Squaw Valley World Cup: 20,000 fans joined hundreds of volunteers in celebration
March 14, 2017
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Thanks to an unexpected scheduling opportunity, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows officials were able to work with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to host a pair of women's races for the Audi FIS World Cup — and what a spectacular weekend it was.
The giant slalom and slalom races brought 90 top international athletes from 19 countries — including American skiing sensation Mikaela Shiffrin, who won both races — to compete right here in North Lake Tahoe, where the passion for ski racing runs deep.
A LOT OF HARD-WORKING HELP
So deep in fact that 450 volunteers, 1,000 regional ski team children and 1,740 Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski team athletes, along with 260 team coaches, 100 people on course crew and 64 people on slip crew, all worked to make it happen, according to Squaw Valley.
According to the spectators the Sierra Sun caught up with throughout the weekend, everyone working on this event did a fantastic job.
"The people are so very nice here," said Cheryl Ventling, who traveled from Woodland Hills (near Los Angeles) for race weekend. "Everyone treats each other so well up here and these resort employees are just wonderful. We've had a really awesome time."
Ventling visited with Rich Schuler and Mark Dowd, also from Woodland Hills, who were among the best dressed in the crowd, toting flags, hats and the biggest, oldest cowbell I've ever seen.
In between cheering for the ladies atop the podium, Ventling said how excited she was for her souvenir from World Cup 2017 — her cowboy hat with newly penned athlete autographs scrawled across the brim.
"All the kids want their helmets signed, of course," Ventling said. "But I also made sure I pushed in there, and look — I got my hat signed, too."
The trio continued to take pictures with new friends in the crowd and said they were excited to get to ski after watching the races. They planned to hit Mammoth on the way home, rounding out their ski weekend.
One of the gentlemen volunteering over the weekend was Greg Peairs, who was a course slip team leader who doubled working in access control to be sure that the course was both smooth and firm, and kept untouched for the athletes.
Peairs has volunteered for numerous ski events in the past and says volunteering is all about the people.
"You meet some very interesting people from all over the country and from many different walks of life," he said. "At the World Championships in 2015, I had two Italians, a Canadian and a German."
Peairs said the weekend's festivities went very well.
"Of course, Mikaela winning both events was icing on the cake," he said. "Given that Squaw Valley had not had a World Cup event since 1969, to be able to pull this off is testimony to all the professionals and volunteers that busted their butts each and every day."
He also said Shiffrin is a "true skiing prodigy" and that he could go on and on about her — we echo that sentiment.
AN Inspired AND RAUCOUS audience
The crowd's energy fueled the event from Thursday through Sunday — everywhere you looked, you saw positive people excited to be outside, enjoying the sunshine, watching run after run with that edge-of-your-seat feeling until the moment the athlete crossed the finish line.
There was quite an eclectic array of people in the crowd: some with cowbells, others sounded off air horns, and thousands of others hoisted homemade signs and waved flags and noisemakers.
Some dressed in costumes, others were in red, white and blue, head-to-toe. There were animal onesies, people still in their ski or snowboard gear and others on foot; dogs ran past, getting pets and snacks in the crowd — and even with so much going on, everyone I encountered was genuinely kind and just excited to be there.
I had the pleasure of meeting Squaw local Julia Mancuso's fan club on Saturday — three awesome young ladies shouting for Shiffrin's victory while dressed in matching unicorn onesies, of course.
Kalyn Dawes, Lily Wieland and Hannah DePetra are from the Bay Area and are weekend warriors who train and compete locally with the Far West Skiing Association.
"We are having such a great time," Dawes said.
The three of them excitedly told me they're Mancuso's "absolute biggest fans," and that the race weekend was one they wouldn't forget.
"We are actually on Julia's Instagram page," DePetra said. "We couldn't believe it — so cool."
Scattered throughout the crowd were ski racers still in their speed suits who got to see the best of the best making turns on the same terrain they do — this special opportunity was previously mentioned by Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Director of Public Relations, Liesl Kenney.
She said that aside from this being the perfect place to host the World Cup for the community's spirit of snow sports, it's also a remarkable opportunity to get to see this caliber of athletes, racing at the Olympic level where we live to ski.
People are always buzzing about the prospect of locally hosting another winter Olympics, and this weekend's event gave us a taste of what that would be like, with a reported 20,000 spectators attending the weekend's festivities — roughly 8,000 for Friday's giant slalom, and 12,000 for Saturday's slalom.
According to Kenney, a more realistic and important question is whether we'll have the opportunity to host another World Cup event in the future.
"People love to talk about bringing the Olympics back to Squaw," she said. "But the more appropriate question is whether we could host another World Cup."
Kenney said the amount of preparation that had gone into the event called for celebration for all involved — and we'd say they very much deserve it.
Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.