A World Cup event is more than just a ski race.
At storied venues in Europe, Canada and the western United States, oceans of fans pack around the course and finish line to cheer on their heroes, hanging on every turn carved and tick of the clock. National pride is on display, along with knowledge of and respect for the top racers from other countries.
Afterward, whole towns turn into giant parties in celebration of the athletes, their performances, the sport and its culture.
The Northeast has spent the past quarter-century watching the World Cup from afar, but that changes when the top female ski racers in the world descend on Killington on Saturday and Sunday. More than 90 athletes representing 20 countries are set to lock horns in slalom and giant slalom competitions on Killington’s Superstar trail.
“When the Audi FIS Ski World Cup comes to Killington, it will be the largest-scale event in this mountain’s history, and arguably in the history of Vermont, at least from a snow sports perspective,” said Michael Joseph, communications director for Killington Resort. “A combination of factors … have set this event up to make a huge splash on the world stage.”
One of the biggest of those factors is pent-up demand. It’s been 25 years since New England has hosted a World Cup ski race (Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, 1991), and nearly 40 years since the World Cup stopped in Vermont (Stratton, 1978).
That demand, amplified by advancements in broadcast coverage and social media exposure, means that millions of eyes will be trained on the Green Mountains for the weekend’s events.
“With satellite TV trucks broadcasting … to 60 countries worldwide, the passion and excitement of a crowd conservatively estimated at 10,000-15,000 each day will be on full display for all to see,” Joseph said.
“And the best part is that it’s totally free to attend the races. Even the parking and shuttles are free.”
Skiers to watch
Fans of U.S. skiing caught a tough break Nov. 10, when superstar Lindsey Vonn — the winningest female alpine ski racer of all time — suffered a “severe fracture” of the humerus bone in her right arm during a training run crash at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Vonn is likely to miss the remainder of the World Cup season while recovering.
That leaves Mikaela Shiffrin as the indisputable marquee attraction for fans of the Stars and Stripes. Shiffrin already has a strong fan following in New England; she grew up skiing in New Hampshire and attended Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She has taken the rest of the skiing world by storm since, bringing home the gold medal in slalom from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The defending two-time world champion in slalom, Shiffrin enters Saturday’s race on a remarkable hot streak: She’s won 12 consecutive slalom races, including her last nine in World Cup competition.
Following her latest win — in the World Cup season-opening slalom Nov. 12 in Finland — Shiffrin said her winning streak hasn’t given her even a bit of breathing room in a women’s field packed with talent.
“I am not unbeatable, I can tell you that,” Shiffrin said. “A lot of these girls know that, and they’re shooting to be the first to beat me now.
“So every race I have to be faster, and it’s certainly not a comfortable position.”
Vermont fans will have another familiar face to root for at Killington: Laurence St. Germain, a junior at the University of Vermont who races for the Catamounts and represents her home country of Canada in World Cup competition.
St. Germain raced in most of last season’s World Cup slaloms before a knee injury knocked her out of competition for six weeks. She returned in time to participate in Finland earlier this month.
UVM coach Bill Reichelt said a year of World Cup experience should help St. Germain’s confidence on the course, and fans should keep an eye on how relaxed she appears as an indication of that.
“Sometimes she holds back a little bit during her first run, and can look a little tight or stiff,” Reichelt said. “If she’s looking fluid, it’s a good indication that she’s relaxed and going for it — just letting (her skis) run.”
Other skiers to keep an eye on include two of Shiffrin’s U.S. teammates, Julia Mancuso and Resi Stiegler.
Where to watch
Undoubtedly, many fans in Vermont haven’t had the opportunity to attend a World Cup event before. They are used to high school, college and league races in their home state, where the fans typically wear their own boots and skis, ride the same lifts as the racers and descend along the sides of the course until they find an optimal vantage point.
A World Cup race is a different animal. Fans must watch the action from a designated spectator area at the bottom of Superstar trail, unless they purchased a $350 VIP grandstand ticket during the six-hour window before they sold out July 5.
The spectator area affords an unprecedented view of the action, said Joseph, the Killington spokesman.
“You can see about half of the slalom course and about 40 percent of the GS course,” Joseph said. “Plus, the giant TV wall being erected will offer views of the upper courses. Superstar offers significantly better sight lines than most other World Cup race venues.”
While earlybird fans undoubtedly will pack the front of the spectator area in hopes of getting the best view of the finish line, those with experience watching alpine racing will pick spots based on an optimal triangulation: the course, the video screens and the leaderboard. All three components together will tell the tale of what really unfolds during the weekend’s races.
With so many spectators expected, getting into and out of the resort will be its own challenge — one Joseph said the resort is meeting head-on.
“We’ll be using satellite parking lots and extra shuttle buses to move guests around,” Joseph said.
Proximity of parking (and resulting time spent in shuttle transit) will be determined by when fans arrive. Those who get an early jump will be able to park in nearby lots on Vale Road and at Snowshed and Ramshead Base Lodges, but those spots are expected to fill up fast.
Rather than drive all the way into the crowded resort only to come up empty,savvy travelers should take an outside-in approach, Joseph recommended.
“We implore people coming up via Route 4 from the east to park at Skyeship Base Lodge and catch a free shuttle, and anyone coming from the west to park at Pico Mountain and bus in,” he said.
What else to do
The weekend comprises much more than just a pair of ski races. From parades and athlete meet-and-greets to film premiers and parties, there is no shortage of activities to keep fans and families entertained.
“We’ll also have upward of 50 vendors lining the perimeter of the festival village, showcasing the best artisan foods and craft products of Vermont and the region, plus the latest ski industry hard goods and technology manufacturers showing off their toys,” Joseph said. “With first runs of the competition happening at 9:30 a.m. both days this weekend, we are opening the festival village at 7 a.m. so folks have ample time to explore the vendors and get the lay of the land before settling into their preferred (viewing) spot.”
A 1,000-child youth ski racing parade helps kick off the weekend during opening ceremonies Saturday morning. Fans will have an opportunity to meet the racers from the U.S. and Norwegian teams during autograph sessions, and other ski celebrities including Angel Collinson will be on hand to promote the premieres of films they appear in.
A free concert by O.A.R. after the conclusion of Saturday’s GS races will provide the entertainment highlight of the weekend, along with a slate of parties at different venues throughout the area. One such scene features Long Trail Brewing partnering with The Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation for a special apres-ski party starting at 6 p.m. Saturday at Outback Pizza in Killington.
“It’s basically a sponsored coming-out party, to introduce Flyin’ Ryan IPA to the Killington crowd and promote our mission of sharing the core values program with as many people as we can,” said Peter Hawks, director of the foundation and father of the late extreme skier from South Burlington for whom the foundation is named.
All other events aside, there is one potential activity that might interest attendees most of all: skiing.
Although the rest of the country remains mired in a snow drought — last weekend’s scheduled World Cup race at Beaver Creek, Colorado, was canceled due to lack of course coverage — FIS officials inspected Superstar last week and gave it the green light. That allowed Killington’s mountain operations crew to move the extra snowmaking equipment rented for the occasion to other parts of the mountain.
Killington lived up to its reputation of being “The Beast” of the east by being the first New England resort to open this season, and its man-made surfaces received a solid shot in the arm from the significant natural snowfall that began Sunday.
“Killington has been open for skiing and snowboarding since Oct. 25, and the (recent) snowstorm has helped accelerate terrain expansion,” Joseph said Monday. “We’ve got top-to-bottom coverage, and we’re working aggressively to get three more base areas connected ahead of the holiday weekend.
“There are 140 guns going right now — and it’s still snowing.”