There’s nothing better to inspire young racers when stars come through the finish line and meet the kids – Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley. (USSA)
SQUAW VALLEY, CA (Mar. 9, 2017) - Millions of fans worldwide will be watching the racing action on Red Dog as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup comes to the Olympic village of Squaw Valley Friday and Saturday. But resort officials and local Olympic champion Julia Mancuso have a forward looking view, hoping that the races inspire the next generation of stars.
Officials from Squaw Valley and the U.S. Ski Team spoke to media Thursday to kickoff the race weekend. A continual theme was how the weekend of ski racing will impact the future.
"It’s been a dream to have a race back at home,” said Mancuso, who came out of the local Squaw Valley Ski Team and went on to become an Olympic champion and win four Olympic medals. Mancuso actually originated the concept, seeing an open weekend on the proposed calendar between the Olympic test event in South Korea and the World Cup Finals in Aspen.
Olympic Champion Julia Mancuso originated the idea of Squaw Valley hosting the Audi FIS Ski World Cup to inspire the next generation of ski racers. (USSA-Tom Kelly)
"I planted the idea because I knew that anything was possible. Having that great legacy and all the champions living in the valley brought a lot of passion into my life. I’m happy to share this with the next generation and bring that passion into their life,” she said.
Mancuso brought her idea to Squaw Valley President and CEO Andy Wirth, who quickly engaged with the U.S. Ski Team to explore the possibilities.
"The heritage and legacy of this place are well known in North America and around the world,” said Wirth. “Squaw Valley’s background was developed by a remarkable cadre of skiers who have been raised by KT22.
"While we’re appreciative of the promotional exposure, what we’re really trying to do is to inspire the next generation of ski racers from our community, the region and across America,” said Wirth. "There will be another new group of young athletes competing for the USA in 2022 at Beijing and beyond. There’s nothing better to inspire young racers when stars come through the finish line and meet the kids.”
Squaw Valley has a long history and culture of ski racing. More than 6,000 fans came to the U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley just a few years ago.
"Everyone is just so stoked,” said Mancuso. "It’s all been positive and the community is very excited. This opportunity doesn’t come around that often.”
More than 6,000 fans came out to cheer on the racers at the 2014 U.S. Alpine Championships. (USSA)
USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw was quick to latch onto the idea put forward by Squaw Valley to bring another World Cup venue online in America.
“It’s amazing that we can showcase another venue in America,” said Shaw. "With our partner NBC, the ability to bring this to our fans and expose younger athletes is a huge opportunity.”
As a part of its NBC partnership, the U.S. Ski Team expanded its broadcast to include both NBCSN as well as live coverage of the women’s slalom on Saturday on NBC, where Mikaela Shiffrin could wrap up the World Cup slalom title.
A World Cup at Squaw Valley, which has received 625 inches of snow this year, has presented unique challenges, but organizers have been up to the task.
"We had a really good plan 10 days ago,” laughed Race Director Kyle Kruzee of Squaw Valley. “We put water on the course and it was ready - a great World Cup surface. Then Mother Nature came in and dumped three to four feet of snow on it - four to six inches an hour. So we lost that battle.”
On Monday, crews were able to push the snow off and actually find the original watered down surface, which was rebuilt in time for the World Cup athletes to free ski on the hill Thursday morning.
"I was ecstatic this morning to watch the freeskiing,” said Kruzee. “It was scratchy, hard and sounded like a World Cup race course.”
While Mancuso brought the idea forward, the complexity of her comeback from injury will prevent her from racing.
"I was planning to ski here until a week ago,” she said. "But things weren’t going really well for me. It was hard to train. I just didn’t feel I could go 110% from start to finish. So I decided I would be here to experience it and talk to all my friends. I’ll for sure check out the hill and be a fan again.”
While she won’t be racing, Mancuso has logged thousands of hours on Red Dog, starting when she was a young ski racer in the pre-dawn hours. And she had some advice for her fellow World Cup athletes.
"The biggest thing with Red Dog is just charging top to bottom,” she said. "It’s very challenging - there’s a lot of physical effort to get to the finish line. You have to be on that limit."