Editorial: Killington, ski racing fans sow big benefits for state
You don’t have to ski, or even like winter sports (though it helps), to appreciate the world-class event Killington Resort pulled off this past weekend when it hosted the first World Cup racing event in Vermont in 38 years.
That’s because the number of viewers who watched the race is staggering: Not only did the race attract about 16,000 spectators for Saturday’s giant slalom race and a few less for Sunday’s for the slalom, but it was broadcast on NBC and its television affiliates to 60 countries, reaching millions of avid skiers throughout the world as they were treated to two days of coverage from Killington’s snow-covered slopes.
That’s terrific exposure for Killington’s brand, but also for Vermont. Not since 1978 in Stratton has the World Cup been hosted in Vermont, and not since 1991 was it even in New England — that year in Waterville Valley, N.H. That’s too long for the FIS World Cup series to ignore one of the most vibrant ski scenes in the country.
What it tells the world is that Vermont is far enough North, and still has cold enough temperatures in late fall to produce significant amounts of snow with its world-renown snowmaking systems. Even during a fall as warm as this one was, Killington crews blew enough snow to amass 10 feet of snow depth at the top of Superstar (the trail used for both races) and enough to cover the rest of the giant slalom course in at least 4 feet of snow, edge to edge — and that’s with what was some pretty warm weather hitting into the 50s and 60s in early to mid-November.
But Killington’s ability to make enough snow to pull off a world-caliber race in challenging weather conditions was not even the biggest surprise to the 70-plus women racers from the US, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and even Russia: it was the bigger-than ever crowds, their enthusiasm and respect for the racers, and their passion for and knowledge of ski racing.
Crowds in Aspen and other venues in Colorado attract a couple thousand people, “and you practically have to beg them to come,” said Doug Lewis, NBC television announcer for skiing events, and even in Europe crowds range closer to 5,000 — a far distance for Killington’s crowd of three times that.
And then there were Vermont Teddy Bears presented by, yep, the Vermont Teddy Bear company in Shelburne to the top three winners of each discipline, along with a beautiful glass trophy handcrafted by Simon Pearce — and, for all the women on the tour, maple syrup for breakfast (it was third-place slalom winner Wendy Holdener’s favorite part of a hearty Vermont breakfast).
Add all that to the friendliness of Killington’s staff and the locals, a large ski-racing community that turned out in huge numbers from Maine to New York, Massachusetts to Canada, plus Vermont’s natural beauty, and you’ve created an advertising campaign for the state that’s better than money could buy.
And for those who don’t know, Vermont ranks number one in the Eastern third of the county in skier visits and number three in the nation in 2012-13 and 2013-14, with 4.5 million skier visits per year — just behind Colorado and California. It is also big business. As a driver of the state’s economy, the tourism industry counts for 15 percent of the total state output value, 22 percent of the state employment, and 26 percent of the indirect business tax. A UVM study found that the total economic impact several years ago was $722 million, including $428 million of direct impact (spending dollars on food, lodging and activities) with another $294 million of indirect and induced impact. Another $300 million was created in taxes paid to the state.
As importantly, the quality of life factor should not be under-estimated. Without skiing at the state’s 18 ski resorts and almost 30 Nordic ski areas, and a growing amount of backcountry terrain, the state would not be nearly as desirable a place to live. Moreover, skiing is also a passion for the younger demographic (young adults ages 20-40), which are exactly the group Vermont says it desperately wants to attract, and keep.
All of which leads to an obvious point: skiing boosts the state’s economy, national and international image, and quality of life — and that’s no small feat.
And along with that quality of life factor, the World Cup also created a significant impression on hundreds of young racers. Around 1,000 racers from ski clubs throughout Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Maine and the New England region were part of the Young Ski Racers Parade, which culminated in prime viewing positions for the races, autograph sessions with the ski teams, and lots of opportunity to scream their support to favorite racers — all a big part of creating the enthusiasm and excitement that keeps the sport strong and vital.
The World Cup race at Killington reinforced those combined messages in a way that will reflect well on the state for years to come — and for that we all owe Killington Resort a hearty thanks, and kudos for a job well done.
And to the FIS race committee and racers: Travel safe to your other 20-plus locations around the world in this year’s tour, and come back soon … we’ll keep the lights on for you.
— Angelo S. Lynn