Opening Ceremonies offer pomp, performance |

Opening Ceremonies offer pomp, performance

The sun sets the night before the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship in Vail on Sunday. Preparations at Championships Plaza are coming to an end and the town of Vail is ready for the big event to commence.
Townsend Bessent | |

EAGLE COUNTY — The party starts now.

For the fourth time, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will be held on American soil. For the third time, skiing’s biannual celebration of its best and brightest will be held in the Vail Valley. The 2015 edition of the Championships promises to be the biggest event yet held in the valley.

This year’s two-week event was years in the making, requiring more than $50 million in fundraising and sponsorships. That money has gone into an extravaganza that will be featured on live TV around the world, with the time difference between Colorado and central Europe allowing prime-time coverage there.

The celebration will also feature events and concerts every day and night during the two-week event, as well as 12 days of apres events in Avon’s Nottingham Park.

It’s all a far cry from the first championships Vail hosted in 1989. Longtime town resident Sybill Navas remembers attending the Opening Ceremonies that year, little more than a march of the teams through Vail’s Ford Park, with hundreds of spectators.

“And boy, was it cold,” Navas said.

This year’s Opening Ceremonies promise warmer weather — when this story was written, the National Weather Service was predicting a high temperature of 40 with a 30 percent chance of snow for the day. That means temperatures should still be in the high 20s at 7 p.m.

Pomp and Pageantry

The ceremonies also promise a lot more pomp and pageantry.

The Vail Valley Foundation is the organizing group for the Championships, and Foundation President Ceil Folz said those who come out for the ceremonies will have about an hour of entertainment, including a few surprises.

The biggest draw for the event is the venue — Solaris Plaza, renamed Championships Plaza for the next two weeks. Better yet, the ceremonies will be free and open to the public.

Folz said Foundation officials first looked at holding a ticketed event at the Golden Peak race course finish area. But tickets would be expensive, she said, and there simply isn’t enough room for a lot of people.

With that in mind, the ceremonies turned into a public party. That decision was fairly recent. While the planning for the Championships has been steady for more than four years, Folz said the decision to make the Opening Ceremonies open to the public came just in the past six months or so.

“This way it’s more about the community, and the people who have made this happen,” Folz said.

Those who attend will see far more than a mere march into the plaza.

“We’re going to have performers, five big screens and an enormous ribbon board,” Folz said. We’re going to have fireworks, too.”

The athletes will march from the Lodge at Vail to Championships Plaza down a walkway lit by LED lights. Actor Kevin Costner will provide pre-recorded narration for some of the video presentations.

And the crowd promises to be very, very big for Vail.

Get to Vail Early

Championships Plaza itself can hold somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But putting video screens in the area around the plaza makes the venue much bigger. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said the total could reach to between 5,000 and 7,000 people. Those who want to be close to the action should arrive early, and be ready to have their bags checked. No weapons, drugs or air horns are allowed, and unattended bags will probably be confiscated or sniffed thoroughly by police dogs.

Beyond the athletes, Folz said people who come to the ceremonies will be treated to a performance of the championships’ theme song, “Fly,” performed by singer and songwriter Steve Azar in a duet with Andreas Gaballier, who performed at the 2013 championships in Schladming, Austria.

“We hope that sets a tone — this is an American event, but the world is here,” Folz said.

In addition to that duet, a Denver-based children’s choir will be on hand. That group will do live performances the national anthems of medal-winning athletes throughout the championships.

In addition, Folz promised a couple of surprises — and said the surprise performers won’t be revealed until the Opening Ceremonies.

Folz, who was a volunteer for the 1989 championships, said she’s “blown away by how much bigger this is.”

“In 1989, it was 99 percent about racing,” she said. These days, though, with Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey race course a known commodity, and long experience running races in the middle of a still-operating ski resort, organizers were able to focus on extras, and lots of them.

“This year, it’s everything else and the races, too.”

It promises to be quite the party.

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