Opinion » Editorial


It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s what the business community of Whistler asked for several years ago. But a World Cup downhill in December doesn’t work here. And it’s not just because of the weather. There is enough bitter irony in the cancellation of the World Cup downhill and super G for the third year in a row to fill a dozen Harlequin romance novels. For starters there was the Chamber of Commerce retreat in the early ’90s where business leaders asked if World Cup events could be moved from the high season of February and March to early in the season when there are hotel rooms to fill. In 1995, after several trips to Europe, Whistler got its wish and the North American portion of the World Cup tour was moved to late November and early December. Now, with the number of new hotels that have opened in recent years, Whistler has rooms to fill in February and March. On another front, two weeks ago Whistler was upset with Alpine Canada for publicly supporting Calgary’s Olympic bid over the Vancouver-Whistler bid. Now, after an FIS representative said he can’t support a Whistler World Cup race next year, Alpine Canada is rushing to defend Whistler because there isn’t really anywhere else in Canada to show off the Canadian men’s downhill team. And the FIS has structured World Cup racing so rigidly in the last few years that the TV revenue the race organizing committee receives — the only revenue the committee receives from the race — doesn’t cover the cost of putting on the event. So Whistler built the WinterStart Festival to offset the cost of the race. Now WinterStart is more successful than the race. There is probably a future for World Cup skiing in Whistler — there is more passion for the sport here than just about anywhere else in North America — but it may take some time to digest the non-results of the last three years before Whistler is ready to try again. Certainly the structure created by the FIS offers little incentive for hosting the World Cup. It has become a European television event, which must be broadcast live — tape delay is unacceptable because of the gambling on ski racing — to Europe. That leaves just a few hours on one given day of the year when the race can be held. All the race course advertising, including the bibs, gate panels and start hut, is handled by the FIS, with just a little space reserved for the host ski federation’s sponsors. The two primary sponsors for the Whistler race don’t even sell their products in North America. There is no longer any opportunity for the race organizing committee to sell sponsorships directly associated with the race. "We want these events, just not under the existing conditions," said Don McQuaid, the man in charge of sponsorships for WinterStart. Then there is the question of who is watching the race on TV. Certainly the Austrians, as they dominate the World Cup circuit at the moment. But Germany sent only one skier to Whistler. All the American downhill stars retired at the end of last season. In North America, truck pulls draw a bigger TV audience than World Cup skiing. Yet the audience for snowboarding and freeriding is growing. Whistler has to take a hard look at what it wants to do, but the FIS also has to look at how it’s packaging World Cup skiing. A year or two break may be beneficial to both parties.

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