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World Cup heads back to Europe; North America shrugs

December 12, 2014, 8:54 am
lindsey vonn podium sweep

The U.S. Ski Team swept a podium for the first time ever at Lake Louise last week but now the tour heads to Europe for most of the rest of the season (U.S. Ski Team photo).

Athletes in America’s No. 1 sport, football, hate the idea of an NFL franchise in Europe. Travel would be exhausting, the food’s weird, and they just generally don’t want to play there.

So imagine what it’s like for World Cup ski racers like Glenwood’s Alice McKennis or Aspen’s Wiley Maple, who have a couple of races early in the season in Canada and the United States each year and then jet off to Europe for the rest of the regular season – never to return, even for the playoffs.

That’s what happens in the White Circus. Starting this weekend, November and December’s World Cup races in Aspen, Beaver Creek and Lake Louise, Canada, are in the rearview for American ski racers as they head to Are, Sweden and then the rest of Europe for the rest of the season. Maybe that’s why ski racing ranks somewhere considerably lower than football on the U.S. popularity meter. It’s essentially a European sport.

The one big difference this season, however, is the World Alpine Ski Championships will be hosted at Vail and Beaver Creek, Feb. 2-15, so the event that every two years match the NFL’s conference championship games in importance (for skiers) will be in the U.S. for the first time since Vail last hosted Worlds in 1999. Aspen is the only other U.S. venue to host Worlds – way back in 1950.

To stretch this painful analogy even further, the Winter Olympics – held every four years – are the Super Bowl of skiing. Annual World Cup Finals, which often decide season-long champions in different skiing disciplines, don’t really rate with American fans — although Aspen will host Finals in 2017.

To show you just how Eurocentric this sport is, the last time the annual World Cup Finals were hosted outside of Europe was Vail in 1997. Aspen’s turn will mark a 20-year span of the Finals happening at a European resort. Seems a bit out of whack.

Park City’s Ted Ligety, who won a World Cup giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Sunday while the vast majority of America was watching football, is psyched to have some big ski events in the U.S. – even if they’re not the Super Bowl.

“It’s going to be great having [the World Championships] here,” Ligety said at Beaver Creek last week. “They always do an awesome job prepping the hill here, so it’s a treat to race here because of that. You’d be surprised that the mass majority of our World Cup races are prepared pretty badly, whereas here they do an awesome job.

“Everyone loves coming here because of that. Plus, the fact that it’s here on home soil and the Euros have to live out their duffel bags like we have to all of the time — it evens the playing field a little bit.”

As far as hosting a Super Bowl anytime soon, forget about it, America. The next Olympics will be held in South Korea in 2018, and the chances are slim the Winter Games (last held here in 2002 in Utah) will return before 2030 at the earliest – a 28-year span.

Why? Well, because, contrary to popular conservative opinion, the White House is not occupied by a brutal dictator, and therefore the U.S. taxpayers won’t pony up the $50 billion or so needed to buy off the International Olympic Committee. So the 2022 Games will either be in Kazakhstan or Beijing and 2026 will likely be in a snow dome in the Middle East somewhere (JK, I think).

The U.S. is unlikely to even pursue 2026 Winter Games, preferring Summer Games first (they haven’t been here since Atlanta 1996).

Now if Americans loved skiing the way they love the brutality of football, then maybe they’d vote to pump the same obscene amounts of money they pour into publicly funded NFL stadiums into ice arenas for curling and pairs ice dancing. But don’t hold your breath.

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David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environment, sports and outdoor writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as the The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, SKI, SKIING, Powder, People, LA Weekly and the Huffington Post.

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