From March 15 to 19, the world’s top skiers will compete in the FIS Alpine World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colorado. This is the first time that the event has been hosted outside Europe since 1997.
Men and women will compete in four disciplines: Downhill, Super G, Slalom, and Giant Slalom. Skiers will also be able to participate in a mixed team event.
In the Aspen area, there are four mountains: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. Avid ski fans may have heard of Buttermilk; that’s because it hosts the X-Games each January.
This year’s World Cup is going to be held on Aspen Mountain, which is known by the locals as Ajax and was founded by Olympic ski racers in 1946.
In Comparing the X-Games to the World Cup, Cameron Wenzel, owner of Snowmass Sports said, “It’s a totally different thing. The X-Games [are] more popular in the United States. [The World Cup] is way bigger. Way, way bigger.”
When athletes from European countries come home with medals, Wenzel said, “They are treated like NFL athletes.” Countries like Switzerland don’t have the NFL or NBA, so skiing is their big sport.
Tucker Vest Burton, the public relations manager at Aspen Ski Company, which owns all four mountains, explained how Aspen Mountain compares to other places these racers have skied this season. “The course is considered pretty technical,” she said.
Wenzel explained how crews have prepared for the event. “They [groom] the runs to make them as hard and fast as possible. If [the mountain] gets any snow, they shovel [it] off,” he said. “They even take fire hoses out there and water the course down to make it rock hard, like bulletproof ice.”
Said Burton of the watered courses, “Compared to what you normally ski on, it’s going to be a little firmer. Because of that, the surface [of the run] is going to be maintained a lot better.”
Additionally, she said that they are adding scaffolding for the grandstands and putting up a type of netting along the sides of the courses for the athletes’ safety.
And what does hosting the World Cup mean to the town of Aspen? “It shows that we’re not only a world-renowned ski town, but we have a venue capable of holding world-class skiers,” Wenzel said. “The town has a great heritage with racing.”
There will be 10 days of media coverage at the World Cup, even though there are races on only five.
According to Wenzel, who’s on the Snowmass marketing committee advisory board, during each of those 10 days, there could be 100 million “hits” for the words “Aspen-Snowmass” each day. This means that through social media, TV, and newspapers, the words “Aspen-Snowmass” could be read 100 million times a day, which would be 1 billion across all 10 days! Crazy!
Races take place in the morning, and fans can watch at the finish line and next to the course. And once the races are over, there is still plenty for fans to do.
The World Cup Village will constantly have events going on. Each night there will be a party or concert, and most afternoons will include autograph signings with top finishers.
Regardless of whether you follow the sport of skiing, watching the World Cup could prove useful because it will serve as a preview of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will take place in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Most of the top skiers from the World Cup will make it onto Olympic teams and represent their countries.
Wenzel talked about some of the skiers to watch for Team USA and highlighted Mikaela Shiffrin. With a victory in Aspen (which is very likely), she would win the overall World Cup title. Shiffrin is from Eagle-Vail, Colorado, which only a two-hour drive from Aspen.
Various other top skiers will be in Aspen, because the World Cup is the biggest thing you can win besides the Olympics. So the likes of Lindsey Vonn, Laurenne Ross, Travis Ganong, and others will be participating.
Don’t forget to tune in to NBC from March 15 to 19 to catch all the action!
Photographs by (from top): Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images (Vonn); Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (Shiffrin)