This weekend Grandvalira hosts the women’s Alpine Skiing World Cup with Lindsey Vonn as the big attraction, an expected audience of 80 million viewers worldwide and a budget of €1.7 million for two days of competition
When Lindsey Vonn, the third highest earning and most famous alpine skiing athlete, lands this weekend in the resort of Grandvalira in her Red Bull helicopter, 16 television channels from around the world will be waiting to capture the moment.
The US skier, former girlfriend of Tiger Woods and dubbed the ‘Sharon Stone of skiing‘ for her striking resemblance to the actress, is the great attraction of the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup that will take place this weekend at the Grandvalira resort in Andorra. And both for sporting reasons as well as for her interest in continuing to draw attention beyond the slopes.
She is the skier with most wins in the history of the World Cup (76), only 10 wins from the all-time record of the Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark (86), and an athlete adored by sponsors and the media for her love of ‘show business’. Her latest rebelliousness was posing nude for the magazine Sports Illustrated in a bodypainting swimsuit.
Grandvalira has spent four months preparing non-stop the Àliga slope in the El Tarter sector, so that this edition will exceed the success achieved in 2012 in its debut as a World Cup host. “At 10.30 am on Saturday February 27, we will be live all around the world”, says David Hidalgo, corporate director of Grandvalira and professor of sports events management at Johan Cruyff Institute. “A top-level event like the Alpine Skiing World Cup does not make us earn money as a ski resort, but it positions us, especially in international markets, as a first-class ski resort. The publicity we get from being on the calendar of the International Ski Federation (FIS) we could not pay for with a campaign”, he says. They have a budget of €1.7 million for two days of competition. “It’s a significant amount. The TV rights enable us to cover about €350,000, and the sponsors €1 million; the rest the resort provides, but we get very important media coverage which makes it worthwhile”.
Grandvalira has a team of staff with extraordinary mountain experience. “The staff working at the World Cup is the same that manages the resort throughout the winter season. For us, it is a challenge because during this weekend, when the station is still open to the public and we have more than 20,000 people skiing, we have double the work, but it is also a safe bet. We must also add that it is an event for the country and everyone throws themselves into making sure it all goes perfectly”.
A total of 400 people (100 from the organization and 300 volunteers) will be working on the World Cup, for which preparations started in November. The competition director, former Spanish Olympic skier Jordi Pujol, will have 200 people working on the slope from 25–28 February. They are responsible for ensuring the conditions are perfect and identical for both Lindsey Vonn and her rivals who want to beat her in their race against the clock. “Since we started to work in November, 40% of my work has been focused on the World Cup”, says Jordi.
“The FIS calendar is determined five years in advance and for us it is an honor to organize two of the disciplines, the super-giant and the alpine combined, because we compete against the United States, Austria, Switzerland…”. To award the venues, the Council of the International Federation takes into account several aspects: previous experience in mountain competitions, volunteering, organizational capacity, country context, sporting tradition and concentrated logistics and political aspects. “Andorra has extensive experience in hosting competitions; we organized the 2015 Mountain Bike World Championship, the Tour de France has come many times, we have the Trial World Championship, and being a small country has its advantages: everyone sees it as their own event and everything is within a radius of 4 kilometers at most”, says Jordi.
ALL DETAILS UNDER CONTROL
His experience as a former Olympic skier also enables him to control every detail and give importance to certain groups that not everyone takes into consideration. “We have 70 racers, 150 technicians, about 120 accredited journalists, 93 security and emergency personnel, 700 VIPs, about 12,000 spectators at the resort and millions watching us on television. Everything has to be perfect and, for me, the priorities are the racers, the ski techs and the press“. Returning to the power of Lindsey Vonn, Jordi Pujol explains that “she alone has 25 pairs of skis. No hotel wants to have the responsibility of looking after this material because it is unique. We have a hotel in the resort with a huge garage that has lent us the space for the ski techs to work in. Lindsey takes three techs just for her (one will stay in the garage the whole time and the other two will be on the slope evaluating the snow at all times to know which skis to choose). The ski techs are a very important group who no one thinks about, but I have taken good care of them, because I know the role they play from my own experience as a former Olympic skier”.
It is very important that all the skiers have equal opportunities, from the first one who opens the race to the last. And that means an exquisite preparation of the snow. “If you don’t prepare the slope well it deteriorates as skiers pass, and from the tenth skier on it is impossible to do the same time as the first. The aim is that they all have the equal opportunities”, explains Jordi. Among other details, the Àliga slope has 67 artificial on slope snow cannons. “We can control them by mobile phone, they’re numbered and you can get lower or higher quality snow. For a competition, you need very compact snow. We must always have 70cms of snow across the width of the slope, all along its 3 kilometer length. Machines with three drivers travelling at 5kms/h work for 15 hours just on that part. Every morning I receive a graph of the slope and you can see at each linear meter how much snow there is. The work takes many hours; it’s very slow and very laborious. And when the slope is ready you have to do daily snow tests. It takes us 32 hours non-stop to make a slope, in shifts of 5 hours”.
And when everything is ready, you have to start working on the safety measures, with nets fixed in the snow. “Teams are organized to work around the clock to put up the nets and if it snows, which is very common, you have to pull out the nets and reposition them”. The day before the competition, a team of 70 groomers comes to smooth the slope. And during the competition, they go in pairs after each racer to continue smoothing.
The World Cup is certainly a great showcase worldwide. “This event has positioned Andorra among the top-level ski resorts and since the first one we organized in 2012, we have noticed that our clientele has increased significantly throughout the season. Now we have customers from 40 different nationalities and, strategically, the World Cup has helped a lot”, explains David Hidalgo. On February 12, 2012, 94 million viewers watched Grandvalira at some point some on television; this year it is estimated that the potential onscreen audience exceeds 80 million, and the resort has already ensured that it will again be part of the Great White Circus in three years.
In 2019, Grandvalira will also host the World Cup finals, which will be a major challenge: nine races (giant slalom, super-giant and downhill) in men’s and women’s categories that, being the finals, score double in the World Cup, as well as the ‘National Team Events’, a team parallel giant.
But that will be in 2019. For the moment, the country is getting ready to enjoy the best female skiing this weekend. The world of snow sports will be watching.
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