The East Coast, and specifically Vermont, have a long history steeped in skiing. In 1934 Robert and Elizabeth Royce constructed the country’s first rope tow on a hill in Woodstock near their inn. Two years later came the installation of the first J-bar at Bromley Mountain; four years after that, the first T-bar appeared at Pico Peak. The first National Ski Patrol was developed at Mt. Mansfield by Charles “Minnie” Dole after an injury forced him to perform a self-rescue on the mountain. He would later lobby the US War Department and inspire the creation of the famed 10th Mountain Division. In 1966, the same year of the founding of the FIS World Cup, Vermont had over 80 ski areas in operation and enjoyed the most skier visits in the country. And Vermont’s dominance in the snow doesn’t end with skiing. Jake Carpenter, founder of Burton Snowboards, is largely credited with the invention of the modern snowboard, which he tinkered with in his barn in Londonderry. The country’s first halfpipe, first snowboard school, and first national snowboard championship? All from Vermont.
Vermont still consistently ranks third nationally in annual skier visits thanks to the state’s proximity to Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. But over the past two decades the state has seen the departure of almost every large-scale national snowsport event. Mount Snow hosted the ESPN Winter X Games in 2000 and 2001 — but then the event moved to Aspen. Later, the Dew Tour, a freestyle skiing and snowboarding competition, made a stop at Killington in 2012, but it turned out to be a one-off. Perhaps the most devastating abandonment was the move of the Burton US Open snowboard championships from its home of 30 years at Stratton, Vermont, to Vail, Colorado in 2013. The company has never explicitly stated why the move was made.
During the FIS championship events, hometown race clubs from unknown ski hills brushed parkas with members of the European ski elite.
When Killington was awarded hosting privileges, the vacuum left by those departed events finally imploded, and fans rushed in to fill the void. Hometown race clubs from unknown ski hills brushed parkas with members of the European ski elite, hustling to see the sport at its highest level. Over 16,000 spectators showed up, historic numbers for a women’s event. It was proof that in New England, of whose six states only one has a professional sports team, skiing is still the big time.
It wasn’t only fans who benefitted. In the village of vendor tents erected around the base area of the resort, a few local companies — including Cabot Cheese, Woods Maple Syrup and Vermont Cedar Chair Company — carved out space between the big ski brands. “It’s great for Vermont companies to be able to be represented at ski events,” said Jack Gilbert, local restaurant owner and producer of Gringo Jack’s chips, salsas and barbecue sauces. “It provides a venue to help expand awareness of the product… and with an event this big you’re reaching a much bigger audience.” Marketing on such a level is invaluable for small companies, but it’s also “wildly expensive,” Gilbert said as he refilled a sample bowl of salsa, made of curried eggplant and garbanzo beans.
Mikaela Shiffrin, a 21-year-old national phenom, spent her formative racing years at Burke Mountain Academy and is adored as a local; before Killington, she had won 20 World Cup slaloms, but never on the East Coast, where her family, including her 95-year-old grandmother who had never seen her race in person, could watch.
The hefty price tag of the event falls on Killington as well. Officials declined to state an exact number, but remarked that costs were “substantial.” Return will be difficult to quantify over the course of this ski season
and the next. The huge marketing push that comes with hosting the World Cup will surely boost the resort out of the starting gate during the coming holidays. But Mother Nature is fickle, and a bad snow year can destroy a ski season — an especially troubling concern for East Coast resorts. Just last year, Killington received 81 inches of snow compared to an average of 250 and only managed to eke by thanks to a comprehensive snowmaking system
That system is equipped with more than 250 guns capable of transforming 10 million gallons of water into frozen flakes every day. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup the guns fired “during every cold-weather window,” according to Solimano, and piled more than enough snow onto the Superstar course to host the races and maybe even last through the winter and into May, La Niña permitting. (Interestingly enough, while the East Coast races went off without a hitch, the men’s events at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada had to be cancelled due to unfavorably warm weather; men’s “classic” races the following weekend at Beaver Creek, Colorado were also cancelled due to lack of snow. It seems that no ski resort, East or West Coast, is immune to the unpredictability of warmer winters.)
While some spectators scrambled eggs and sipped flasks at their car fenders, others hustled straight to the grandstand.
“It’s becoming a lot more apparent to everyone that the future of winter sports could be in danger,” said Christine Feehan, the women’s alpine media coordinator of FIS. While the FIS doesn’t actively support climate initiatives, some venue resorts have it built in with their normal operating procedures. This March, Squaw Valley, California, which will be hosting its first World Cup event since 1969, announced that it will make the event carbon neutral by buying carbon credits that support clean energy initiatives including a local solar power installation.
The skies were clear of fog for the final day of Killington’s races. The parking lots filled hours before the first run, and while some spectators scrambled eggs and sipped flasks at their car fenders, others hustled straight to the grandstand to get a good view of Mikaela Shiffrin, the 21-year-old national phenom. Shiffrin spent her formative racing years at Burke Mountain Academy and is adored as a local; before Killington, she had won 20 World Cup slaloms, but never on the East Coast, where her family, including her 95-year-old grandmother who had never seen her race in person, could watch.
The base of Killington peak erupted in excitement as Shiffrin launched out of the start. The sound drowned out the thwap of skier-meeting-gate as her pink blur traced an irregular sine wave down the icy face of the mountain. It took Shiffrin less than 45 seconds to finish her run, take the gold medal, and set off a charge amongst the thousands watching — a charge pent up over the last 25 years.
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