Ski racing more popular in Europe |

Ski racing more popular in Europe

Daily file photoWorldwide exposure makes hosting the World Cup worth it, Aspen officials said.

ASPEN ” Sure, the Winter X Games dwarf World Cup ski racing in popularity in the U.S. But in Europe, World Cup still reigns.

And that, in a nutshell, is a major reason why the Aspen Skiing Co. sinks an unspecified amount of funds into hosting the World Cup ski races.

“Internationally, it helps us keep Aspen on the radar,” said John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and events.

Last season, travelers from foreign lands accounted for 18 percent of Skico’s destination business ” customers who included an overnight stay on their trip. That was up from 15 percent the winter before. That could increase again because of the weak U.S. dollar.

So Skico officials want to make sure the Aspen-Snowmass name remains in the back of the minds of international skiers considering trips to Colorado. That’s why the exposure from hosting the World Cup races is so important.

World Cup race coverage consistently reaches 35 to 55 million viewers in Europe, according to Rigney. To put that in perspective, ESPN’s coverage of the Winter X Games reaches 35 to 40 million viewers.

U.S. viewers don’t exactly yawn when it comes to the World Cup, but race coverage is typically about as popular as the professional bowlers’ tour. World Cup races reach between 2 million and 4 million viewers when on a major network, fewer when on cable, Rigney said.

Nick Fellows, executive producer of two weekly World Cup skiing shows on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, said Aspen is wise for continuing to host World Cup events. “It’s got a massive impact,” he said while in Aspen to cover the women’s races.

The one-hour show he produces and presents on Sunday mornings reaches 500,000 viewers. It includes resort guides and athlete profiles in addition to coverage of that weekend’s races. Another two-hour show on Monday evenings dives into men’s and women’s race highlights from the weekend. That reaches 250,000 viewers.

“Ski racing is probably more popular than before,” Fellows said. He credits the dynamic characters on most national ski teams. In the past, one racer usually enjoyed all the limelight from national teams. Now, several characters exist on most major teams.

“That’s what’s putting the sparkle back into downhill skiing,” Fellows said. “And, holy (expletive), can they ski.”

He believes the popularity of so-called extreme sports is declining in the U.K. and Europe. “They’ve peaked. They’re on the downward slide,” he claimed, noting that coverage of the X Games doesn’t pull in nearly the viewers of World Cup downhill ski races, Fellows said.

The popularity of the ski racing shows in the U.K. has surged with the popularity of skiing there in general, he said. About 4 million people from the U.K. travel for a ski trip each winter. It’s one of the top three markets for Aspen-Snowmass, so the exposure certainly doesn’t hurt.

Fellows said he stresses that an international traveler doesn’t have to be a millionaire to visit Aspen.

Rigney said Skico’s on-going interest in hosting World Cup races isn’t all about attracting business. There’s 57 years of international ski racing history on Aspen Mountain.

“It’s clear this is an important event to the resort, the community,” he said. “It’s important for us to feed that passion.”

Then there is the bonus publicity of World Cup. It often dumps on the races, regardless of when they are scheduled in Aspen. The postponement of Friday’s women’s downhill race to Saturday because of snow gets noticed by skiers, even if they weren’t interested in the actual event.

When images get sent worldwide of snow falling in Aspen, “it’s big,” said Rigney.

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