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After a six-year hiatus, international ski racing returns to Aspen Mountain.

By Cindy Hirschfeld December 6, 2022 Published in the Winter/Spring 2022-23 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Mikaela Shiffrin launches out of the start gate at the World Cup Finals in Aspen on March 19, 2017

Image: Daniel Bayer

When the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced in May that it had selected Aspen Mountain as a venue for three World Cup men’s races in downhill and Super-G in March 2023, local racing fans rejoiced. 

After all, Aspen had enjoyed a prestigious spot in the annals of international competition, with the world’s best ski racers of each era hurtling down Aspen Mountain’s precipitous slopes since the World Alpine Championships came to town in 1950. In 1968, Aspen became a regular stop for World Cup races and hosted them almost annually since 1998. But that racing streak ended in March 2017 with the conclusion of the FIS World Cup Finals—five days of men’s and women’s racing that went off without a hitch despite unseasonably warm temperatures, and attracted some 30,000 spectators. The following season, FIS abruptly relocated its November World Cup races to Killington, Vermont, and Aspen Mountain was effectively ghosted from the international ski racing scene. 

“We never thought it was appropriate that we were off the calendar after 2017,” says John Rigney, Aspen SkiCo’s senior VP for revenue. “Alpine sits close to people’s hearts in this valley. It’s part of our heritage.”

The reason given by FIS was the aging infrastructure of Aspen Mountain’s race venue, particularly the Lift 1A double chair, which has ferried riders up the ski area’s west side for more than 50 years. The message was clear: No new chair, no more races. 

But that all changed with new leadership at both FIS and US Ski & Snowboard over the past year. Last spring, when FIS’s marketing division, looking to boost interest in later-season races, which was waning in the wake of big mid-season events such as the biannual World Championships and the Winter Olympics, called to see if SkiCo would be interested in hosting downhill and Super-G races in 2023 (of course it was). The hope, explained FIS’s Markus Waldner, chief race director for the men’s World Cup, during a site inspection visit in late August, is that a revised schedule with back-to-back weekends of racing in the US—broadcast live during European prime time—will draw more viewers.

So is World Cup racing back to stay in Aspen? Nothing has been finalized, but Rigney, for one, is hopeful. “I get the feeling this is part of a more strategic approach to the calendar and not a series of one-offs,” he says.

As for Lift 1A, although plans call for the old chair to be replaced eventually, it’s no longer a sticking point for FIS. Says Waldner, “The most important thing is the hill we ski down. How we come up, it’s not a big problem for us.”

Image: Daniel Bayer

When and Where to Watch

The FIS Alpine World Cup races will take place March 3–5, 2023, on the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain. Men will compete in two downhill races (March 3 and 4) and one Super-G race (March 5). Lift 1A will operate for racers only, so you’ll need to ride the gondola, then take the FIS chair to spectate along the course.

One of the best spots for viewing, says Aspen’s Chief of Race Jim Hancock, is at the bottom of Spring Pitch, where you’ll see racers flying down Aztec and through the notorious airplane turn. Plus, if a large viewing screen is erected there, as it was during the 2017 World Cup finals, “you could watch racers at the top of the course on the screen, then watch the most technical part in front of you live, then watch the finish on the screen,” adds Hancock, who has worked on every Aspen World Cup since 1981. 

Another prime spot: alongside Ruthie’s Run by the first big jump, some 200 yards or so downhill from the top of the FIS lift. And, of course, fans will pack the grandstands at the finish line, where “the energy you get is really cool,” says Hancock. Plus, no lift ticket is required for access there.

At any time of the season, visit the Champion’s Grove near the bottom of Ruthie’s lift. Since 2009, a young spruce tree has been planted for every World Cup victor in Aspen. The site is dedicated to Andrea Mead Lawrence, who remains the only American to have won two gold medals in alpine skiing at one Olympics in 1952.

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