Women’s World Cup Wows Crowd

After 25 Years, World Cup Alpine Ski Racing Returns to the Eastern U.S. — to Killington.

Saturday’s crowd at Killington on Nov. 26, 2016. Photo by John Risley, Risley Sports Photography.

The Capital-Saratoga Region has always been well represented on the world ski racing stage. When the World Cup returned to the eastern U.S. after a 25-year hiatus in November, hundreds of local skiers and fans drove to Vermont to watch the top women racers in the world.

The FIS Ski World Cup is the preeminent professional alpine ski racing circuit. The Federation Internationale de Ski organizes international ski and snowboard competitions, sanctions competition venues, and sets the rules for the competitions at all levels, including the Olympics. Many ski racers and fans consider winning a World Cup championship to be more prestigious than an Olympic gold medal.

This past Thanksgiving weekend, the FIS World Cup was held at Killington in Vermont. The ski center near Rutland, a two-hour or less drive for most Capital- Saratoga Region residents, hosted a women’s giant slalom race on Saturday and a women’s slalom race on Sunday.

The crowds at Killington were enormous for a women’s World Cup race. The 16,000 spectators watching Saturday’s Giant Slalom made up a considerably larger crowd than what is typical for a women’s World Cup race in Europe. Factors for such a huge audience include Killington’s proximity to more than 27 million residents in the U.S. and Canada, and the preponderance of USSA-licensed racers who reside in the Northeast. (The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association oversees the U.S. Ski Team and amateur U.S. ski and snowboarding competitions, from juniors to masters.)

Some of the many young ski racers in the World Cup audience. Photo by John Risley, Risley Sports Photography.

That the event was held at nearby Killington created much local excitement. This area has always had a close connection to world-class ski racing. Glens Falls’ Thomas Jacobs was a 1952 Olympian and the founder of Inside Edge/Reliable Racing Supply. A member of the National Ski Hall of Fame, Jacobs was the originator of the NCAA rules for skiing competition. In 1983, Reliable Racing Supply introduced and began manufacturing the “Break-A-Way” hinged slalom pole, now the standard for all races worldwide. Jacobs also founded the West Mountain Ski School.

In 1991, both men’s and women’s World Cup races were held at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire. The Waterville Valley women’s Giant Slalom was won by American Julie Parisien. In 1994, Parisien left the U.S. Ski Team and moved to Jiminy Peak, just across the Rensselaer County border in Massachusetts. There was plenty of speculation on why a successful young racer would leave the U.S. Ski Team. Many suspected that the death of her oldest brother, killed by a drunk driver, had a devastating effect on her psyche.

Her opting for Jiminy Peak may have been influenced by her brother having been the captain of the Williams College ski team. Williams is located just up the road from Jiminy Peak, where the college’s racers train, and Williams hosts an NCAA race weekend there. While living at Jiminy, Parisien was a member of the Women’s Pro Tour. She also hosted Women’s Pro Tour races there.

In 1999, Clifton Park’s Courtney Strait was in the starting gate at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Women’s World Cup Giant Slalom. Strait was one of the youngest women on the U.S. Ski Team and great things were predicted for her ski racing future. However, injuries and other factors caused a premature end to her ski racing career. The drive that enabled her to make the U.S. Ski Team also gave her a successful post-ski racing life: She is now a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Altamont’s Chris Beckmann was one of the U.S. Ski Team’s promising young speed racers in Downhill and Super G events in the late 2000s. The name may be familiar to non-ski racing fans because his parents are the owners of the Appel Inn, a popular wedding venue in Altamont. He was also a star football player at Guilderland High School. Beckmann’s formative racing years were spent at West Mountain in Glens Falls.

Mt. Greylock Girls Ski Team 1975. Mikaela Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen Condron, back row, third from the right. Photo courtesy of Clifton Park resident Sally Gigliotti Vanderzee (back row, fourth from the right.)

In 2008, Ski Racing magazine named Beckmann “Freight Train” for his rapid rise in the standings. However, injuries and subsequent mediocre results caused Beckmann’s departure from the U.S. Ski Team after a few years. Currently, he is back with the U.S. Ski Team as the Assistant Coach of the Men’s World Cup Speed Team.

One of the area’s most notable Alpine racers is Andrew Weibrecht. Weibrecht is a two-time Olympic medalist in the Super G and is one of the top Super G racers on the World Cup circuit, ranking eighth last season. He grew up in Lake Placid, where his parents, Ed and Lisa Weibrecht, are the owners of the Mirror Lake Inn. His mother was a former U.S. Luge team member and national champion and a graduate of Scotia-Glenville High School.

Mikaela Shiffrin was the winner of Killington’s Slalom Race on Sunday. The 21-year-old is the world’s most dominant women’s slalom racer. She won her first World Cup race at 17 and won an Olympic gold medal at 18. She is the winner of her last 11 consecutive slaloms starts, spanning more than two years. It probably would have been more, but an injury limited her to five starts last season.

Shiffrin was born into a ski racing family. Her father raced for Dartmouth, and her older brother raced for the University of Denver. Her mother, Eileen, is a native of Lanesborough, Mass., where Jiminy Peak is located. Eileen Shiffrin was the captain of the Mount Greylock High School ski team, and her family still lives in the Capital Region. In fact, her uncle is an Albany County Court Judge.

Killington’s proximity to the Capital Region made it seem like a home hill to Mikaela Shiffrin, even though she had never raced on that slope. She said that she felt extra nervousness and pressure that morning because she was racing in front of a home crowd. Nevertheless, she was elated to be able to race in front of her family, especially her 95-year-old grandmother.

After the races, FIS officials said that the overwhelming turnout gave them the impetus to hold more events in the region. However, the only reason these races were held at Killington was that the dates were open—Colorado’s Aspen is scheduled to host the World Cup Finals and could not host their traditional Thanksgiving Weekend races. It would be a shame if it takes another 25 years for the World Cup to return to the region, as it would deprive the many Capital Region ski racing fans of seeing live world-class racing for another generation.