World Cup skiing returning to US East Coast after 25 years
After a 25-year absence, the World Cup ski circuit returns to the U.S. East Coast next month. No one is more thrilled than Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin.
“Oh, we are so excited,” Shiffrin said. “It’s been a while. It’s like coming back to Vail for the world championships (in 2015) after so long. I know that the East Coast, the people, the ski racing fans, they are so excited for this race. I can’t wait to bring ski racing back to them.”
Killington, Vermont, will host a pair of women’s races on Thanksgiving weekend, with a giant slalom Nov. 26 and a slalom the following day. The 21-year-old Shiffrin grew up in Colorado, but most of her family is from New England.
“They are over the moon. They can’t wait for this race to happen,” the 21-year-old Shiffrin said. “My grandma, she is 95, I think is coming. I hope she will be able to go. That would be amazing.”
The World Cup circuit visited Vermont before — in Stratton in 1978 — but November’s event will be the first in the U.S. northeast since American skier Julie Parisien won a GS in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, in 1991.
Ted Ligety, the Olympic GS gold medalist from Utah, hopes the area will also become a stop on the men’s World Cup circuit.
“Having a race in the East Coast really makes sense,” Ligety said. “There is a ton of hard-core ski racing fans in the East Coast. There are big populations near these ski races, as well. In the whole New England area you will get a big crowd as long as you are within a couple hours’ drive from Boston.”
The event in Killington features the first two of a total of 16 World Cup races on American snow in the 2016-17 season, the highest number in the past two decades.
The men traditionally race in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in early December, but Squaw Valley, California, has been added to the women’s calendar for March, shortly before the men and women contest the World Cup finals in Aspen, Colorado.
“Many of our athletes grew up training and racing on these hills,” Tiger Shaw, president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said. “They’re excited to have this many opportunities to ski in front of a hometown crowd.”
Shiffrin believes that having 16 races in the U.S. will spark greater interest in the sport across the country.
“Especially moving into an Olympic year, it provides a lot more opportunities from a business standpoint for us, U.S. ski racers,” she said. “That’s huge.”
Shiffrin recalled how watching the likes of Lindsey Vonn, Anja Paerson, Janica Kostelic and Marlies Schild inspired her to get into racing.
“I watched all these girls and ski racing was the biggest thing in my eyes,” Shiffrin said. “I am hoping that having this many races in the U.S. can really spark some interest with those young girls, who remind me of myself 10 years ago.”
The USSA is eager to build on the momentum and host more World Cup races on a regular basis in the near future. Many American ski resorts could stage those races, but the rise of new formats like city events offers further opportunities.
Boston hosted a Big Air freestyle skiing event at Fenway Park in February, and could also host an Alpine skiing city event one day.
“It’s great for us to be able to go to big cities around the world,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said. “We have been to Munich, to Stockholm, to Moscow. Maybe we find an opportunity in North America, in one of the big cities there. These could be the highlights that are absolutely giving us the attraction we are looking for in these very populated areas of the world.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.