Lack of snow forces change for Alpine Championships

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has decided to relocate next month's Alpine Championships from Girdwood to the Lower 48, due to poor snow conditions in Alaska.

The change, announced Tuesday, is one more in a long list of outdoor sporting events that have been canceled or significantly altered due to Alaska's unusually warm, snowless winter.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association had planned to bring its marquee event to the Alyeska ski resort in Girdwood for the first time in 22 years. Among those expected to compete are Bode Miller, a two-time medalist at last year's Olympics and the star of the recently concluded world championships, where he won two gold medals and one silver.

Hundreds of people, including about 250 of the nation's top skiers, were expected for the nationally televised event, March 16-25 event.

Chris von Imhof, the CEO of Alyeska Resort, estimated the races would have brought $1 million to Girdwood and Alyeska.

''It's disappointing,'' he said.

But neither Alyeska nor the USSA wanted to hold the championships in marginal conditions.

''We want to make sure we put on a good race,'' von Imhof said. 'If (the finish area) is muddy and dirty, if we don't have a safe course, then we'd feel bad.''

Although history says Alyeska will get plenty of snow and cold in the next month, the USSA needed to make a decision now so an alternate site could get ready if needed. The USSA is expected to announce the new site later this week, von Imhof said.

The national championships last came to Alyeska in 1981. Von Imhof said he is optimistic Alaska won't have to wait that long to get another shot at the championships -- in fact, he's hoping for next year.

''This is a postponement, not a cancellation,'' he said with a smile.

Larry Daniels, general manager at Alyeska, said the resort has told the USSA it wants to be considered for next year's championships.

''They told us we'd be at the top of the list,'' Daniels said.

Although the top of the mountain has 136 inches of snow, snow coverage is minimal in several key racing areas, including much of the downhill course and the finish area.

There are just 3 inches of snow at the base, where the finish line would be located. The finish line is critical because that's where the money is. It's where corporate sponsors hang their signs to get exposure.

Daniels said the races could end higher on the mountain, where there is more snow.

''We have other venues we could offer them, but we want championship venues,'' Daniels said.

What's more, moving the finish line higher would create organizational nightmares, he said.

''Technically you could do it,'' Daniels said. ''But when you get into the logistics of moving all of that finish stuff -- signage, the scoreboard, scaffolding -- the logistics of doing that would just be monumental.''

Alyeska officials announced the cancellation at an afternoon press conference. If the races are held in Alaska next year, von Imhof said, Alyeska could still lay claim to a star-studded field.

''Bode will still be the world champion,'' he said, ''because the world championships only happen every two years.''

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