“Groundbreaking” is the word Calum Clark used to describe this past weekend’s Audi FIS World Cup in Killington, Vt. Clark, a quiet Australian, knows a thing or two about really big events. As vice-president for events for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (U.S.S.A.), Clark is responsible for management of around 20 major international events including World Cups, U.S. Championships, Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix and other Continental Cup-level competitions. He’s also worked on the 2000 Sydney and 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
“There’s no question that this was the biggest World Cup crowd we’ve seen outside the finals,” he said as more than 16,000 fans watched the racers plunge down Killington’s Superstar course. Clark gestured toward the crowd—just as Killington’s “King of Spring,” Chandler Burgess stripped off his shirt and began dancing topless in the grandstands, twirling his shirt overhead.
“More than that, this is groundbreaking in other ways,” Clark continued. It’s one of the best crowds: It’s passionate, it’s engaged and Vermonters and New Englanders really know and care about ski racing.”
That’s important for the athletes, Clark noted. And indeed, nearly every athlete on and off the podium praised the crowds for the cheering and support. As U.S. Ski Team racer Resi Stielger (the daughter of Olympic gold medalist Pepi Stielger) wrote on her Instagram account: “If you are feeling under loved, go east and ski race in front of 16,000 screaming fans! Loved the love @killingtonmtn.”
“Even the FIS officials were impressed,” Clark continued. “Riding up the chairlifts they were turning around and taking photos. At most European events the crowds trickle off after the leaders have their runs. Here, everyone stayed and cheered even the last racers.”
So does that mean the World Cup will return to Killington? “Killington certainly put on a very strong show,” said USSA spokesperson Tom Kelly. “Coming in here, we were confident in Killington’s ability to make snow. We’ve had good relations with Powdr Corp. (Killington’s parent company, which also owns Copper Mountain in Colorado and Mt. Bachelor, Ore.), and we know Powdr owner John Cumming is passionate about ski racing.” Cumming, a Harvard Business School grad and co-founder of Mountain Hardwear, is also a past director of USSA.
“Last, having Herwig Demschar there to oversee things was a huge plus,” Kelly said. Demschar, who is a VP at Powdr is the former alpine director for the Salt Lake Organizing Committe for the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and the former alpine director of the U.S. and, before that, Austrian national ski teams.
“But it will depend on how Killington feels too,” Kelly added. “But I will say it’s been a tremendous weekend and created tremendous brand exposure for Killington and for Vermont in more than 60 countries via the TV feed.”
All of the things Kelly outlined were factors in Killington being chosen as the first eastern venue to host a World Cup since Waterville Valley, N.H. hosted in 1991.
The opportunity arose after Aspen, Colo., which typically hosts an early season World Cup, was selected to host the World Cup finals in March. USSA president Tiger Shaw, who grew up ski racing in the East and whose relatives still live in Stowe has been dying to bring it back East where, he notes, more than 80 million people are within a day’s drive of the Green Mountains.
“Where else can you see the course from the road?” he added. “This is possibly one of the best places in the world to be able to watch a huge portion of a World Cup race.”
While Shaw could not say whether the event will return, he did talk about the possibility of rotating it back here every other year. “Some of this will depend on where Aspen stands in the coming year with its permits for new lifts at the base,” he noted, referring to the plan to revamp Lift 1A which runs to Aspen’s race courses.
However, it will also be up to Killington to decide if the significant investment it made in hosting the event will pay off again. “We had by far our best weekend ever for food and beverage sold at the K1 base area,” noted marketing director Rob Megnin. Nearly 4,000 skiers and riders also boarded the lifts. “And we had a crowd that we normally have across the entire resort on a busy midwinter weekend.”
But Megnin also noted that among the costs were housing racers and their entourages in the 200 rooms at the Killington Grand Hotel and feeding them “more than 900 meals.” Then there was the immense labor and rental of snow equipment that it took to ready the Superstar course, all while maintaining other runs for guests. And the resort did not hesitate to make the event free for all, with an option for a limited number to buy VIP grandstand seats for $350 a pop.
Megnin also notes that the ski industry often estimates that for every dollar spent on a lift ticket, $7 to $9 dollars are spent in town. “This is hard to translate though for this weekend,” he noted.
Still, Megnin was beaming by the end of the weekend. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years” he said on Friday, and he was still grinning on Saturday as he watched streams of people crowd the grandstand where O.A.R. was giving a free concert.
The final decision on the World Cup schedule won’t be made until the FIS annual meeting next May. Already, men’s World Cup events scheduled for Beaver Creek the weekend of Dec. 2-4 have been cancelled due to lack of snow and last year a number of stops on the European circuit were cancelled or rescheduled for lack of snow as well. That may tilt the scales more in favor of Killington, which boasts one of the biggest snowmaking operations in the world. Even with a few days of natural snowfall, resort was able to lay down a base of more than 10 feet of machine-made snow.
Though the concrete-hard surface will be chopped up and regroomed for skiing, the World Cup snow on Superstar is likely to last until May. And until then, Killington will be basking in the afterglow of putting on one of the largest and most successful of sporting events in Vermont’s recent history.
Opening photo by Brooks Curran.