Vail: Ready for Championships
February 2, 2015
VAIL — The World Alpine Ski Championships have been held four times on American soil. Vail and Beaver Creek have hosted three of those events. But this year's Championships have presented a set of very different challenges for event organizers and host communities.
Pam Brandmeyer, who's now the town of Vail's assistant town manager, was the town clerk during the 1989 Championships. She said that first taste of the World Championships helped establish much about Vail as it is now.
"The learning curve was steep back then — it was all new," Brandmeyer said. "But (that event) was partly responsible for the way we view events today."
Local, national and international events have grown bigger and more complex in the past 25 years.
Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger was a young cop in Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. He recalls that security then was far more relaxed than it is now. The Championships in Vail won't have the drum-tight security of, say, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but we're going to notice.
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While there are no known security threats for the Championships, it is a high-profile international event. That means there will be plenty of police working.
"You probably don't want to speed those two weeks," Henninger said. Those officers will come from local agencies, of course, as well as the Colorado State Patrol. The FBI will be on hand, too, as will the Transportation Security Agency.
Race spectators and guests at events in Vail and elsewhere will be subject to bag checks — weapons, drugs and air horns are among the prohibited items — and Henninger advised people to keep their backpacks with them at all times.
"If you leave your backpack, you're likely to come back to see it being torn apart by a dog," he said.
Security efforts will be bolstered by the presence of security cameras in Vail Village, Lionshead and Beaver Creek. But, Henninger said, a big part of the security equation will be locals. Nearly 1,000 people attended sessions for the "See Something, Say Something" program.
"That's a real force multiplier," Henninger said.
Most of us will notice police officers and other security people. What we may not notice are the results of a town-sponsored effort to have businesses spruce up their spaces. The Vail Community Development Department in 2014 launched a program that rebated permit and application fees for businesses that wanted to upgrade their spaces before the Championships.
Department director George Ruther said that program saved applicants $38,000 in fees. The projects, which ranged from new outdoor awnings to complete interior remodels, added up to $3.3 million in construction costs.
Beyond those and countless other projects, the big stuff is really, really big.
Solaris Plaza has been turned into Championship Plaza for the two weeks of the Championships, with events every day and every night. The plaza has been, and still is, buzzing with activity to build the stage, the giant video screens and, for the Feb. 2 Opening Ceremonies, an LED-lit walkway between the Lodge at Vail and the plaza.
It's a tremendously complex project — one that involves numerous teams — and plans seem to shift almost from moment to moment, with everyone aiming to be done with their work in time for the celebrations.
"It's a matter of trusting that everybody's going to do what they say," Vail Special Events Coordinator Sybill Navas said.
Navas was in town for the 1989 Championships — as a resident, she remembers the bone-chilling cold of the Opening Ceremonies at Ford Park — and was a Vail Town Council member for the Championships in 1999.
The resorts have grown significantly in the years since those Championships, Navas said.
"Everything about Vail and Beaver Creek was smaller," Navas said.
And the Championships also used to be Vail's project, with both events and racing. But the growth of mountainside areas of Vail, and the rise of the Birds of Prey race course at Beaver Creek into one of the world's premier courses, means the meaningful racing now is all at Beaver Creek.
Brandmeyer said she's going to miss the excitement of the races at Vail. But, she said, the events at Vail should show off years of work.
"I think we're going to throw a great party," Navas said.