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Aspen welcomes World Cup skiing back to the mountain

Travis Ganong races during the FIS World Cup Finals on March 16, 2017 at Aspen Mountain
Matt Power
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
Travis Ganong races during the FIS World Cup Finals on March 16, 2017 at Aspen Mountain. World Cup racing returns to Aspen March 3-5, 2023.

It’s been more than half a decade since World Cup ski racers made a stop in Aspen, but the hiatus ends this week with men’s downhill races on Friday and Saturday and a super-G event on Sunday, all at Aspen Mountain.

Aspen Public Radio produced a live broadcast for the local race calls for Friday’s downhill races that began at 11:30 a.m. Spectators can also view the races for free from the grandstands located at the base of the Shadow Mountain lift, also known as Lift 1A, or from select areas along the sidelines of the course.

Aspen Skiing Company Senior Vice President John Rigney said in an interview last month that World Cup racing is part of the community’s DNA.

“Most of us were brought here in support of a lifestyle, right? And the pinnacle version of that lifestyle is World Cup downhill racing, right?” Rigney said. “Does it get any better than that? … To see it alive and well and to host the very best here in our own backyard, that's pretty special.” 

SkiCo Senior Vice President John Rigney speaks about the return of World Cup ski racing to Aspen.

The excitement extends to the athletes racing this weekend, according to Aspen local Ben Black, an on-hill coach who also helps with strength and conditioning for the Stifel U.S. Ski Team.

“We're all very fired up to be back here in Aspen — not just our team, not just the U.S. team, but I think the entirety of the field, all the nations,” Black said. “Everyone's been really looking forward to this event this year.”

World Cup races have been coming to Aspen since the 1960s, and the town hosted a stop on the circuit almost every year or two, but after the 2017 World Cup Finals on Ajax, it seemed like it would be a while before racers would return.

Officials from the International Ski Federation (F.I.S.) that organizes the World Cup said they wanted to see facilities improvements and a replacement for the outdated Lift 1A before they’d consider Aspen up to snuff.

People ride the Shadow Mountain chairlift, also known as Lift 1A, during the 2017 World Cup Finals at Aspen Mountain.
Dan Bayer
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
People ride the Shadow Mountain chairlift, also known as Lift 1A, during the 2017 World Cup Finals at Aspen Mountain. The lift remains a fixture on the mountain for the 2023 Audi F.I.S. Ski World Cup stop, with races scheduled for March 3-5.

There are plans for a replacement of Lift 1A still several years out. But if you take a look up at the America’s Downhill course taking shape on the western edge of Ajax this week, you’ll notice that the two-seat, fixed-grip, 52-year-old Lift 1A is still chugging right along.

Rigney said SkiCo’s persistent support of downhill racing and a change of leadership at the F.I.S. enabled World Cup races to return with Lift 1A still in play.

“We just focused on reminding folks: We're here. We wholeheartedly support alpine racing. When the time comes, we'd love to have you back,” Rigney said. “We kept the relationships with the FIS alive, with our partners of the U.S. Ski Team. And then honestly, there was a change in leadership, and the phone rang and they said, ‘You want back in?’ And the answer was, ‘Yeah, of course we do.’”

That means the World Cup is back in Aspen, along with more than 60 racers, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of spectators.

A robust lineup of races, live music and other extracurricular programming are on the docket Between opening ceremonies Thursday night and the final concert in Wagner Park on Sunday evening.

And Lift 1A — the lift that carried Ingemar Stemark up the hill for his record 86th World Cup win in 1989 and that carried Mikaela Shiffrin up before her first World Cup overall title in 2017 — will be the same one transporting some of the world’s top downhillers this weekend. (While the men compete stateside, Shiffrin is over in Norway for some women’s World Cup races, where she could tie or break Stenmark’s all-time record.)

Opening Ceremonies 

A live DJ was scheduled to play music starting at 4 p.m. Thursday to kick off an apres ski party in Snowmass Base Village, but the main ceremony was slated for 6 p.m. with introductions to the Stifel U.S. Ski Team.

A bib draw, community parade to the base of Fanny Hill, torchlight ski parade and fireworks were set to follow.

A skier competes in the World Cup Finals downhill race at Aspen Mountain on March 25, 2017.
Matt Power
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
A skier competes in the World Cup Finals downhill race at Aspen Mountain on March 25, 2017. After more than half a decade, World Cup ski racing will return to Ajax March 3-5, 2023.

Off to the Races

Before the races began at Aspen Mountain on Friday, a pre-race ceremony commemorated the legacy of late ski coach and sports commentator Bob Beattie with a trail renaming.

Aspen Snowmass is renaming the “East 5th Ave.” trail that leads skiers toward the base of Lift 1A to “Beattie Way” in honor of the longtime Aspenite who co-founded the alpine skiing World Cup and later launched the World Pro Ski Tour.

The ceremony took place at 11 a.m. Friday in the finish area grandstands at the base of Lift 1A. The men’s downhill race began at 11:30 a.m. but was canceled partway through the competition due to winter weather that caused poor visibility and deteriorating course conditions.

Another downhill race is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, and a super-G race is on the docket for a 10 a.m. start on Sunday.

Aspen Elementary School students cheer during a visit from several members of the Stifel U.S. Ski Team on Feb. 24 in advance of the World Cup ski races at Aspen Mountain.

Free shuttles begin running at 10 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 9 a.m. on Sunday, transporting spectators uphill from the corner of Durant Street and Mill Street near Rubey Park to the venue entrance at the intersection of South Monarch Street and Summit Street.

Skiers and snowboarders who want to watch the race from the sidelines of the course will need a lift ticket to do so. To access the course, take the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain, then ski about halfway down to load the F.I.S. chairlift. The F.I.S. lift unloads near the top of the course on Ruthie’s Run.

People attend a Bud Light Hi-Fi concert on March 18, 2017.
Hal Williams Photography
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
People attend a Bud Light Hi-Fi concert on March 18, 2017. The 2023 Audi F.I.S. Ski World Cup event lineup includes several Hi-Fi concerts over three days in Wagner Park in Aspen.

Ski Songs and Climate Talks 

After the races, Wagner Park becomes the main hub of activity this weekend, with DJ performances beginning at 1 p.m. each day and live Bud Light Hi-Fi concerts every evening as the sun starts to set.

Friday’s concert lineup includes a show by rock duo Black Pistol Fire at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, indie groups take the stage with The Moss scheduled to perform at 5:30 p.m. and Mt. Joy slated for 7:30 p.m., immediately followed by fireworks. On Sunday, musician Brendan Johnson is scheduled to perform at 4 p.m. and The Robert Randolph Band plays at 5:30 p.m.

Friday’s programming also includes other extracurricular activities on the schedule, like athlete meet-and-greets and big-picture climate talks.

Amid the afternoon D.J. sets on Friday, people can stick around in Wagner Park for a “World Cup for Climate” panel at 3 p.m. and make their way over to Gondola Plaza at 4 p.m. for a 4 p.m. autograph signing with the Stifel U.S. Ski Team.

SkiCo Senior Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler speaks about the "World Cup for Climate" panel scheduled for March 3, 2023.

SkiCo Senior Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler will moderate the climate panel, which is sponsored by SkiCo, Protect Our Winters and the Stifel U.S. Ski Team.

“We're trying to use the power and influence of the World Cup and the ski industry to get people thinking about real change on climate,” Schendler said in an interview this week. “So you never know who's in Aspen. It's often heads of state, it's heads of corporations, it's people who are activist citizens who haven't really taken action on climate, so we're trying to basically tap into the influence and power that is the World Cup audience.”

Schendler will be speaking with some of the ski industry’s leading voices, like alpine ski racer Travis Ganong and U.S. Ski and Snowboard President and CEO Sophie Goldschmidt. Audi of America President Daniel Weissland will also attend, along with Erik Snyder, the founder and CEO of the “Drawdown Growth Capital Fund” that invests in companies focused on sustainability.

Schendler says he’ll be asking the panelists how they’re wielding their power and platform to effect meaningful change through climate action.

“I'm not interested in what you're doing individually,” Schendler said. “I'm not interested in this specific event. I'm not interested in offsets. … It's going to be a ton of hard-hitting conversation around driving real, significant change.”

The talk starts at 3 p.m. Friday in Wagner Park near an installation of artist Chris Erikson’s “melted gondola” sculpture, which debuted last season on Aspen Mountain in an effort to communicate the urgency of climate change.

This story was updated Friday to denote events that had already happened. For additional coverage of Saturday and Sunday's races, click here.


Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.