KILLINGTON — With an expected draw of more than 30,000 spectators to the area over the course of the two-day event, Killington Ski Resort and the surrounding area prepare to host the Audi FIS Women’s Ski World Cup races that will be held Thanksgiving weekend: Friday, Nov. 24, to Sun., Nov. 26.
“The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and Killington Resort submitted a proposal to the FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) two years ago at the FIS Congress to host this event,” said Kristel Fillmore, communications, public relations and social media manager for the resort. “The FIS officially awarded Killington the event in the spring of 2016 at the FIS Conference in Cancun, Mexico.”
Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Ski Resort, has said the race raises the profile of skiing in the Northeast and at Killington. Yet, hosting the event is an expensive endeavor that sets the resort back $1.2 million. The resort and its parent company, Utah-based Powdr Corp. have been working together on ways to make the event more sustainable this year.
Through local support and the Vermont ski industry, contributions have been made for financial sustainability. Vermont ski and snowboard resorts have joined forces via the Vermont Ski Areas Association, whose board of directors earlier this year arranged to sponsor the event with a $50,000 contribution. In the spring, on Town Meeting Day, Killington residents approved a town budget that included $100,000 for the event. This portion of the budget will be allocated for costs pertaining to hospitality associated with the race.
The Kelly Brush Foundation has committed to a $40,000 Improvement Initiative designed to boost on-hill safety for the upcoming event, matching a commitment by Powdr Corp., for a total of $80,000. The proceeds have been used to buy and install on-hill safety equipment, including safety netting to line the edge of the race course and impact protection to mitigate hazards on the course, according to a news release.
“The Kelly Brush Foundation is focused on ensuring that safety in alpine ski racing is modeled at all levels of the sport, from the elite level on the international stage to local clubs at small ski areas across the country,” said Zeke Davisson, executive director of the foundation.
The Kelly Brush Foundation is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting individuals with spinal cord injuries and increasing ski racing safety, located in Burlington.
B-Netting is a state-of-the-art safety-net system that meets the FIS guidelines for alpine ski racing at World Cup ski events. It is used as an effective tool to enhance safety on slopes for both competition and recreational skiing. The Kelly Brush Foundation B-Netting will be used on Killington Mountain for the next three to five years; the netting will expire after five years of use.
“The B-Netting will provide layers of safety between skiers and potential hazards — from trees, snowmaking machinery and pipes,” said Davisson. “We are thrilled and honored to be included. Our involvement in the event this year is a way to demonstrate what a safe hill looks like, our commitment in making the venue safe, and our equipment will stay on the mountain for years to come.”
The foundation helps programs throughout the country purchase netting, he said.
“There are two types of netting, A and B. We use B-Netting, which is not permanent like A-Netting. B-Netting is transferable and can be transferred to races throughout Vermont, and the Northeast when needed,” said Davisson. “Our netting comes in 20-meter rolls that are drilled into the snow. Killington will be using several hundred rolls for the event.”
In addition to supporting the World Cup, the benefits of the investment will extend to all athletes who race and train at Killington, which includes skiers from Killington Mountain School, Killington Ski Club, and all participants of Vermont Alpine Race Association-sanctioned events, according to a news release.
“In the last seven to eight years, $125,000 has been invested in safety equipment, mostly fencing and Willy Bags. We not only use our safety equipment for the World Cup, but for all races and some of our freestyle events,” said Chuck Hughes, chief of race at Killington Mountain School. “We also share out our equipment. We loan it to close-by clubs.”
The Women’s World Cup holds some of the fastest ski races in the world on superstar trails at Killington. The safety of the athletes is the resort’s main focus.
“We prepare our hill in such a way with the anticipation that no one will be able to get hurt. For the World Cup, we will install A-Netting on towers three and four — which is stationary and will attach to the tower and the ground; Willy Bags; Air Fencing provided by (United States Ski and Snowboard Association); B-Netting; and three rows of mini B-Fence on each side of the skiers — left and right. Safety equipment is labor-intensive. Every year we have to pull all the fencing and poles out to check for tears and repairs,” Hughes said.
Unusually high temperatures in the Northeast have posed a threat to the event’s schedule.
“We have approximately 200 volunteers on the mountain working on the race crew,” Hughes said. “Before we begin to put the safety equipment in place, the track needs to be down. We need about five days of good cold weather with 18 inches of (blown) thick condensed snow, with a hard surface that’s 30 meters wide. Snow Cats then groom it, farm it, and then personnel side slips it and inspects it. Once the surface is prepared, we prepare the race.”
The race times for this year’s event are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday’s races will be broadcasted live on NBC.
Additional off-slope events include: Friday: Killington will hold a presentation giving the top 15 racers their bibs; live music by Vermonter Troy Ramey from “The Voice,” followed by fireworks; Saturday morning a parade will be held featuring the VARA racers; and on Sunday, a parade featuring ski racers from throughout New England will take place. Solimano has estimated that the parades will draw between 1,500 to 2,000 racers, according to a news release.
Killington Ski Resort has committed to hosting the event for three years, through 2018.