Is Aspen’s skiing tradition dying?
The Aspen Skiing Co. announced last week that the 24 Hours of Aspen ski race has been canceled this winter, and the long-running Freestyle Fridays at Aspen Highlands has been discontinued.
Additionally, the 2004-05 Women’s Alpine World Cup is in jeopardy, as the Aspen dates have been removed from the tentative schedule due to a lack of funding.
“There’s an emotional connection to these kinds of events,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle last week. “We don’t like to see them go away but we have to adjust to the times.”
The 24 Hours of Aspen was canceled after the title sponsor pulled out and another sponsor could not be found. Freestyle Fridays was discontinued due to a lack of interest, Hanle said.
“It was difficult to get competitors and spectators.”
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The bumps-and-jumps format of Freestyle Fridays, which had been a Highlands mainstay since 1972, was altered last season to take on more of a new-school feel. The altered course seemed to feed off the ESPN Winter X Games, with increased terrain park features and fewer moguls, and the name was changed to Freeride Fridays.
While many people blame the change in format for dwindling interest, Hanle said that wasn’t the case.
“We’re getting the grief, but it’s the other way around,” he said. “We changed the format because we weren’t getting interest in the (old) event.’
Hanle said the event will still exist, in the form of Big-Air Fridays at Snowmass. Bud Light will continue to sponsor the event, and cash prizes will still be awarded to competitors.
“The event at Snowmass was very successful, and that will take off even more this year,” Hanle said. “We’ve got to operate a profitable business, and we need to give our sponsors what they’re asking for – that’s how we build.”
As for the Women’s World Cup, Hanle said the Skico has upheld its end of the financing, and the ball is now in the court of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
“We fully intend to have a World Cup in Aspen in the 2004-05 season,” said Tom Kelly, USSA’s vice president of public relations. “While it is not presently on the draft calendar, that calendar will not be finalized until next June.
“We have an absolutely outstanding relationship with the Aspen Skiing Company on this,” he added. “Aspen has made significant financial contributions toward making this event happen, (and) the USSA is strongly committed, as it always has been, to continuing World Cup racing in Aspen.”
Also pending is the ESPN Winter X Games in Aspen, but not because of a lack of interest. The contract between the Skico and ESPN will end after this winter, the third consecutive season the event will be held in Aspen. The Skico hopes to extend that contract into the future.
“We are in negotiations with ESPN,” Hanle said. “They know we’d like them back here, we just have to work out the details.”
Hanle said several ski areas, such as Mammoth Mountain, resorts in Utah and the Lake Tahoe area, are likely pining for the event.
“There’s a lot of competition. We’ll keep plugging away at it,” he said.
But what about tradition?
“We’ve got to work with the natural progression of the sport and our events,” Hanle said. “X Games has twice the audience of World Cup. It generates such publicity and brings in a huge number of paying guests to town.”