Under sunny skies but with a pesky wind that forced organizers to move to a lower start, the opening day of the 2017 World Juniors got underway with the first training run in downhill for both ladies and men.
The journey that has brought over 600 athletes from more than 45 countries this week to this traditional World Cup venue, started with the awarding of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships to Åre in the FIS Congress of 2014.
Niklas Carlsson, CEO Åre 2019 welcomed the teams and parents this evening in the Opening Ceremony, sharing with the a packed house that the mission of the organizers is “to inspire the world to ski”.
Åre will host the World Championships for the 3rd time – 1954, 2007 and 2019 – and behind the bid was a hosting strategy to upgrade slopes, begin the process of training a larger pool of volunteers and to sharpen the skills of the organizers.
As a regular stop on the ladies World Cup Tour, the needed attributes that build a good competition venue are there: a volunteer base, experienced race organizing committee and a ski resort familiar with the demands of hosting a major ski event.
But the scope of a World Championship is broad and the very high standards set by Val d’Isere (2009), Garmisch (2011) and Schladming (2013) and subsequent to their selection as a host by Vail/Beaver Creek (2015) and St-Moritz just a few weeks ago, meant Åre could not just sit back on their base of 2007.
So Åre emulated Garmisch and bid for the 2017 Junior World Ski Championships and committed to host the 2018 Alpine Ski World Cup Finals. Garmisch was the first Championship organizer to use the World Junior/World Cup Finals to hone their preparation.
The Junior World Championships offers an opportunity to put the men’s track into use. The numbers of athletes and countries participating is similar, but the scope is far more manageable. Preparation of the competition slopes must be absolutely world-class, but within modest expectations for media, spectators, security and sponsorship activation.
The enormous benefit is to the younger athletes. Many attending the World Juniors will be back in two years for the 2019 Worlds. This gives them their first preview of the slopes and venue. And most will not qualify for the 2018 World Cup Finals which is a restricted field event for the top 25 in each World Cup discipline.
The 2018 World Cup Finals bring different demands. While the number of athletes are modest, the Finals require the full compliment of race venues and start to push the scope of capacity for the off-snow deliverables of the Organizers, with significant expectations from sponsors, activation, thousands of spectators and comprehensive TV coverage of all events.
In 2007, Åre set the bar very high for subsequent World Championship Organizers, many of whom accepted the challenge and pushed the standard even higher. Now, a decade later, our Scandinavian hosts are using an extended event hosting strategy to re-write the ski racing major event hosting book.
And the main beneficiaries are our champions of tomorrow – our juniors – many of whom will capitalize on multiple visits to Åre over the next three seasons.
This, is how a sport legacy is built. This is a major competition where the focus is on the athlete. This is sensible, sustainable sport development. This is cost-effective venue development which benefits sport and the community.
This is the future.