Northern Wisconsin, home of the Lumberjack World Championships and largest ski marathon in North America (a.k.a. the Birkie), is about to play host to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Nordic Skiing World Championships in January 2015.
For the first time in 10 years, IPC World Championships is returning to the U.S. since its last visit in 2005 in Fort Kent, Maine. And it’s coming to Cable, a town with fewer than 900 residents but with a history steeped in skiing since before 1947, when Tony Wise founded Telemark Resort.
The championships are expected to attract 150 of the world’s most competitive para-nordic athletes from 20 nations slightly less than a year after the Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
Central Cross Country (CXC) is heading up the organizing efforts, working with Telemark’s owners to revamp the trails used for the 2012 and 2013 IPC World Cups — two events that drew international attention to Cable.
“One of the coaches, I can’t remember what country, said we should host world championships because both those world cups were organized so well,” Yuriy Gusev, CXC’s executive director and the Cable 2015 organizing committee chairman, recalled in a phone interview.
Cable’s World Cup organizers first entertained the idea of hosting World Championships in 2012, then, after their second World Cup in 2013, they submitted an official bid that year.
When it comes to arranging an event of this caliber — with eight days of races between the opening ceremony on Jan. 22 and closing ceremony Feb. 1 — Gusev said it’ll be completely different from putting on a SuperTour or national championships.
For instance, in many domestic ski races, fewer than 100 athletes typically participate. While there will be slightly more at IPC World Championships, the level of competition will be significantly higher than even a World Cup, which often attracts development skiers. And teams that don’t usually fly across the pond for non-World Championships events, like Hungary and South Korea, will be in Wisconsin as well.
With more top-level skiers on course, Gusev said perfecting details — from appropriate hill grades for varying abilities, to the biathlon range — has been critical.
“It’s a lot more details than anyone would ever imagine,” he said.
One example: the hill that returns skiers back up to the stadium. As U.S. Paralympics Nordic Program director John Farra explained, it was so steep for sit skiers to ascend, especially those with little to no use of their core muscles, it wasn’t legal. And while it was used in the two previous Cable World Cups, something had to be done before World Championships.
With help from former CXC head coach Bill Pierce, Gusev led the task of taking some chunks out of the hillside, as well as widening, flattening and cleaning up edges alongside the Telemark trails. That includes a homologated 5-kilometer competition loop and 2 1/2 k sit-ski loops.
This past spring, Farra and his co-coach, Eileen Carey, an experienced technical delegate, visited Cable to check on the progress and pre-empt some of the questions they knew the IPC would ask during its site visit in June.
“I’m glad we did it, and I think [Gusev’s] organizers appreciated it,” Farra said. “His new stadium is going to work, and he’s doing some pretty significant trail work … Now [the hill] is an appropriate return to the stadium. He’s done some nice improvements.”
The stadium has been moved slightly to a higher point and is near one of the oldest buildings on the Telemark property, the three- to four-thousand-square-foot Hytte Recreation Center, which Telemark’s owners agreed to let CXC renovate.
According to Gusev, CXC updated and repainted it as an events/activity center. The owners also granted them use of the Telemark trail system.
The lodge itself remains closed, but as Gusev pointed out, “most of the venues anywhere don’t have lodging facilities at the start line.” Rather, Lakewoods Resort a 10-minute drive away will be the official accommodation and site of the closing ceremony.
“It’s not that easy to find a venue with a trail system and a biathlon range,” Gusev explained. “[We had] two world cups there and all the teams really enjoyed the trails and the layout.”
The opening ceremony will be held in downtown Cable in an open area between the grocery store and chamber of commerce.
In terms of spectators, Gusev said it was difficult to predict how many people would come watch the week-and-a-half championships. Regardless, he said his seven-person organizing committee was working hard to generate as much interest as possible in the months leading up to it.
He’s currently trying to lock down corporate sponsors to provide cash flow for hosting the event. The plan was to initially work with donation partners, then use the assistance of the IPC to attract international sponsors.
A few months ago, the organizing committee secured a grant from the state department of tourism as well as support from Bayfield County.
Depending on how fundraising goes, Cable 2015 could cost anywhere from an estimated $500,000 to $750,000 dollars, Gusev explained. While details and budgets will have to be finalized by November, he’s confident they’ll get there.
“If you look at the Paralympic Games in Sochi, twenty-five countries broadcasted and two billion watched it,” he said. “For the state [of Wisconsin] and the sponsors, it’s a pretty big event to be involved in and the media exposure will be huge.”
T.V. coverage will be a combination of small-scale broadcast and live streaming on the event website. Initially, Gusev said they considered a wide-reaching broadcast platform, but found the cost to be around $500,000 for a weekend of coverage. Alternatively, the live stream, which can be accessed anywhere online, will cost the organizers about $75,000, with equipment as the main expense, specifically a satellite truck.
At the same time, that option creates more work.
“If you have half a million and you have someone come in from New York to come do it, you don’t have to worry about it…,” Gusev said. “It’s actually more complex [to do the live stream].”
And in terms of snow, that’s partly why Cable got World Championships.
“In 2013, there was no snow anywhere and the little snow there was got melted by three inches of rain the day before the first official training day,” he said of the IPC World Cup that year. “All the races were on artificial snow so nobody could believe we pulled it off.”
Part of Gusev’s master plan is putting Telemark on the map as a venue that can hold consistently successful, big events. In 2016, Junior Nationals will be held on the same homologated trails in Cable.
“The standing course is [a] legitimate, hard, Sochi-like course to throw at the athletes,” Farra said. “[And Telemark has] similarly challenging courses for sit skiers.”