This weekend, the women’s World Cup tech athletes have touched down in Killington, Vermont to ski slalom and giant slalom at the only United States stop on the 2018-19 tour. Dubbed “Beast World Cup” by athletes, fans, and marketers alike, Killington is still fairly new to the circuit. 2016 marked the venue’s first year on the World Cup tour, and even the debut year saw major success.
Currently, the Killington World Cup holds the record for the most spectators in attendance at a women’s event after only two years on the tour. In 2017 alone, 18,000 fans showed up on Saturday for the giant slalom and 16,000 fans came to watch on Sunday for the slalom. The only venue in Europe that even comes close to those numbers is Flachau, Austria, which hosts a night slalom later in the season.
Despite ski racing being seen as more popular in Europe than in the states, these stats are not surprising given the deep-rooted history the sport has on the East coast, particularly in New England. This year, the mountain operations team expects similar numbers or higher in attendance, given the 14 inches of snow accumulated over the past week, and the early season hype that ensued when temperatures were colder than average in October.
So, what exactly does it take to host a world cup event early season on the east coast of the United States? Just ask Jeff Temple, Killington and Pico Resort’s Director of Mountain Operations of 22 years.
Typically, Temple says the early season in the East is a pretty volatile time of year for snowmaking, with unreliable temperatures and lack of snowfall. But the early October cold has helped him and his team by giving them a few extra days to build up a base for the run Superstar, where the race will take place.
Five or six years ago, Temple started planning for this kind of mass event, studying weather trends and patterns over the past decades to assess exactly what it would take to host a World Cup. Over the course of a few weeks, Temple and his team will blow snow approximately 130 hours, which is the equivalent of five or six 24-hour days to create the base needed on Superstar, a trail that is 3,200 feet long with a 1,200 foot vertical.
Snowmakers have to use every weather opportunity possible between October and November to pull it off, and since Killington is anti-snow-farming due to the damage it does to valuable terrain, every hour is essential. Instead, they’ve adopted a different technique – pack as many snowmaking machines (formally known as hydrants) as possible onto the trail, one hydrant every 14 to 16 feet rather than the standard of 50 feet. They’ve also added in extra piping, allowing more water and air to flow and allowing hydrants to operate at maximum capacity.
In total, the team will use 16 million gallons of water and 500 million cubic feet of air to create just the race course alone. And that’s not including what it takes to inject the snow.
“Snowmaking is our business, being in the east,” says Temple. “We operate on a no regrets philosophy for the World Cup and the opening three [days]. We’ve done everything we can as team, and weather is gonna be what weather is gonna be.”
Not only does the mountain need to prepare for a large number of guests for the World Cup weekend, they also need the snow in order to stay “on brand”. Killington’s motto is “longest season in the east”, and they work hard to live up to that reputation each season. Many spectators that will travel to Killington for the weekend also expect to ski, so not only does the race venue need to be open, so do runs that are accessible to the public.
On Monday the trail started to be watered to harden the surface and get race ready. Throughout this process, the snowmaking team cruises up and down the trail, creating windrows by spraying water onto the course, which snowcats will till in later. As this freezes, a decision is made by the FIS on whether or not to inject the course. If the FIS sees injection as necessary, water is forced into the trail every 4-6 inches down its length, to harden the snow so it holds in warmer conditions and stays consistent for each racer throughout multiple runs, creating an ice rink like effect.
Temple and his team are responsible for the weeks of prep work that goes into preparing the course, but they are also responsible for organizing the finish arena, where spectators will gather to watch the race. The first year of hosting the World Cup was a steep learning curve after falling short on appropriate facilities and transportation options to the mountain for fans, but after last season, Temple says the team has it all dialed in so everything runs smoothly.
All of his hard work pays off. Not only have athletes and spectators ranked Killington as a top-three favorite stop on the World Cup circuit, but the methods that Temple uses to run the event (and the entire mountain over the course of the year), have made Killington on of the most sustainable ski resorts in the country. Keeping up with a changing winter is tough, and adjustments have to be made, but the decisions Temple has made in his snowmaking practices and upkeep of the resort have had a positive impact, and despite the large numbers, is actually saving energy.
“I never take for granted the privilege of working in such a beautiful mountain environment,” he says. “The challenge today for any ski resort is ‘protecting our playgrounds’ for future generations. We all want to play forever and I don’t ever want to have any regrets that I didn’t do everything I could towards those goals.”
In terms of athletes this weekend, expect to see strong performances from the usual culprits. American Mikaela Shiffrin, Frenchwoman Tessa Worley, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, and Federica Brignone of Italy will be strong contenders for the podium in GS. The Norwegians, led by Ragnhild Mowinckel are ones to watch as well, after an outstanding performance in Soelden, taking 4 of 10 top positions.
For slalom, we can expect to see exceptional performances from Shiffrin, Slovakia’s Petra Vhlova, Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, Austria’s Bernadette Schild, and 2018 Olympic slalom champion, Frida Hansdotter of Sweden. Shiffrin has won consecutively since 2016 on home soil, putting on a show at her favorite race of the reason for family and friends, particularly her Nana, who comes out to the race each year.
The Americans will be serving up a full roster this weekend, starting 10 women total over the course of both events. In addition to Shiffrin, tour veterans Resi Stiegler and Foreste Peterson will be making appearances, as well as a lot of fresh faces. Vermont native Abi Jewett will make her world cup debut this weekend. Katie Hensien, Tricia Mangan, Lila Lapanja, Paula Moltzan, AJ Hurt, and Nina O’Brien will also start this weekend.