The International Ski Federation (FIS) was skeptical at first. But they’ve been won over faster than they ever could have believed — and now World Cup cross-country ski racing is not only returning to Canada more quickly than expected, but it will also revisit the U.S. for the first time since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
After the success of the Ski Tour Canada and some challenging snow situations in Europe during the 2015/2016 season, FIS has announced that the entire next World Cup season (2016/2017) will be held in North America.
“There are a wide variety of venues with reliable snow, and television viewers and sponsors turned out to love the wide, cinematic shots of racing in the Western landscape,” FIS Marketing Director Murg Staples told FasterSkier in an exclusive interview.
“We’ve been working on ways to have a more competitive World Cup given the Norwegian dominance in recent years,” FIS Race Director Peter Masters said. “While Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Therese Johaug still won the Ski Tour Canada, there were great performances by the American and Canadian teams. These teams are getting so close, and we think that giving them this season where they have something extra to get excited for and so many hometown fans cheering will both grow the development base for these countries and help them take that last step to the level where they are challenging Norwegian dominance. After all, Sweden wasn’t much help this year.”
Staples had been one of the skeptics, telling Norwegian website Sporten.com back in November that the Ski Tour Canada was “silly”, that he doubted that it would generate television revenue in Europe, and that there would likely be no “next time” for the season-ending race series which traveled from Ontario to Quebec and then Alberta.
But Staples has changed his tune, in part due to the snow challenges in Europe and also due to good television ratings for the Ski Tour Canada.
NRK, the station airing the Ski Tour Canada for Norwegian audiences, reported pulling in over a million viewers for weekend racing. Norway has just over five million citizens. The final men’s pursuit set a record for the NRK2 station; no other program had ever had as many viewers.
And so a tourism boom for Alberta was born, as was a brand new plan for the upcoming World Cup season. The tour will open on Frozen Thunder in Canmore, Alberta, before traveling to Birch Hill in Fairbanks, Alaska, then down to Anchorage, and over to Sovereign Lake, British Columbia, to wrap up period one before the holidays.
“Having a World Cup in my hometown will be some extra motivation to get back to racing after my pregnancy,” Kikkan Randall said.
The snow for the sprint course at Kincaid Park will reportedly be dyed pink in her honor.
In order to have all facets of the nordic World Cup open together, as is now traditional, the large hill jump at the Calgary Olympic Park will be redesigned and resurfaced, the zip line taken down this summer, and jumpers may begin training there as early as July, a representative of WinSport told FasterSkier, on the condition of anonymity.
The usual Tour de Ski block will be moved to the American Rockies, with racing in Sun Valley, Idaho, Steamboat Springs, Colo., and then finishing at the Olympic stadium at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
“With the Ski Tour Canada last year, it only seemed fair to send the next Tour south to the U.S.,” Masters explained. “We thought about having the racers simply race overland from Sun Valley to Soldier Hollow, but we realized that the U.S. is a lot bigger than Europe and the distances would be a little too far.”
Staples added that he would be working with the Sundance Film Festival to try to get some celebrities to attend the final weekend before they hit of the movie circuit.
“[Leo] Dicaprio is a big fan of skiing,” Staples said. “Watching the sport is something he can share with those European models he’s always with. It’s one of the reasons he’s so against climate change and has become a big environmentalist. Having him and a few others in the crowd would be great marketing and we might finally get on the pages of Us Weekly.”
After hosting IPC World Championships two years ago, Cable, Wis., is excited to host the FIS World Cup; the American Birkebeiner has been moved forward several weeks to coincide, much like when the Norwegian Birkebeiner was made a World Cup in 2002.
“We’ve known for years that the Birkie was more important than any European race,” Jan Anderson of Pine Lake, Wis., told FasterSkier. “It’s nice to get some recognition. Those European newcomers should have to start in wave nine, though.”
The World Cup will then move to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Houghton-Hancock airport in Michigan looks forward to handling all of the ski bags and wax boxes when the World Cup visits the Michigan Tech trails in late January.
The circuit will then take an Eastern swing, starting with the city sprint in New York City’s Central Park that USSA executives have long been hoping for. The tour will then wind through Gatineau Park outside of Ottawa, Ontario; to Craftsbury Common, Vt. (“Even if there’s no snow anywhere else, those guys will find a way,” Staples said); Waterville Valley, New Hampshire; and Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec.
Both Kris and Justin Freeman have been immediately reinstated on the U.S. Ski Team to contest their home World Cups, while the Centre National d’Entrainement Pierre Harvey has doubled its budget to try to ensure a Quebecois win on home turf.
The season will conclude in Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon Territories. Whitehorse’s successful hosting of 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals is what flipped the cards in their favor.
“The Canadians did a phenomenal job of hosting the Ski Tour Canada, although of course they would never boast about it,” FIS President John Specter said. “Plus, I realized that eating any doughnuts which are not maple-glazed is a huge waste. Visiting Canada was a life-changing experience and I hope that many ski fans from around the world get that same chance next season.”