Killington crowds leave lasting impact on sport of skiing | ParkRecord.com
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Killington crowds leave lasting impact on sport of skiing

World Cup return to New England a huge success

Record crowds packed a snow-covered New England mountain venue over Thanksgiving weekend as the International Ski Federation's Audi FIS Ski World Cup returned to the Killington ski resort near Rutland, Vermont for the first time in 25 years. With 30,000 spectators over two days, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) anticipates the event to have a significant long-term sport growth and industry impact.

The engagement of fans was greater than anticipated, comparable to the biggest crowds in the 50-year history of the alpine World Cup tour. The production of an eastern USA World Cup was part of a decade-old strategy by the USSA to grow awareness of alpine ski racing across America with a return to the most densely populated area of ski fans.

The event received a strong boost on Sunday when American Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, Colorado) took her 10th straight World Cup slalom win.

"The success of Killington was the result of a strong partnership between the USSA, Killington and the International Ski Federation all aligned in a common mission to grow our sport in America," said USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw. "By exposing 30,000 people to the sport in person, we've introduced thousands and thousands of kids to the excitement of alpine ski racing. It could have a profound impact on the U.S. Ski Team over the next decade."

The last World Cup in New England was March of 1991 at New Hampshire's Waterville Valley where American Julie Parisien, just 19, won the giant slalom. In Sunday's finale at Killington, Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, Colorado) did the honors taking the win in slalom.

The USSA began its efforts a decade ago, looking for both a capable resort and an opening in the tightly packed FIS World Cup calendar. A schedule window opened in summer, 2015 with USSA acting quickly to bring Killington onto the global calendar. With a strong culture of alpine ski racing, Vermont provided an outstanding backdrop.

"Producing a World Cup is a huge undertaking especially in early season," said Shaw. "We needed a resort with the existing ski area infrastructure, experienced personnel and passion for the sport. We found all of that in Killington and its parent company Powdr Corp. which did a world class job in producing one of the greatest women's events in the history of the tour."

Killington deployed over 160 snow guns to cover the Superstar race run and built an expansive stadium and village.

The impact of the event was recognized by the international federation, which has seen significant crowds at its three opening events in Austria, Finland and now America.

"Killington was a special event for ladies' ski racing," said FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis, who was on-site. "To have so many excited fans and youngsters was tremendous for our sport."

While Killington has long been known as a major New England early season destination, the World Cup brought a significant branding boost with global broadcast to 16 nations—including live coverage in 10 countries—bringing the event reach to tens of millions. National broadcasts on NBC showcased the event across America. And over 200 news media were on-site to provide a barrage of coverage throughout the eastern USA and globally.

“It was a smashing success in the ski world," said Preston Leete Smith, the founder of Killington. "Vicariously, this becomes one of the great moments in my life of skiing."

The event created strong recognition of the Killington brand across America's strongest skiing market as a lead-in to the 2016-17 season.

"The record-setting crowd, smooth race coordination and inspirational athletic performances throughout our first World Cup weekend have the entire town of Killington gushing with pride," says Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort and Pico Mountain. "When you add up the record-breaking attendance at both days' races and a healthy crowd of skiers and snowboarders on our open terrain, we had over 30,000 enjoying snow sports at Killington. That's pretty impressive."

Like many, Solimano was impressed with the performance of Shiffrin, as well as her engagement with fans – signing hundreds of autographs post-race at Killington Sports.

"Mikaela's focus, poise, humility and friendliness represent the very best of New England and our skiing community," said Solimano. "While she undoubtedly inspired the next generation of ski racers, she also inspired the entire Killington team, myself included."

The USSA feels one of the most notable impacts from the event will be sport growth in the region where local ski clubs provide opportunities for kids through organizations like the Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA). Before Saturday's event, nearly 1,000 young ski racers of all ages from nearly two-dozen regional clubs paraded into the stadium. Fans watched intently all weekend with youngsters mesmerized to see Olympic stars like Shiffrin showcase alpine ski racing.

The races were among 16 World Cup competitions scheduled in America this year at four resorts – Killington, Vermont; Beaver Creek, Colorado; Squaw Valley, California and Aspen, Colorado with World Cup Finals in mid-March.

The event was sponsored by a strong lineup of a dozen national and regional partners who all reported strong activity at their on-site activation booths in the sponsor village, as well as significant online engagement through their social media channels. Vermont has a rich history in alpine ski racing, which helped attract a host of regional partners including Vermont Tourism & Marketing to complement national partners like Audi, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Putnam Investments, Coca-Cola and Rockin' Refuel along with international partners Oschner Sport and Jack Wolfskin.

"Our partners knew this would be a unique event and that after a 25-year absence, the audience would be strong," said USSA Chief Marketing Officer Michael Jaquet. "But crowds were even higher than expected, which is gratifying given our goal of raising the profile of the sport. Longtime partners like GoPro and Lagunitas reported some of their best on-site efforts ever. We saw the same with merchandise sales at both Killington and U.S. Ski Team brand stores on-site."

SnowSports Industries of America (SIA) President Nick Sargent weighed in on the good the event did for the ski industry. "This event has the horsepower to engage the nearly 12 million skiers in the U.S just in time for the ski and holiday shopping seasons to begin," said Sargent. "For the industry, this is a strong signal that the winter sport population is alive and well. After a poor winter in the east last year, the World Cup in Killington fuels the pent-up demand by winter sport enthusiasts."

Officials from the USSA, FIS and Killington are expected to discuss future inclusion of the Vermont resort in the tour schedule. The 2017-18 Olympic year World Cup calendar will be approved this May during international federation meetings in Portoroz, Slovenia.

"Killington was a great success for our sport and will inspire thousands of young boys and girls," said Shaw. "We look forward to discussing the future and how we can continue to help grow alpine ski racing."

"I'm just so proud of the energy, teamwork and positivity that our staff and the entire community displayed," added Solimano. "We won't know for some time whether or not the World Cup will return to Killington, but we would absolutely welcome it back. I think our snowmakers, mountain operations, marketing and hospitality teams proved that they're up for any challenge."