FIS cancels 2020-21 North American ski races, including Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek |

FIS cancels 2020-21 North American ski races, including Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek

Mikaela Shiffrin calls cancellation of women's races in Vermont 'a bummer'

In the news release Thursday morning, FIS cited “protecting health and welfare of all participants to the best extent possible” as its objective with the decision to cancel its races in North America this season.
Photo courtesy of the Vail Valley Foundation

The cowbells won’t be clanging at Beaver Creek in December and Mikaela Shiffrin won’t get to ski on American snow, either, at her favorite venue after the International Ski Federation announced Thursday morning that it is canceling its North American ski races for the 2020-21 season and keeping its World Cup competitions in Europe. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellations.

The move means Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey track, a regular tour stop for two decades, won’t host the men’s circuit for its regular downhill, super-G and giant slalom races during the first week of December.

The men will also lose the speed weekend in Lake Louise, Canada, planned for Nov. 25-29. World Cup organizers plan to return to these sites for the 2021-22 season. For the women, the cancellations impact the giant slalom and slalom events at Killington Vermont, planned for Nov. 28-29, and the speed week in Lake Louise, planned for Dec. 1-6.

In a FIS news release Thursday morning, organizers cited “protecting health and welfare of all participants to the best extent possible” as its objective with the decision.

“The desire and motivation to hold these races as scheduled for all parties was strong,” said Markus Waldner, FIS men’s chief race director, in a news release Thursday morning. “The training set-up and races in USA and Canada are very much appreciated by the teams. But ultimately, the unique logistics and situation for the early season alpine races has current travel restrictions and corresponding quarantine regulations in both directions, which led to this joint decision.”

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Shiffrin, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time World Cup overall champion who grew up in the Vail Valley but also attended high school at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, took to her social media feeds on Thursday morning to weigh in on the cancellations.

“I think by now everyone probably knows that Killington is my favorite race,” she wrote. “It’s such a pleasure to be able to race in the U.S., and race in the East Coast with those East Coast fans screaming. It’s also such a joy to see so many young ski racers in our nation there to cheer us all on. It’s been amazing, and I am going to really miss it this year.”

She added: “So, this is a bummer, however — it’s going to feel so incredible next year to race in Killington, to have some sense of normalcy, and to get back to all of the things we love to do. There’s a lot to do now, so that we can get to that point. We are so happy and lucky to be able to ski race this year at all. And, it’ll be that much sweeter when we can come back.”

‘Definitely disappointing’

Joe Griffith, assistant general manager of the Beaver Creek slopeside Chophouse, heard the news Thursday from one of his bartenders.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” he said. “Especially for us because we’re right at the base of the mountain. It’s sad.”

Griffith has been with the Chophouse for six years and has seen busy weeks over the years during Birds of Prey week.

“I want our ski season to be as profitable and as normal as possible,” Griffith said. “We want everyone to be safe and have a safe season.”

Birds of Prey history

In 1999, the Birds of Prey racecourse made its debut at the World Championships in front of 20,000 fans, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, after the 1989 World Championships helped put Vail and Beaver Creek on the world stage.

In one summer, 1997, the Birds of Prey course was constructed at Beaver Creek.

“What the challenging thing on Birds of Prey is you need a different attitude to ski,” said course designer Berhnard Russi, who earned Olympic gold and silver, World Championship gold and nine World Cup downhill wins for Switzerland in the 1970s,. “Out of the starting gate you have to be very light and very smooth. And once you come over the Brink, and it changes from heaven to hell. From one moment to the other you have to change your technique completely.”

It became a place where Americans would shine — 11 wins between 2003 and 2014 — which no doubt helped draw the crowds that have flocked every year. 

“It’s our big home race. It’s the only race we (men) get to have in the United States,” said American Ted Ligety in 2008. “It’s very important for us. It’s nice to be able to go to a race here where your friends and family can show up. Beaver Creek is obviously awesome for all events.”

Last year, American Tommy Ford thrilled American ski racing fans when he won the giant slalom.

In 2016, the Birds of Prey races were canceled due to snow conditions.

“North America’s skiing community has tremendous spirit and resolve, and while we are saddened that, this year, we will not be able to gather in person to witness the iconic feats of athleticism that are the hallmark of the legendary Xfinity Birds of Prey, it is clear this decision is in the best interest of the health and safety of the world cup athletes, coaches, technicians, volunteers, media, staff, all of the World Cup fans, and the World Cup tour itself,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “We look forward to welcoming the world back to Beaver Creek in December 2021, and thank all of our partners for their hard work, thoughtful discussion, and unity throughout this process.”

The Vail Valley Foundation has helped host the annual World Cup races for decades, and led the hosting of three Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek in 1989, 1999 and 2015.

Nadia Guerriero, vice president and COO of Beaver Creek Resort, host mountain for the event, agreed that the cancelation is in the best interest of all parties.

“We very much appreciate our partnership with the Vail Valley Foundation and their decision to prioritize the health and safety of all the athletes, coaches, employees, volunteers and many more who support Xfinity Birds of Prey. We look forward to welcoming back the event in December 2021,” Guerriero said in a news release.  

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