Yes, this year’s Aspen’s World Cup event was improved, but big changes are still needed if the resort is to retain the 2017 FIS Alpine World Cup Finals. The event was awarded by a very close vote of the FIS Council over the objection of the alpine executive committee.
World Cup ski racing has long played a role in defining Aspen’s culture. Over the past several years, the resort’s effort, while technically sound, had grown a bit frayed and worn looking. So when the venerable resort surprised the ski world with a winning bid for the 2017 World Cup Finals, the FIS reiterated a follow-up notice to a letter they had sent the Aspen Organizing Committee with a list of needed improvements. These included reworking the finish arena and replacing the old 1A lift, and also stated the event needed vastly more energy and support from the local community.
Furthermore, the FIS said, if commitments for improvements were not taken, the resort could well lose not only the 2017 Finals but very likely their annual World Cup women’s weekend as well.
To a degree Aspen seems to have gotten the message. At this year’s race, gone was the old finish area setup. In its place was a new stadium with an arrangement offering better views of the race. The stands were expanded and the VIP area was moved up the mountain providing a fine view of much of the GS and all of slalom, from Strawpile to the finish line. The restructured arena aside, the community seemed re-engaged as well. Energized fans turned out to cheer and enjoy the racing, more than had been seen in the recent past. Women’s World Cup Director Atle Skaardal, who had conveyed the FIS needs to Aspen, was pleased. “It is a good finish arena,” he allowed.
The key for Aspen’s future hinges on a rejuvenated organizing committee and a firm commitment to replace the ancient 1A lift with a new conveyance according to sources within the FIS. The Aspen Skiing Company has always done a good job with the race hill, but they seem to have taken the event on by themselves. Running a major ski resort has a myriad of demands and priorities which take away time from that needed solidify relationships within the FIS to meet their World Cup criteria. While Aspen has many fans among the Europeans, there is a lot more to be done to insure that the FIS does not look elsewhere for a new host for 2017.
In due fairness to Aspen, there is much more to be done than just putting in a lift and changing the finish arena. A new lift means rethinking Ajax Mountain access and providing an economic justification for opening up the south end of town to a high-speed uphill lift, all of which demands change. And, like most places worldwide, change is seldom welcomed with open arms.
Long-time sports director for the Austrian Ski Association, Hans Pum, is enthusiastic about Aspen. “It is a great town for the World Cup,” Pum noted. “Race all day and party all night.” Unfortunately, to keep both the finals and the women’s World Cup, racing and partying alone will not pass muster. A lot more effort, presence and more importantly, concrete commitments are needed and in short order.
While the FIS is asking much of Aspen there is too much at stake for both the resort and the sport of ski racing in the United States to brush off the FIS demands. Early June is the witching hour for the FIS to make a decision on Aspen. If the 2017 World Cup Finals are to stay in the U.S., there is much work to do in short time. Otherwise, say ‘sayonara’ to both the Finals and the World Cup.