The heart of the Dolomites is beating again as Cortina d’Ampezzo turns an eye toward hosting the World Alpine Championships in 2021. In just more than three years from now, the home of the 1956 Olympic Winter Games will look much different than it did then. Brand new slopes, improved roads, easier mobility around the finish area, new connections between resorts and upgraded facilities in town are just a few of Cortina’s improvements. The same pink Dolomites peaks and passionate crowds that make Cortina one of the favorite World Cup locations for many athletes will remain the same. Among the athletes who love Cortina is none other than American Lindsey Vonn.

“Cortina is the place where I got my first podium, it’s the place where I really started to succeed on the World Cup. It’s also the place where I broke the women’s World Cup record so it holds a lot of great memories for me. It’s a place similar to Lake Louise where I have a lot of confidence. It’s also simply a stunning location,” Vonn said.

Since 1993, Cortina has been on the women’s World Cup calendar hosting annual downhill and super-G races on the spectacular Olympia hill at Tofane ski resort.

“For women, going to Cortina is like men going to Kitzbuehel,” Kristian Ghedina said. He is the winningest Italian downhiller of all times, born and raised on Cortina’s snow. “It’s a technical hill for women, always well-prepared and almost entirely in the sun which makes a huge difference,” Ghedina continued.

The Olympia hill will be used for the ladies speed events at the ’21 World Ski Championships. Meanwhile, the men will pioneer new race terrain dubbed Vertigine (vertigo). The course will run just parallel to the women’s track, ending in the common finish area. Significant progress on the new slope and its features was made during summer 2017.

“It’s a great hill, very diverse, but at the end of the day it will all depend on the snow conditions,” said Ghedina.

“As far as for skiing I don’t think there much they can do, it’s a perfect track,” said Vonn about the women’s hill. “The only thing that could be improved upon is possibly making it easier to access for the spectators. It’s a little bit of trek to get back up to the finish area so if they could improve that I think it would help tremendously.”

Vonn’s observation is already among the top priorities of the Cortina 2021 Foundation, the organization that is making the 2021 event reality. Namely, organizers plan to build a stadium-like area for the public with better view of the race hills. The area will be the finish used for speed events, the giant slaloms and parallel races.

The slalom events will be at Col Drusciè area, with projects to improve the hill that hosted the ’54 Olympics slalom and build a new finish area, along with a new gondola that will efficiently connect the area. The whole project is expected to be complete in the fall of 2019.

In order to meet the deadline of the oncoming events, the Cortina 2021 Foundation has managed to accelerate the usual daunting bureaucratic hoops of the Italian legislation to get the job done. The total cost of the improvements amounts to 273 million euros in public funds. Some of the funds will go toward major road construction to dilute traffic on the Alemagna road, the only road that connects the Venice area to Cortina.

The 2021 World Championships offers a tremendous opportunity for Cortina to put on an event that celebrates the highest level of skiing, but it also has served as an opportunity for the iconic place to renovate itself. In the past few decades the Dolomite town has been living after its perceived glamour and natural beauty with little advancement. 

Image credit: Cortina 2021 Foundation

“The Word Champs are a train that has passed: luckily we were able to hop on it at the fifth try,” said Ghedina. Cortina has been a candidate since the 2013 World Championships. 

Michele di Gallo, operations manager of Cortina 2021 and secretary general for the annual Cortina World Cup, agreed.

“Cortina slowly became numb, relying too heavily on the appeal it had 20-30 years ago. Generally speaking, Cortina’s entrepreneurs couldn’t keep up with the pace of other locations, not to mention anticipating the trends,” said Di Gallo.  “With the World Champs coming up, public investments and a revamped excitement about our town, the hope is to inject a dose of confidence to entrepreneurs and community members to start believing in this town again,” said Di Gallo.

Community and supporters are engaged and the volunteer program is already up and running. For Italy and the ski world at large, the spotlight is on Cortina.

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Francesca Curtolo
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Francesca Curtolo grew up in the Italian Dolomites and moved to the U.S. thanks to a ski scholarship at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. She started writing for the sports section of the college paper and now contributes to Ski Racing Media to spread the word of the sport she loves. Apart from skiing in the snow, she also enjoys skiing in the water.
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