The World Cup season wrapped up in Aspen, closing a breakthrough season for the US. It was the first time a World Cup was held in the east since 1991, the first time the World Cup came to Squaw Valley since 1969, the first time the Finals were in North America since 1997, the first time an American stood atop the podium since 2010 (ok, not really a drought, but cool nonetheless). This all happened in the 50th anniversary year of the Ski World Cup. Some things have come—like super G, prize money and mainstream TV coverage. Other things have gone—like yellow slalom flags, 35-meter GS skis (thankfully) and, yep, mainstream TV coverage. Still other things—like duals, team events and collegiate racers— have drifted in and out in some capacity and we hope are now here to stay. What has not changed since 1967 is the sheer drama of the sport, and the spirit of the people who pursue it.
I was fortunate enough to be at all the North American World Cup venues this year, and, in some small way, to be part of the on-hill effort. I started as a Gate Judge in Killington, alongside the Cochran clan and other New England ski legends. When I went “home” to Squaw I joined many friends on the slip crew. In Aspen, I again joined a slip crew of USST alums assembled by Christin Cooper and Mark Taché. I had the pleasure in Aspen of a “high speed slip” of the DH behind AJ Kitt, then slipped the course in sections behind up-and-coming Aspen Valley Ski Club racers. Following 14-year-old Tess down Aztec, and then watching her watch Lindsey Vonn whip past, was something I won’t soon forget.
This last vision was yet another reminder of how important it is to build raw appreciation and enthusiasm for the sport with World Cup races on home turf. The fans and kids clawing their way up the side of the course at Killington brought back another vision, of seeing a silver-haired gentleman in a sky-blue Bogner suit scrambling up the side of a World Cup race course in Park City many years ago. Stein Eriksen was clearly expected in the VIP tent, but preferred a close-up view of the action to five-star treatment. Being a ski racing fan is not about access or status or what nation stands atop the podium. It’s about the positive energy, camaraderie and sensibilities that make this sport unique. Ski racing is grit before glamour, freeze before thaw, good company before good networking and fun before all.
There was something very “full-circle” about this year’s magical mystery tour down memory lane. Even as a westerner, I watched my first World Cup race in the east at Waterville Valley, and competed in those 1991 World Cup Finals that marked the beginning of the east’s World Cup drought. This year in Killington, Marilyn Cochran helped me get my skis onto the bus, just as she once carried my skis—and became my first ski hero—when I was six years old. In Squaw Valley, I joined a crew of US Ski Team/Squaw Valley Ski Team alums, all kindly hosted by Squaw, to watch World Cup skiers send it down Red Dog, as we had done so many times as kids. Among those watching was my second ski hero, and eventual teammate, and Overall World Cup winner, Tamara McKinney. After the races, a familiar cowboy hat stood out amidst the sea of apres ski revelers at Le Chamois. Billy Kidd, winner of the last World Cup race in Squaw, in 1969, folded in comfortably with the locals at “The Chammy,” taking time to meet some new fans, and to show my niece how to properly tie her bandana.
The culmination of my own World Cup Tour was the “50 years of Ski Racing” party at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, an all-inclusive, unsanctioned, no credentials bash by and for the ski racing community. The gathering of 450 or so racers, coaches, officials, journalists, photographers, fans and industry people of every era, amateur and professional, was the brainchild of the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation, dedicated to preserving the past and promoting the future of ski racing. True to form, Beattie spoke with passion about the past and optimism for the future. He talked about the formation of the World Cup, and his insistence that the US had to be part of it to make it viable. Bob was, and is, right.
In both Squaw and Aspen, as soon as the races ended each day a group of old ski racers coalesced on the slopes, as it organically happens on a sunny day in the mountains. In Aspen I had perfectly tuned GS skis, and was thus committed to a certain speed, which was not slow. At the bottom of one particularly fast run I looked up to see Nancy Greene, the first winner of the Overall World Cup, right at my side. She was grinning ear to ear and barely winded…on SL skis.
By sheer coincidence I closed the cul de sac of Memory Lane by going directly from Aspen to Mittersill, NH, where ski racing kids threw it down on the rebuilt and re-invogorated race venue on Cannon Mountain. Fifty years ago, in the World Cup’s inaugural season, Cannon hosted the first World Cup races in North America. Nancy Greene raced at Cannon in 1967, and a week later would go on to clinch the first World Cup Overall title in Jackson Hole. Greene being in Aspen, to watch the Overall World Cup globe go to Mikaela Shiffrin and to get some ripping runs of her own, is all the proof I need that World Cup skiing—the White Circus—is still the greatest show on earth.