An estimated 30,000 people packed Killington last November to see the worlds fastest women go head to head in slalom and giant slalom.
November weather can be notoriously fickle, but resort officials say snow conditions on the race slope are excellent and if the weather cooperates they expect even bigger crowds than last year. The International Ski Federation has given Killington the green light to host the upcoming Women’s World Cup races Nov. 25 and 26.
Many of the racers who competed last year, including Switzerland’s Lara Gut, told reporters how much they appreciated the big crowds.
“I mean usually when we’re in the USA there’s not so many people coming to watch the races," Gut says. "But here it’s amazing. So many people, and I was surprised. So, yeah, I feel people are happy to have us here, so that’s cool.”
Local businesses and the entire northeast ski industry were even more thrilled.
Patty McGrath, who owns the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, says coming after one of the worst seasons in memory, the timing of last year’s race was perfect.
“Because we had the World Cup and Killington pulled that off so brilliantly, people knew of that resort’s effort to make the best snow available to people no matter what Mother Nature threw at us,” she says adding, “the results were felt for months afterwards.”
McGrath, who also chairs the town’s selectboard, says local option tax receipts show just how much the event generated for the town.
For instance, she says fourth quarter revenues for last year, which included the World Cup, were $9 million more than the previous year’s and $6.5 million more than the town’s best-ever fourth quarter in 2014.
"And November's usually a very slow month," she says smiling, "so not bad for our small town."
And tax receipts show the uptick continued for hotels and restaurants through March.
Fred Coriell is co-owner of Peak Performance, a Killington ski shop. While he says hotels and restaurants saw bigger gains from the races than retail stores like his, he believes everyone on the mountain and well beyond benefited.
Coriell says he had customers come in all year who told him that the reason they were in town is that they'd seen the Green Mountains on TV watching the World Cup. “They’d never been to Vermont, saw pictures of it on NBC and decided I need to visit this place; it looks pretty cool,” says Coriell adding, “It happens all the time.”
He says it’s why local residents voted to contribute $100,000 to help sponsor this year’s race.
“The ability of this event to be on CNN, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, creates an identity for the eastern United States and Killington that we would never be able to do through existing marketing efforts.”
Killington resort's marketing director Rob Megnin says the number of people exposed to all the stories and broadcasts nationally and internationally was unbelievable. “We had 100 million impressions that were driven from this event,” Megnin says shaking his head. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire career and I’ve been around for quite a while.”
An impression is marketing-speak for the point in which an ad or story is viewed once by an individual or displayed once on a web page.
Megnin admits that while that kind of exposure is awesome, it was expensive.
When all the snowmaking, extra staffing, buses, hotel costs and other logistics were added up, he says the resort spent about $2.4 million on the World Cup last year and made back only half that much.
To help fund this year’s race, the state’s other ski resorts chipped in $50,000 through the Vermont Ski Areas Association. Megnin says other sponsors also stepped up to help defray costs which has helped Killington feel confident about agreeing to host not only this year's World Cup but next year's race as well.
Jamie Storrs, a spokesman for Mount Snow, calls the investments a no-brainer.
“The side effect of Killington being able to have this early race is it shows people that, we in the east, can make a lot of snow early and can get mountains open so I think it definitely helps to get more people up in this area, get more people skiing, get more people going out to dinner and spending money at an earlier time than before,” adds Storrs.
Up on Killington, snowmaking has been going full throttle for weeks.
The resort's longtime Operation Director, Jeff Temple says he’s got 120 snow guns closely spaced on Superstar, the slope where the World Cup races will be held.
The warmer than usual October was nerve racking, he admits. But he says the recent cold snap and a lot of 12 to 14 hour days have helped him and his staff meet the World Cup course requirements of 18 to 19 inches of hard pack.
“We’re well above that this year and progressing well on the training trail. So yes, as far as the mountain goes, we’re well on our way to being ready for another successful race.”
Off the slope, he says they’ll have more buses and port-a-potties this year as well as additional food trucks and ski industry vendors.
Resort officials say the four thousand seats in the grandstand sold out within hours but anyone can come free of charge if they don’t mind standing.