Media coverage of World Cup skiing is always based on athletic results and stories – and should be. However, sometimes it also behooves to look at what it takes to organize large events, perhaps just to appreciate all the work and effort that is behind successful events. The athletes are the actors, but the volunteers and event organizers make it all happen.
I write this article on the airplane back from three weeks of attending large events in Europe; two weeks of following the FIS Cross-Country World Cup as a Technical Delegate and Jury member, and one week as a participant and observer in the FIS Masters Cross-Country World Cup. These opportunities make for a unique chance to experience what goes on behind the scenes of large Cross-Country events in Europe.
The FIS Cross-Country World Cup is the highest level annual series of events in our sport, and is limited to the approximate fastest 100 skiers in the World, based on selecting the best 4 skiers from each of the participating 25 nations. Press and media follow this series of events through the winter months, most notable by live TV coverage from every race. The events travel from country to country around (mostly) Europe, and each Organizer is responsible for taking care of the entire traveling “circus”. In addition to providing certified competition courses and venues, some of the “taking care of” includes organizing hotel rooms and food (four meals a day), paying for travel expenses, hosting information meetings, social events and award ceremonies, preparing waxing facilities both at the hotels and at the venues (at a size of about 200 square feet per team), organizing transportation between hotel and venue (several times per day), etc.
Racing in Scandinavia
The budget for one World Cup event can easily be at $400,000 including the cost of the TV production, the athletes’ prize money etc. – this comes to about $2,000 per athlete!
A far cry from the World Cup “hoopla” is the annual Masters’ World Cup. This event was held in Lillehammer this year, with 1100 masters skiers participating in a week long celebration of the 10 year anniversary of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games. Here the focus was international camaraderie, participation above results, and cultural experiences above media focus. However, also here the organizational tasks were monumental. Arranging accommodation, transportation and information for 1000 skiers from 20 countries and languages requires good planning. Medals, race souvenirs and banquets are more important than prize money and World Cup points. A yearlong planning committee with a budget of about $100,000 was required even for the experienced 1994 Olympic Legacy Organization.
As is easily observed in Europe, and Scandinavia especially, the organizational issues of Cross-Country competitions are similar but yet different than here in the US and Canada. The requirements of live TV, event sponsors and large spectator numbers make for much additional work than just preparing the venue for the athletes. The unique situation of the Holmenkollen World Cup, with 1000’s of people camping out along the racecourse the night before the 50 km race is one example. Here the organizer and police patrols the area regularly, watches for “out of control” behavior, but also provides startlists and even food (hot dogs) to the many groups of people that are enjoying winter camping ahead of their favorite way of watching a ski race. It is an equally unique experience as a TD to do “course inspection” at midnight, and experience the special atmosphere in this Nordic community.
In the end, you wonder what makes so many Organizers and volunteers work so hard to put on ski competitions? Perhaps we all need a break from the reality of the World around us, a way to enjoy being outdoors and a way to be awed by the athletes we all wish we could be.