In a world full of unknowns and uncertainties, canceling the Xfinity Birds of Prey FIS World Cup in Beaver Creek has been a tough pill to swallow. But officials at the Vail Valley Foundation (VVF), the event’s organizer, believe it was the right decision.
When the world came out of COVID lockdown in the spring, the VVF, which has hosted the event since 1997, quickly began focusing on the tactical side of operating Birds of Prey in a safe and responsible way.
“Understanding we operate under the state of Colorado public health guidelines and the Eagle County guidelines, we were aware we were going to have some limitations on the project (Birds of Prey) in terms of gathering size,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “In collaboration with FIS professionals Markus Waldner, FIS men’s chief race director, we were working on what are the right standard operating procedures for us to address the athletes, their technicians, the entourage that comes with the world cup teams. How would we safely be able to handle logistics, lodging, meals, team meals on a daily basis?”
The foundation began working with its resort partner, Vail Resorts, and formulated a viable, made-for-TV concept.
“The reality is even though it was viable we felt the the risk associated with international travel restrictions with 26 teams traveling to North America, managing them to stay safe and healthy, and the need for them to go back to central Europe by the 10th of December, we started conversations with the U.S. Ski Team and our sister organizers in Killington, Vt. and Lake Louise, Canada,” said Imhof. “Collectively, although each of us had to make a tough decision, in discussion with FIS, we felt in the best interest in the World Cup tour, we should step back from hosting races in November/December. We feel this gives the World Cup tour a greater chance of success as they operate in a central European bubble.”
Imhof expects the cancellation will unfortunately have a negative effect on the Vail community. The Birds of Prey has an almost $3 million direct economic impact on the local community, according to the foundation.
“For our business community and our locals who live here, and the destination guests who every year plan their travel around the first week of december, it’s a real downer,” said Imhof. “For our business community, it’s an economic engine for them. In that early season window, the Birds of Prey is a real lift for the business community.”
“It’s the safest thing we can do right now. It’s such a joy to ski the Birds of Prey and it’s something I absolutely love and I am going to miss it this year,” said U.S. Ski Team member Steve Nyman. “If we can work together in the U.S. to fort this virus off we can enjoy skiing this winter.”
“Emotionally, it’s something we all look forward to,” said Imhof, while reflecting on the individuals impacted with this decision. “We can’t do birds of prey without the volunteers. We have the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail helping us build this course. We could not do this without our Talon Crew volunteers and it’s a little heartbreaking we can’t give them the platform to celebrate this wonderful event.”
The Vail Valley Foundation is looking forward to the 2021-22 season, which the event is expected to return.
“We take great pride in being the only U.S. stop for the men’s World Cup,” said Imhof. “We will greatly miss this as a community and organization, and are all looking forward to getting back to normalcy.”
Val d’Isere, France, will replace the Birds of Prey 2020 stop and add two events for the men in December.