The World Cup Returns to the East

A local's take on the impact of the Killington World Cup races this weekend

My childhood ski racing idol was Tamara McKinney. With her speed, her strength, and her trademark bunny hat, she was everything the 10-year-old ski racer in me wanted to be. Among her successes, McKinney counts six World Cup wins at New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley, about an hour south of where I grew up skiing. My favorite place to race GS as a kid was the rolling terrain on the World Cup trail at Waterville. Knowing my ski racing heroes had covered the same terrain made it even better.

The return of the World Cup to the East this month, after a 25-year hiatus, means a whole new generation of young rippers—my own kids among them—will have a chance to see their ski racing idols up close, in action. Thanksgiving weekend, the fastest women in the world will take to the Superstar trail for giant slalom (Nov. 26) and slalom (Nov. 27) races, the first World Cup competition in the East since 1991.

The return of the White Circus has been a long time coming, and we Easterners are all fired up. There is animated discussion among the 8- to 10-year-old set in my house of watching the World Cuppers careen down the hill in front of their very eyes. My daughter hopes to get Mikaela Shiffrin’s autograph—Shiffrin is my daughter’s Tamara. And we’re not the only ones eagerly anticipating the Killington races.

“I’m really excited,” says 11-year-old Finn Boissonneault of Franconia, New Hampshire, a two-hour drive from Killington. “My whole family is excited. We talk about it at dinner. We’re hoping to get to hike up the hill and see the racers in the start.”

The return of the World Cup to the East this month, after a 25-year hiatus, means a whole new generation of young rippers will have a chance to see their ski racing idols up close.

Boissonneault trains with the Franconia Ski Club at Cannon Mountain, where I am a weekend coach. Our home hill is steeped in ski racing history. To modern ski racing fans, it’s known as the place Bode Miller learned to ski. But it was also the site of the first World Cup races held in North America, in 1967. For three days, the eyes of the skiing world turned to this mountain hamlet as the world’s top men and women competed in downhill, giant slalom, and slalom races.

Jean-Claude Killy, one of the best ski racers of all time, swept the men’s events at Cannon, and there’s a turn on the downhill course locally known as Killy’s Corner. Back then, safety efforts at such corners comprised strategically-placed snow fence and hay bales, and snow making was barely existent. Things are a little more high-tech now. The races at Killington will use a whopping 10 million gallons of water in snowmaking, and 400 rolls of B-net will line the course.

What is the same now as it was in 1967, or during the 1980s when McKinney was winning races at Waterville, is the level of excitement surrounding the World Cup. Upwards of 20,000 people showed up for the Cannon races in ’67, and Killington is anticipating a similar turnout 50 years later.

“This is really a great opportunity to show off New England skiing and New England Ski areas to the world,” says Michael Joseph, Killington’s communications manager. “Anybody who cares about ski racing in the area is going to be there.”

Boissonneault is most looking forward to seeing U.S. star Mikaela Shiffrin, who attended high school in Vermont, and Swiss speedster Lara Gut. (For historical reference, Gut was born a month after the last World Cup race held in the East, in March of 1991 at Waterville; Shiffrin was born four years after that race; and 1991 is ancient history as far as Boissonneault is concerned.)

“They’re really inspiring,” Boissonneault says of Shiffrin and Gut. “They’re really good people to look up to.”

The young ski racer is as interested in gleaning information about the competitors’ pre-race prep as she is in seeing them work through the course. She wants to know how different teams manage race day, what the athletes eat before a big race, and how they get focused at the start and handle race-day jitters.

It will all play out on Killington’s Superstar trail. Known as a holdout of spring skiing, and often open well into May, Superstar has never hosted a race beyond the casual May Day Slalom.

“We had to build a race venue basically from nothing,” says Ted Sutton, chief of race for the Killington World Cup events.

Killington has also built a World Cup village, which includes some 50 vendors, a live music stage, and a TV wall that will allow spectators to watch racers as they kick out of the start and onto the steeps before cruising through the mellower middle section of the course. Then the racers will drop onto the 48 percent grade on the lower third of the course and come screaming into view toward the finish, where legions of ski racing fans from all over the world and throughout the East will be cheering.

I plan to be there with my kids to join the festivities. As much as I’m looking forward to the races, I most want to watch as my children and other young ski racers look up the hill to their skiing idols.

We’re hoping they’ll return to the East before another quarter century passes. There’s talk that, with the Killington races, World Cup skiing will again become a more regular occurrence in the East.

“If we can pull this off, and I’m sure we will, this will become a regular World Cup stop,” says Sutton. “That’s the plan.”