When Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows was tapped to host its first World Cup ski event since 1969, the fear was that there wouldn’t be enough snow to sustain the icy, rock-hard course required for top-circuit ski racing by the governing International Ski Federation (FIS).
Instead, after four years of drought, the major challenges turned out to be too much snow, as in about 50 feet—a near record—by the time the Audi FIS World Cup competition rolled around on March 9-12.
Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated, gracing the event with one of the first snowfree weekends in months. By then, planners had been grappling for most of the year with logistics and contingency plans for every aspect of a high-visibility international event that attracted more than 10,000 spectators each day, with live broadcast on NBC reaching an estimated 6 million viewers around the world.
The World Cup, held annually on a largely European circuit with a few stops in the United States, is the premier competition for alpine ski racing after the Winter Olympics. The women’s slalom and giant slalom events, featuring top racers from 19 countries jockeying for leaderboard status in a run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, came to Squaw as the result of a schedule change. The opportunity promised international recognition and a shot of prestige for a resort that has clung long and hard to its legacy as host of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Community pride and participation helped make it work, says Liesl Kenney, public relations director for the side-by-side Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows resorts. “While most resorts would use a lot of contractors to put on an event like this, our organizing committee was almost entirely sourced internally.”
The committee was comprised of 40 resort team members, and the event required recruiting and training hundreds of volunteers; providing security; planning auxiliary events ranging from parties and parades to entertainment, awards ceremonies, fireworks and vendor fairs; facilitating spectator transportation; finding close-in lodging for 90 athletes and their entourages; arranging media coverage— and making the entire affair carbon neutral.
“In addition to a couple hundred paid staff working on the event, we had close to 450 volunteers,” says Kyle Crezee, chairman of the World Cup organizing committee.
While sold-out lodging and packed restaurants had an economic impact on the resort and the region, hosting the World Cup was about inspiration, not about turning a profit, emphasizes Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows President and CEO Andy Wirth.
“We’re not looking at the economic impact, we’re looking at it as a 10- to 15- to 20-year-impact,” he says. “It’s not hard, with the marketing tools we have, to bring people here. But there’s something unique about World Cup and what it means to families. It really has to do with inspiring the next generation of skiers out of this region.”
Squaw/Alpine’s race teams count more than 1,700 members, ages 4-18, says Kenney. Many of the younger set marched in pre-race parades and watched wide-eyed as the world’s top female racers screamed down the course at more than 50 mph, their images and times projected onto a giant video screen erected in front of dual grandstands seating 1,000 cowbellclanging spectators. Thousands more gathered at the finish and on the sidelines to watch U.S. Ski Team member and Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin take first both days.
At the base area Village at Squaw Valley, conference rooms and lodging were fully booked. Next door, Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn hosted press conferences. At the far end of the valley, the Resort at Squaw Creek was the headquarters for other special events. “[The World Cup] was a great way to showcase our destination to both new and return guests,” says Andre Priemer, managing director
To handle the crush of people coming into the valley on race days, Squaw incentivized carpooling by offering free, premium spots for vehicles with four or more passengers. It also organized a 48-passenger shuttle bus service from Truckee and Tahoe City. In addition, the resort’s mobile app was updated to provide transportation notifications and to promote Chariot, a ride-sharing service that operated free in the valley during the event.
Course preparation was paramount. Races were held on Red Dog, a steep, twisty and challenging 2-mile run that has hosted many championship contests in the past. Race crews worked on it for months, repeatedly wetting, freezing, adding snow, removing snow, machine grooming and fencing the slopes.Over and again, their efforts were erased by storms that dumped up to four feet of powder at a time on the course, all of which had to be removed, much of it by hand. The final touches were applied the old-fashioned way, by teams of “slippers,” who slide sideways down the course on skis to create a hard but smooth surface capable of holding up to the 50-odd skiers who raced on it each day.
Meanwhile, the resort pulled out all the stops to make the event carbon neutral. “In our case we did a substantial inventory of the 400-metric-ton carbon footprint associated with the event,” Wirth says. “The second step was to do everything we could to reduce that, while the third step was to identify projects in the region where we could offset the rest.”
Many regional sponsors and tourist boards also stepped in. Everyone’s favorite giveaway: miniature cowbells—the traditional noisemaker for ski races—provided by Go Tahoe North.