The ski season is BACK!
We know this because, while there may not be snow in our backyard, some areas in our region are open at least on a limited basis and almost all are making snow when overnight temperatures dip below freezing.
And, the best women skiers on the planet are gathering at Killington for World Cup slalom and giant slalom racing this weekend.
A number of years ago, I was in a waiting room sitting next to a nationally known financial expert. So naturally we got talking — about sports, of course. He lived in Chicago and was very excited that for a wedding anniversary surprise, his wife had bought courtside tickets to a Bulls game. It was at the apex of the Michael Jordan era and my new friend was going to see the Greatest Of All Time play up close.
The cost of those tickets? $680 each, he told me — and, reminder, that was years ago.
Now, seeing a GOAT in person is a special treat for any sports fan. What would you pay for seats to see Tom Brady play football? Or LeBron James play basketball?
Or Mikaela Shiffrin ski?
Shiffrin, who is only 26 years old, has already won 71 World Cup races in her career, which — barring injuries — should last well into her 30s. Only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark with 86 wins and American Lindsey Vonn with 82 have won more international ski competitions than Shiffrin, and both are retired.
So, is Shiffrin the GOAT on snow?
A lot of people think so. She is a six-time world champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. In three World Cup starts in Europe this season, she has one win and two second-place finishes.
Clearly, she is on her game . . . and you can see her race this Saturday and Sunday at Killington. While she calls Colorado home, Shiffrin has family in our area. She went to school at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and has won the slalom competition against the best racers in the world every year since the World Cup came to Vermont in 2017.
The cost for a general-admission day ticket this weekend, which can be bought online at killington.com/worldcup: just $5.
Killington, as area skiers know, has a massive snowmaking system in place and more than 120 snow guns have been dumping snow all month on the Superstar trail where both races will be held. The area is ready.
There was no World Cup Ski Racing at the area last year due to COVID restrictions, but the competition in the past at Killington has proven popular. The races in 2018 drew more than 39,000 spectators, the most ever for a World Cup event in the United States. The races are scheduled to be back next year, too.
Adding additional interest to the event this time is that it offers a preview of the women’s competition in three months at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Shiffrin, who is best known for her slalom skills, says she plans to enter all five Olympic Alpine events this winter. This weekend will be a good test against two of her strongest rivals, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Katherina Liensburger of Austria who won World Titles in the slalom and giant slalom races last winter when Shiffrin took time off following the death of her father. Vlhova edged Shiffrin in both slalom races last weekend in Finland.
This season is off to a good start for the U.S. women. Shiffrin earned her World Cup slalom win at Solden, Austria, and teammates Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien had competitive races there, too. The United States will enter five women in the World Cup events this weekend.
Is Shiffrin the GOAT? This is a great opportunity to see for yourself.
If you plan to go, and early indications are for decent seasonal weather, be aware that spectators will have to provide proof they have been vaccinated or have had a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours. Parking for the event is free. There is a no-cost shuttle system to the hill, but passengers will be required to wear masks on the busses.
SONNTAG AT SUN VALLEY
Clifton Park native Pete Sonntag, who started his career in the resort industry on the golf course maintenance staff at Beaver Creek in Colorado, is the new vice president and general manager of the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho.
This is not his first exposure to skiing major leagues. Sonntag comes to the position from Vail Resorts where he was a vice president. His experience includes senior management at areas in Colorado, California, and at Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia.
In his new position, Sontag is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the oldest destination in the United States, founded in 1936. Sonntag”s daughter Katie is a senior at Union College and a four-year member of the women’s hockey team.
One of the central figures in the growth and popularity of skiing in our area for more than 50 years died this past summer.
Pat Cunningham of North Creek was a top race competitor in the late 1950s and ’60s, and took over his family’s Cunningham’s Ski Barn business in his hometown in the 1970s. He also developed the shop of the same name in Lake Placid and at various times operated retail shops in Tupper Lake and in Vermont.
Cunningham is also credited with developing the whitewater rafting business on the Hudson River, which is a mainstay of the summer recreation industry in the Adirondacks.
He was 81 when he died in July. His son Tyler is carrying on the family businesses.
KNOW THE REGS
A year ago, there were statewide protocols directing operations at ski areas. In New York, restrictions appear to have kept people closer to home, which boosted businesses throughout the region. Neighboring Vermont put restrictions on travel from out of state and ski tourism took a hit.
There do not appear to be broad-based regulations in place this year — at least so far — with areas adopting their own policies on lodge capacity, ticket access, masking and social distancing.
Given the variance in practice, and the changing impact of the virus, make sure to check the website of your ski destination ahead of time so you understand what rules are in place.
Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected].
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