After 20 years, the World Pro Ski Tour is back | ParkRecord.com

After 20 years, the World Pro Ski Tour is back

The White Mountain Dual Challenge, the first stop of the season's World Pro Ski Tour at Waterville Valley Resort in Waterville Valley, NH on February 10, 2018. Photo: Mike Gridley

It's been about 20 years since the World Pro Ski Tour and its head-to-head racing format left Fox Sports' lineup. But now it's back.

On March 30, the first season of the World Pro Ski Tour reboot will wrap up at Sunday River in Newry, Maine.

Its three-stage open-enrollment series drew a wide variety of skiers, including national team athletes like AJ Ginnis, Nolan Kasper, and Ryan Cochran-Siegle, along with independent racers, college athletes and skiing enthusiasts. Two Park City residents — Johnny Manekin and Peter Papineau — have checked the tour out firsthand, and have seen what the blast from the past has to offer.

The two racers, at 31 and 23 respectively, are right in the tour's demographic wheelhouse, which targets competitive skiers who aren't necessarily on the national team trying to make money off of their talent.

Both said they enjoyed the tour's dual-racing format, which pits racers directly against each other instead of a clock.

"There's 24 gates, two jumps, and when you have another athlete breathing down your neck, it makes for a very exciting race lineup," Manekin said.

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Papineau, who grew up racing with Park City Ski Team, said the format felt radically different from more traditional alpine skiing events.

"It wasn't natural to do head-to-head races, and it was appealing in that sense," he said. "You could race against a friend and try and beat them to the end instead of racing for a time."

The format was created for spectators, giving them immediate insights into what works and what doesn't. Any slip-ups are made evident by their opponent's progress. The timer doesn't start until the first racer crosses the line, and the slower racer is eliminated. The winner is then paired against another winner until only one is left standing.

The tour originally ran from 1969 to 1998, and drew talented athletes, including Park City's Erik Schlopy. According to an article in Powder Magazine, the tour originally had 17 stops that crossed into Europe and Japan, and were broadcast on ESPN, SportsChannel, ABC, and Japanese TV as well as Fox. Athletes could win large cash purses on any weekend in winter, a set-up that pulled considerable talent.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Ed Rogers, who ran the tour from 1976 until its collapse, and is the organization's current president, said the tour fell apart not because of lack of interest from viewers but because a major sponsor withdrew.

Criag Marshall, executive director of sales and marketing, said another factor was the Fox Broadcast Company's decision to reduce its sports broadcasting to focus more on news at a time when it was the major purveyor of the World Pro Ski Tour.

Now, the tour's founders are hoping that interest has been lying dormant in the American public, waiting to be rekindled.

Last year, the tour kicked off with a single event, and this year it had three — one at Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire, one at Snowmass in Colorado, and the upcoming finale at Sunday River, Maine. Each event boasts a top cash prize of $10,000.

Marshall said the timing was right for a number of reasons, including "a lack of opportunities for talented racers, a lack of events for resorts to host and the rise in popularity of the dual format."

The FIS had been racing dual alpine events informally at certain events as a crowd pleaser and to mix up the competition, Marshall said, but they weren't considered serious races.

"It had been so popular in the past, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it would still be popular now," he said.

For now, the tour is growing. Already there has been talk of expanding to six stops next season, though Marshall didn't settle on a firm number. The goal is to regain its glory days, when it was seen as a lucrative, laissez-faire cousin of the World Cup circuit.

Marchall said tour officials envision running a men's and women's tour simultaneously every weekend from Thanksgiving until April 10 or 15, then expanding into offseason events such as races in the Southern Hemisphere and on glaciers in Europe.

"Really, we want to provide as much opportunity for our athletes to make as much money as possible, and that always means new events," he said.

Marshall said Utah could be on that list.

"We are obviously aware of the areas we can have success in in the future, and we have a lot of good connections in different parts of the country, so out of however many ski areas there are around Park City, it's just a matter of timing, sponsorship, and partnership with the ski area to make it happen," he said.

Officials from Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort both said the resorts have made no plans to host a World Pro Ski Tour stop.

That won't stop Papineau and Manekin from seeking the tour out.

"I look for just the connections with all my friends being there, reuniting with people, getting to know everybody," Papineau said. "Obviously, there's money in it, but a lot of the guys are just there to have fun, so it's a super relaxed environment to be in. I think I'll also partially use it to get recognition in the sport."

World Pro Ski Tour returns after two-decade hiatus