The World Alpine Ski Championships wrapped up last weekend in Vail, and by Vail’s account they were a huge success. The Austrians and Norwegians, who collected 22 out of 30 medals, would also give glowing reviews of Vail 99. But was anyone else paying attention? Certainly in Europe they were. Federation International de Ski President Gian-Franco Kasper held a press conference during the world championships where he said that 60 per cent of Austrian people were watching the events on television and world wide the television audience was an estimated 450-500 million viewers for the men’s downhill. But the fact that Kasper called a press conference to discuss the state of competitive skiing is telling. There were lots of spectators at Vail for some of the world championship events, and the television audience may have been hundreds of millions, but in both cases most of the interest came from Europe. In North America the world championships were hardly noticed, by media or skiers. The problem isn’t limited to ski racing. The World Cup freestyle tour could not find a title sponsor this year and several events in Europe were cancelled. Television isn’t interested in the acro event and some feel the moguls and aerials have become overly technical. The one competitive snow sport which is booming in both North America and Europe is snowboarding. But two rival circuits have divided the attention snowboarding gets and created a confusing situation where there is more than one champion in each discipline. All of this is relevant to Whistler and its WinterStart Festival. There are two chances the World Cup downhill will return to Whistler next December, slim and none. The snowboard World Cup may return to Whistler next winter, but it might not be in December. That could leave the WinterStart Festival, which was originally intended to support the World Cup events, in need of sporting events. No doubt some will be found, whether they are veterans’ downhill races, freestyle or something new — there are several concepts out there looking for someone to try them. But the fundamental question has to be asked: who are we doing this for? Is it for a television audience on the other side of the world, for members of our national ski teams, to bring more business to the resort, to bolster the Olympic bid, because we are capable of doing it and therefore have a duty to do so? There will be future opportunities to bring World Cup events to Whistler, although they might not be in December. But as FIS President Kasper noted in his press conference at Vail, the skiing fraternity has to help the sport in countries other than Austria if competitive skiing and snowboarding events are to be noticed, and seen to be worthwhile hosting.

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