Aspen Skico says World Cup worth the investment |

Aspen Skico says World Cup worth the investment

U.S. racer Lindsey Vonn rips past a gate during last year's World Cup slalom event on Aspen Mountain. The Aspen Skiing Co. says its committed to hosting the races, despite a significant increase in the cost.

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. officials did some soul-searching last fall and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to World Cup skiing despite a big increase in the cost of hosting the races.

“It was a tough decision. We’re not talking an insignificant amount here,” said Skico’s vice president of sales and events, John Rigney.

The cost for the Skico jumped because the U.S. Ski Team paid a smaller “site fee” – funding to help a host resort hold the events. The ski team is in a tough position because it must stretch its dollars among several resorts to host a variety of World Cup events – from alpine events to snowboarding competitions, freestyle events and cross-country skiing. The two alpine skiing events – the women’s races at Aspen and the men’s races at Beaver Creek – are by far the most expensive for the U.S. Ski Team, Rigney said.

The Skico has never publicly disclosed how much it costs to host the races, and Rigney wouldn’t disclose how much more it had to pay starting last year. It was enough to make company officials think long and hard. They decided to “take it on the chin” financially.

“It’s a marketing vehicle. It’s a portal to the international skiing community. It keeps Aspen front and center,” Rigney said.

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But probably the most “compelling reason” for keeping the races is because they are so ingrained in Aspen’s culture and history as a ski town, he said. Aspen Mountain hosted its first sanctioned ski races in 1939 and attracted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 1950. It has held World Cup races regularly since 1968. Many people in the community got upset in mid-1990s when the Skico declined the opportunity to host races. Skico officials were upset with decisions by the International Ski Federation, World Cup’s governing body. Aspen lobbied hard to get the races back a couple of years later after a change of guard at the Skico.

Rigney stressed that the Skico has a strong relationship with the U.S. Ski Team, and they are discussing ways to best continue a long-term relationship.

Last year’s decision by the Skico to continue hosting the event paid off. The international exposure of the 2008 races was among the highest in Aspen’s long history of hosting World Cup races.

The races last year were watched live by 10 million viewers, primarily in Europe, Rigney said. A total of 110 million people worldwide saw at least a snippet of the races. The Aspen races were among the highest watched events of the entire alpine World Cup season, Rigney said. He speculated that the numbers were so strong because the event was so early in the season and the time difference placed it on prime time in Europe.

It was priceless for millions of ski racing fans around the world to see Aspen’s downhill get canceled two years ago when 28 inches of snow smothered the course. Snow during the races last year assisted marketing in a recession-ravaged season when any advantage was welcomed.

Skico officials would welcome snowfall on the days of this season’s races. “Maybe that would put some rocket boosters on booking the resort,” Rigney said.

This year’s Winternational has the potential to be a big draw on TV. The Olympics will be held later in the winter, and that always intensifies interest. In addition, last year’s World Cup overall point champion Lindsey Vonn and past Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso will be on home turf.

The giant slalom and slalom races are scheduled to be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28 and 29.

The Skico will try to create more vitality at the race venue at the base of the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain. A new event called “A Taste of Winternational” will be held at the bottom of the course from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days. It’s essentially a community picnic, with food and beverages from Skico restaurants, Rigney said. The picnic is designed to draw people to the site and keep them there in between the two runs of the races.

Winternational will also feature a concert and fireworks on Saturday night, Nov. 28.

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