FIS alpine ski racer at Aspen Mountain

Aspen at Its Finest

The 2023 Audi FIS Ski World Cup brought alpine racing back to Aspen for an enthralling weekend of men’s speed and community spirit.

Jessi Hackett

Parties, concerts, and cultural events punctuated the high-speed action on Aspen Mountain with the first dedicated men’s dedicated speed World Cup in Aspen since 1994. The long weekend was kicked off with a tribute to one of the founders of the World Cup tour, Bob Beattie. Beattie moved to Aspen in 1970 after coaching the U.S. Ski Team and later became the American voice of ski racing, acting as a colorful commentator for ABC and ESPN. He died in 2018 at age 85.

In the finish area on Friday, March 3 before the first race of the weekend commenced, another Aspen ski racing legend, Andy Mill—who competed for eight seasons on the World Cup—told a crowd

“Bob Beattie is the single most important man in all of ski racing—bar none.”

With Beattie’s son, grandson, and great-granddaughter on hand, it was unveiled that “East Fifth Avenue” trail, where America’s Downhill™ concludes, was renamed “Beattie Way,” to honor the local legend. “There is one man who stands out as a giant,” said Jim Crown, managing partner for the Crown family, owners of the Aspen Skiing Company. “That man is Bob Beattie. What could be more fitting?”

Aspen World Cup Beattie Way

Aspen World Cup Beattie Way

And with that, it was time to race. But before the speedsters took the course, the forerunners gave the downhill track a test. And in keeping with a community-focused theme that permeated the entire weekend—there were racers signing posters for young fans around every corner—one of those forerunners was Cheyenne Brown, who trains with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Her coaches at the Club had asked her two weeks earlier if she wanted to ski the course before the race, and she answered with an enthusiastic, “Hell yeah!”

“It was an incredible experience,” she said after her run. “I feel lucky to have been able to have had the opportunity.”

As soon as the race started, American fans were treated to more excitement: the fifth racer down the course, Ryan Cochran-Siegle from Vermont, skied into third place, and stayed there—even after Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Swiss Marco Odermat, the two best speed skiers in the world, took their runs.

But it was not to be. As clouds rolled in, even Cochran-Siegle suspected the race might be cancelled. "Conditions have changed a lot, so I think it's a very different race now with changing wind and light,” he said, as a few more racers came down. “As skiers you want a fair race, and I don't know if that's really the case at this point.”

The jury agreed, but a cancelled race didn’t dampen the atmosphere in town, which had been buzzing since early Friday morning. Après events were abundant. In Wagner Park, a discussion about climate change, featuring American alpine ski racer Travis Ganong and Sophie Goldschmidt, the CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, was taking place. At Performance Ski, World Cup Dreams Foundation—an organization that helps pay the way for underfunded athletes—was hosting a get together. Inside was a who’s who of U.S. skiing royalty, including Ted Ligety, Andy Mill, and Resi Stiegler. Even the musical act, Bryon Friedman, was a former World Cup racer.

Audi FIS Ski World Cup course

Audi FIS Ski World Cup course

On Saturday, the sun came out and the crowd had grown, and the leaderboard was, well, predictable. Kilde, Odermatt, and James “Jack” Crawford—a Canadian who is having a breakout season—mastered the difficult, sweeping turns down Aztech and stood on the podium. Kilde, the Norwegian star, took the win, and with that, the overall downhill title for the season. Aspenites had something to celebrate: Kilde has family in the area and has been visiting Aspen since he was four. “I love racing here,” he said after the race, as half of the grandstands waved Norwegian flags. “The feeling of support here is really nice.

But American racer Steven Nyman stole the show. After a 20-year career on the World Cup, Nyman had announced his intentions to retire a few weeks earlier and, wearing bib 214 (for the number of World Cup starts he’s made), he left the gate after all the other racers had taken their runs. Wearing jeans and a denim vest, he slowly skied down the track, stopping to hug friends along the way. In the finish area, he was greeted by more embraces by friends, family, and fellow competitors. “To be able to do that on home snow is special,” Nyman said. “Lots of guys do special things and say farewell at certain times. But America is so far away from the core of the World Cup. In Europe, everything is pretty close, and racers can have their family and friends present. To have it in America—to have my family and friends present—is super special.”

The final day of racing, featuring a super-G began with a Jimi Hendrix-style national anthem performed by local guitarist Garland Burton and performances by the Denver Nuggets marching band, making the pre-race atmosphere feel like a college football game.

But once the first athlete left the gate, all attention shifted to the mountain, where Marco Odermatt was gunning for a record-setting fifth win and the overall super-G title. “I’ve always considered Herman Maier the greatest super-G skier of all time,” Will Gregorak, a former U.S. Ski Team athlete who now calls Aspen home announced over the loudspeaker before Odermatt’s run. “But now it’s time to put Marco in that conversation.”

With Odermatt’s near flawless run to take the win, he seemed to solidify himself as just that: the greatest super-G skier of all time.

“It was really fun,” he said after his run. “I really like the super-G slope here. It was a fun week and I hope we race here again next season.”

But perhaps the most impressive run of the weekend went to Lichtenstein’s Nico Gauer. Starting 53rd, when the track was thoroughly chewed up by the previous racers, he was able to battle to an impressive sixth-place finish. “The snow in North America is really great,” he said after his run. “It’s grippy. Not like the icy courses in Europe. I wish all the World Cups were in Aspen.”

Throughout the weekend, concerts in Wagner Park featured acts like Black Pistol Fire, Mt. Joy, and the Robert Randolph Band. According to Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Company’s Vice President of Communications, it was, “nothing short of a good ol’ fashioned party.”

Mt Joy at Aspen, CO

Mt Joy at Aspen, CO

“It was a monumental undertaking by our entire community. Staff and volunteers put in thousands of hours to help make this happen,” says Aspen Skiing Company Senior Vice President, John Rigney who was on the Aspen World Cup Organizing Committee. “Both Aspen and Snowmass stepped in to host racers, support teams, volunteers, and fans. The best ski town in the world rallied to welcome the best racers in the world in a true valley-wide effort.”