It says a lot about the current state of ski racing in the U.S. that a second place finish by an American in the women’s slalom feels just a teeny bit disappointing.
It also says a lot about Aspen’s renewed love of ski racing that the opening races of the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals accounted for more than 4,700 scanned lift passes, capacity crowds in the grandstands and spectators who spilled over all sides of the slushy Lift 1A venue.
Saturday’s attendance, when Mikaela Shiffrin finished second in the slalom and was named the season title winner, easily approached that of the downhills, according to Aspen Skiing Co.
Perhaps a more accurate measure of this renewed race fervor was noticed in the sparsely filled Aspen School District classrooms or the empty downtown offices where the proverbial “Gone Skiing” sign, previously reserved for powder days, was flown with pride.
Or maybe it was manifested during the autograph signings, bib draws, concerts and the Aspen Crud party that raged in the newly christened “World Cup Village.”
For one amazing week, Fill, Vonn, Weirather, Stuhec, Hirscher, and of course Shiffrin, have become familiar household names, not unlike in Aspen’s past when Colo, Eriksen, Mead, Heuga and Marolt carried their own cachet.
“The whole point of ski racing is to put your best out there,” Shiffrin said on Saturday, after accepting the slalom crystal globe.
From course preparation to crowd sizes, Aspen this week proved unequivocally it could rise up and put its best ski boot forward, that the combined efforts of staffers, volunteers and the public at large could produce an event far greater than the sum of its individual parts and that there’s no doubt this is still a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool ski town.