At 6:59 pm CET, FIS President Gian Franco Kasper declared the 45th Alpine World Champions in Are, Sweden officially open. The short opening ceremony, titled “Inspire the World to Ski”, featured a plethora of wild performances from guitarists in bear heads to dancers in race suits.

Prior to the ceremony, a delegation led by Hugo Wetzel, the OC President of the 2017 World Cup in St. Moritz, handed over the World Cup flag of the International Ski Federation to Kasper. Kasper than passed the flag to Niklas Carlsson the OC head of the 2019 World Championships in Are, to signify the opening of the week.

ARE, SWEDEN – FEBRUARY 4: Gian Franco Kasper during the FIS World Ski Championships Opening Ceremony on February 4, 2019 in Are Sweden. Photo by Christophe Pallot / Zoom

Present onstage was local hero Anja Paerson, one of two Swedish racers that have won in each discipline contested on the World Cup circuit. Alongside her were speed legends Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal. Both athletes have declared they will retire after World Championships.

Svindal, 36, has won four Olympic medals, eight World Championship medals, two Overall World Cup titles, nine discipline crystal globes, on top of 36 World Cup wins. Vonn, 34, is the winningest woman in the history of the sport. She has 82 World Cup wins, seven World Championship medals (including two wins), three Olympic medals, and 20 crystal globes.

Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) and Lindsey Vonn (USA) pose for a photo onstage at the World Championships, Are . Photo: GEPA pictures/ Wolfgang Grebien

The road to Are has been rocky for some. Flight cancellations around Europe led the FIS committee to cancel the men’s downhill training scheduled for the morning of February 4th, due to lack of competitors, teams, and staff present.

Around 600 athletes from 76 nations will compete in 11 races until February 17th. The first official race in Are kicks off February 5th at 12:30 CET with the women’s super-G. The race will be available to watch on NBC Sports at 6:25 am EST.