Eliasch brings World Cup men back to USA


Photo: GEPA Images

Inspired by the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Miami, FIS President Johan Eliasch seeks to attract new audiences through World Cup races Aspen, Palisades Tahoe. Aspen and Palisades Tahoe, formerly Squaw Valley, will once again host the world’s best male skiers next February and March. New opportunities to market and promote the sport in the United States abound with four US venues on next season’s schedule.

The Men’s World Cup returns to Aspen and Palisades Tahoe next winter. Certainly, there is no denying the legendary history of ski racing that adorns the two iconic resorts. However, many believe that modern twists and revamped marketing strategies can captivate new fans and attract younger audiences from the competitive American sports market.

“It’s always been an ambition of the FIS to find a way, let’s say, to break into the American market,” said International Ski Federation president Johan Eliasch. “Ski racing is big in the United States, but FIS isn’t on the map like it should be.”

Realize this in the United States

The new ski boss promised more big American races in his manifesto. While some disapprove of Eliasch’s early measures and reforms in his first year in office, leading to a revolt upon his re-election, he quickly delivered on his red, white and blue guarantee.

Excitement in the Aspen finish area during the 2017 World Cup Final (Hal Williams Photography)

The men’s World Cup technical races at Palisades Tahoe are scheduled for next season from February 25-26, followed by the return American downhill races at Aspen Snowmass, March 3-5. These events are a refreshing addition to the annual Birds of Prey World Cup Sprint Races at Beaver Creek in early December and the Killington Cup Women’s Races at Killington Resort in late November. The last time the tour visited four different US venues in one season was in 1996-97.

Eliasch sees potential in the States

“The reason is that in March, after the world championships, the interest in World Cup races in Europe drops, while in the United States there is still a strong interest in skiing because the season is a bit later,” explains Eliasch.

“At first people were saying why the hell are you going back to the United States for the second time?” he keeps on. “When people saw what happened with the Formula 1 race in Miami and Drive to surviveeven the Swiss, Austrians and Germans said that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

American flags fly in Aspen (Hal Williams Photography)

America’s latest attempt at Formula 1 inspires Eliasch, referencing the first-ever Miami Grand Prix, which captivated audiences and caused a stir, with a creative set-up including an imaginative, albeit pseudo-marina, on May 8. And it wasn’t just diehard racing fans who showed up to see the F1 drivers navigate the 19-curve, 3.36-mile circuit. A VIP crowd from the sports and entertainment world included soccer legend and Inter Miami owner David Beckham, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters – everyone enjoying the Florida sunshine while practicing a largely unknown sport.

The chic and traditionally European sport was quickly accelerated for the American market, influenced by the hit Netflix series Drive to survivepilots posting on Twitch and Instagram, and a redesign of Miami meets Vegas to target new fans.

Attract additional American fans

By using an equally aggressive marketing approach and enhancing the entertainment value, Eliasch envisions that FIS can significantly increase US interest in ski racing. It offers more festivities both at the start and finish and a more visible and improved digital and broadcast component. Palisades Tahoe and Aspen seem like ideal places to get out of the gate.

“I think we have a great product, and I think it’s better than Formula 1,” says Eliasch, who has spent nearly three decades bringing skis and tennis racquets to new audiences as a CEO of HEAD. “We can create a much more powerful format to make every race count – that’s the mission here.”

Fan engagement at Aspen WC Finals 2017 (Hal Williams Photography)

Aspen hosted the 1950 FIS World Championships and also held World Cup races for the first time in March 1968 with Billy Kidd winning a slalom. Thereafter, Aspen and was a mainstay on the men’s tour between 1981-1994. Additionally, the iconic Colorado Rockies Resort last hosted races during the World Cup Finals in 2017.

“It was a big hit – people loved it,” Eliasch says of the March 2017 races where Mikaela Shiffrin hoisted her first large crystal globe. Still, Eliasch believes there is untapped potential for future races and a golden opportunity to attract a bigger fan base across the United States. “We also need to have (better) TV shows and engagement, not just at races,” he adds.

Excitement in Aspen

Aspen Snowmass, vice president of communications Jeff Henle, says Aspen agrees with Eliasch’s vision for American ski racing, however, minus the palm trees and fake marina that were part of the elaborate production of this another race.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of interest in our community, but it’s not the same sport as in Europe, and we need to keep spreading the gospel of ski racing,” said Henle. Ski racing media.

Slalom Day 2 2015 Nature Valley Aspen Winternational – Aspen, CO Photo: Sarah Brunson/US Ski Team

“It’s about creating an event that’s more than just a ski race – a party, a celebration, with beer gardens and concerts. Once we get them here, they’ll be blown away. If we can take what X Games has done with the younger generation, we will be hugely successful.

“It will help us to have this event in March when our resort is full of skiers from New York, Chicago, Miami, LA and Dallas.”

A proven track record

Back-to-back men’s downhills preceded by a super-G will be contested on Ruthie’s Run at Ajax Mountain. At this renowned track, stars of the 80s, such as Peter Müller, Todd Brooker, Bill Johnson and Pirmin Zurbriggen, all scored downhill victories at the Aspen Winternational.

“We have a heritage in ski racing. And even in years when we don’t have World Cup races, we continue to embrace ski racing,” says Henle. “We have a very high level ski club with many participants. Additionally, we welcome international teams coming to train before Beaver Creek and Lake Louise at our Highland training site. Certainly, we remain a passionate ski racing community despite the glitzy, glamorous, glitzy exterior.

The best runners in the world will make not one but two overseas trips to the United States next season. And that will include an exciting return to Aspen.

“We’ve been there before – we’ve done downhills, we’ve done super-Gs and we can do something fun there,” Eliasch said. “It’s a start, a trial run, and we have to get it right.”

Follow Brian on Twitter – @Brian_Pinelli

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