.
SkiCo officials realized “weeks” before the May 17 announcement that it was possible Aspen could resume World Cup racing. By then, SkiCo officials had quietly conferred with key accommodation partners to see if the rooms needed for the World Cup entourage could be provided at this time of year and they checked with City of Aspen officials to see if special use permits could be obtained. for downtown celebrations during the race.
Rigney said having races at the start of March rather than the start of the season removes some of the biggest challenges. Aspen regularly hosted ski races in March well into the 1990s, but in recent decades races have been held more frequently at the start of the season. When races are held in March, there are fewer worries about snow accumulation and fewer staffing issues for businesses compared to November.
“We like to do it in March because it shows Aspen at its best,” he said. “This place is always on the move and that chairlift ride in the spring is pretty darn nice.”