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The Legacy Continues
It’s been 57 years since Squaw Valley hosted the Olympics, 48 years since the iconic Red Dog course captured the world’s attention in the 1969 Alpine World Cup, and 19 years since a World Cup race was held in the California. In March, Squaw will re-enter the world stage of ski racing with the International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine Skiing World Cup, and Red Dog will once again feel world-class edges carving down its dramatic pitches.
The effort to host the event began shortly after the news that South Korea would be holding the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and Aspen, Colo. would be hosting the FIS World Finals. According to Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, Olympic champion and Squaw native Julia Mancuso mentioned to him that Olympic test events in Korea opened up a space on the World Cup schedule that could be filled by Squaw Valley in March.
“Growing up at Squaw Valley, I have been hoping for the return of the World Cup for a long time, and now we have the chance to show the world that our Olympic legacy is very much alive,” said Mancuso in a release. “The terrain at Squaw Valley is what raised me as a skier, and I know that when my peers stand on top of the course on Red Dog they will see what competitors saw in 1960 and 1969: one of the most challenging courses in the world. So many of today’s racers have trained and competed on Red Dog in the past, and now we can see this legendary venue re-emerge onto the world stage.”
Squaw Valley will hold the women’s slalom and giant slalom races on Mar. 10 and 11, respectively. Concerts by Rusted Root, Dustbowl Revival, and HoneyHoney will be featured at the KT Base Bar, with the Toyota ProAm — a race open to professional and amateur skiers on Red Dog intended to raise funds for Waterkeeper Alliance and Protect Our Winters — to close out events on Sunday, Mar. 12. Most World Cups are scheduled farther ahead in time, and rotate on a strict schedule, but for Squaw, picking up a gap in the schedule initiated an accelerated preparation.
“Generally, for this type of event you get one or two years to really plan and put it in place, and we’re doing it in eight months,” Kyle Crezee, World Cup Committee Chair for the Squaw event, said. “It’s been a very long time since we held a World Cup, and we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re doing it at a very high level.” Crezee says that for the last few months they’ve had about 60 employees working the project but for the event “it should ramp up to north of 500.” The sheer amount of people visiting for the weekend will also provide an interesting set of challenges. “I’ll be shocked if we see less than 15,000 people for both days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 20,000 people,” Wirth said.
The impact of this kind of attendance should be apparent to anyone who has driven down SR 89 at 9 a.m. on a powder day. According to Peter Kraatz, deputy director at Placer County Public Works, the overall traffic will depend on how the event rolls out, when people show up, and how many lodge in the valley, but the responsibility to mitigate traffic is on the event holder. Kraatz also mentioned that this is not the first time the area has seen this kind of population influx, citing past Tough Mudder and Ironman events. To accommodate the extra traffic flow, Squaw will be implementing their chariot in-valley rides program, as well as opening up overflow parking, according to Crezee.
Plans for the Red Dog race surface itself are extensive, involving a series of redundancies in the event of inclement weather, and Crezee says that the girls who have run this course in the past say it is one of the most challenging technical venues in the World Cup. “You’re standing on the start and right between your skis, all you see is the parking lot,” Crezee said. The tickets for grandstand seating and VIP and Club passes have long sold out, but viewers will be able to see racers like Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso, Lara Gut, and others navigate the numerous challenges from anywhere on the side of the course accessed from the Far East lift.
After winning a slalom race on the Red Dog course in the 2014 U.S. Alpine Championships, Shiffrin said, “It was probably the toughest hill we’ve skied all year. It has a lot of terrain and the whole thing is pretty steep. So it was really cool to end on this hill. I made some good turns, but I also felt the turns where I could have improved, so I know what I want to do with my next training session,” adding, “Second run I felt like I attacked a little bit more at the top. I let it go a little bit more. I’m just trying to figure out how to look for speed in GS like I do for slalom. So I’m getting closer.”
According to Wirth it was a unique FIS calendar situation that led to Squaw’s opportunity to hold the Alpine World Cup. The likelihood of this happening again in the near future is slim, but he has been entertaining the possibility of holding a freestyle World Cup afterwards. He also says that although the bid to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics in Tahoe fell through, he still considers 2026 as a viable option and mentioned that “[Squaw] is uniquely capable of staging a winter Olympics.” The World Cup and the Olympics may be tied together though, as one generation of Mighty Mites can sometimes become another generation of U.S. team athletes.
“There is almost entirely one reason we’re doing this, and that’s to inspire the next generation of ski racers,” Wirth said. “It does take a community to raise world class skiers … We have been called, appropriately, the official supplier for the U.S. Ski Team, and I’m going to do everything I can to support that.”
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