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World Cup Ski Racing in Aspen

A Timeline of Events

ASPEN/SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Aspen first became a major ski racing venue in 1939 when Ajax hosted the Southern Rocky Mountain Downhill and Slalom Championships. The success of this event spawned the Rocky Mountain Championships of 1940 and the National Championships of 1941.

The most prestigious local ski racing acknowledgment in Aspen’s early days began in 1946 when the Aspen Ski Club awarded the Roch Cup to the winner of downhill and slalom, combined. 

In 1950, thanks to the efforts of Dick Durrance and a group of ski racing advocates, Aspen hosted its first important international race — the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) World Alpine Championships, which drew top ski racers in every discipline.

In 1967, the World Cup circuit was born, thanks to former U.S. Ski Team coach and Aspen resident Bob Beattie, French coach Honoré Bonnet, and Swiss journalist Serge Lang, the influential columnist for L’Équipe newspaper. World Cup, a season-long series of races, provided the means of bringing consistent international ski racing to the U.S., and determining the best skiers in the world.

Aspen hosted its first World Cup in 1968, attracting considerable attention and prestige. Winternational became the week-long pageant in which World Cup’s “White Carnival” is celebrated by the Aspen community.

 Seventeen World Cup events have been held in
Aspen in 1968, 1976, 1981-1989, 1991-1995 and most recently in 1998.

 World Cup ski racing in Aspen

 March 1968

Billy Kidd of Stowe, Vt., and Canadian Nancy Greene were winners during Aspen’s first World Cup in 1968. Greene, the 1968 Olympic giant slalom titlist, was no newcomer to Aspen. She had won the women’s equivalent of the Roch Cup, the Bingham Cup, in a race series here in 1965.  Kidd, the 1964 Olympic silver medalist in slalom, was also an Aspen veteran. He had won the Roch Cup two years running in 1964 and ’65.


Greene’s 1968 victories in all three events during World Cup week in Aspen — downhill, slalom, giant slalom — secured her first-place standings in the World Cup point chart. Kidd, whose competitors included Jean-Claude Killy, Jimmy Huega, Bill Marolt and Spider Sabich, won the slalom and placed third in both the downhill and giant slalom. Though Kidd won the Roch Cup for his collective standings in Aspen, Killy, of France, won the overall World Cup.

This first ever World Cup in Aspen drew the largest on-course gallery of spectators in Aspen history, estimated at 3,000. Famed newscaster and ski enthusiast Lowell Thomas
presented the trophies at Wagner Park.


March 1976

Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden was the big name in Aspen for the 1976 World Cup. He easily captured first place in the men’s slalom and cinched the overall men’s World Cup title with that victory. Stenmark was noted as “faster and smoother” than anyone else on the course as he won both runs of the slalom. Stenmark’s closest competitor, American Phil Mahre, was over 1.5 seconds out. The slalom was held on Aspen Highlands’ Thunderbowl.


Lisa Marie Morerod of Switzerland won the women’s giant slalom, and with it the World Cup women’s GS championship. But Germany’s Rosi Mittermaier had wrapped up the women’s overall title the week before the Aspen race. Danielle Debernard of France finished second in both GS and downhill to finish first in the women’s combined standings in Aspen.


Franz Klammer, World Cup downhill champion and Olympic gold medalist, signed autographs and shook hands at the bottom of the Aspen Mountain downhill course after his victory there. He won on skis that had been chilled in a refrigerator, then flown by helicopter to the top of Aspen Mountain to ensure proper wax consistency.


As winner of the Roch Cup, Klammer thought the trophy was his for keeps. He brought it home to Austria, and it took the Aspen Historical Society a year to retrieve it.


The Austrian and Swiss teams captured four of the top 10 places in the downhill. America’s top finishers were Eric Wilson and Greg Jones, who placed 21st  and 22nd.  Aspen racer Andy Mill, after suffering a week-long bout with the flu and two falls in practice — one that re-injured a knee — placed a disappointing 44th in a field of 45, ten seconds away from Klammer.


March 1981

While most of Aspen’s World Cup races were men-only, the 1981 event featured both men and women’s events.


Valeri Tsyganov of the Soviet Union won the Aspen Mountain downhill in 1981, posting the Russian team’s first-ever downhill victory in World Cup competition. Behind him came the Swiss and Austrian teams, taking the next eight places.


One of the Austrians — Harti Weirather — placed second. He had come to Aspen tied with Steve Podborski of Canada for first place in World Cup downhill standings, and his second place in Aspen gave him a five-point edge over the Canadian.

The men’s giant slalom was an even more important race, with Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden battling it out with American Phil Mahre. Mahre won the GS overall after a blistering second run, securing his first of three consecutive overall World Cup victories. The third place GS finisher was Steve Mahre, Phil’s twin brother. Aspenites Mike Farny, Chris Tache and Mark Harvey placed 29th, 30th and 34th  in the GS.


Marie Theres Nadig of Switzerland clinched the women’s downhill title, and Tamara McKinney of the U.S., after having a near collision with a snowcat during a warm-up run, won the GS.


At the GS, McKinney reportedly approached the starting line “not feeling much like racing.” Then she skied the third-fastest time in the first run, a quarter of a second behind leader Erika Hess of Switzerland. In the second run, McKinney came from behind to win the race and the World Cup GS overall. Aspen’s Beth Madsen placed 38th.


March 1982

The Aspen World Cup races of 1982 again featured men and women in multiple events.


Steve Podborski of Canada proved himself the fastest downhill racer in the world in 1982 by becoming the first non-European to win the World Cup downhill in combined standings.


But it was Peter Mueller of Switzerland who had the fastest downhill runs in Aspen, winning both downhills. Phil Mahre, who had his second World Cup combined sewed up by the time he hit Aspen in 1982, broke from his specialties — slalom and giant slalom — to race the downhill. He placed 18th and ninth.


In the women’s events, Marile Epple of West Germany, Erika Hess of Switzerland and Marile’s older sister Irene Epple, took the first three places in giant slalom. This trio was ranked as the top GS racers in Europe at the time.


American skiers Christin Cooper and Tamara McKinney were tripped up on the icy GS course, but Karen Lancaster of Nevada placed a strong fourth, followed by Americans Cindy Nelson, seventh, and Abbi Fisher, ninth. This moved the U.S. Women’s Team to a fourth place position in World Cup national standings.


A controversy in the men’s downhill resulted when Canada’s Ken Read stuck a pole in the icy starting ramp as he lunged out of the gate, and lost it. Read stopped, sidestepped up the ramp, retrieved his pole and asked for a new start. The World Cup jury, however, denied it. Read protested bitterly, but lost his run.


March 1983

American Phil Mahre was the most celebrated skier in Aspen in 1983, where he clinched his third consecutive World Cup victory. Mahre and Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden were arch rivals in the giant slalom, which Mahre won handily, placing first in the first run to Stenmark’s second, and third in the second run, to Stenmark’s seventh. “Winning is not everything,” Mahre said about his victory in Aspen. “I really just want to enjoy myself.”


While Mahre was supreme in the GS, Canada’s Todd Brooker won the men’s downhill after the race was delayed one day due to 25 inches of snow that fell during World Cup weekend. Phil Mahre placed ninth, and Ingemar Stenmark finished 13th in the GS.


The Canadians, led by Brooker, Steve Podborski and Ken Read, faced a dilemma in Aspen when the Canadian Ski Team announced it was short of funds and presented bills to the racers asking them to pay a share of the shortfall. This infuriated racers who resented the billing, especially on the eve of a major race. On top of that, Canadian Head Coach John Ritchey announced in Aspen that he would retire at the end of the season. Making matters worse, Podborski suffered a serious crash at the bottom of Spring Pitch. His resulting knee injury was said to have terminated his racing career.


March 1984

“Big Bad Billy Wins!” shouted the headline of the Aspen Times in 1984 as Bill Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist, won what became known from then on as “America’s Downhill.” Despite a race delay prompted by a foot of snow, then more snow and fog on race day, Johnson reached speeds of 75 mph in a tuck on Aztec, besting Austrians Helmut Hoeflehner and Anton Steiner, who placed second and third. Fourth place went to Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland, who held an overall points lead in the World Cup downhill.


Zurbriggen went on to win the giant slalom with the fastest time in the first run and the second fastest in the second run, to beat Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli. American Phil Mahre, in one of his last races before retirement, posted a third-place finish in the GS.


March 1985

Peter Mueller of Switzerland won the men’s downhill in 1985, and his Swiss teammates took five of the top ten places, inspiring the Aspen Times headline — “Swiss Blitz!” Mueller’s time shattered the course record, which he had set in 1982. American Bill Johnson, who won in 1984 and was apparently displeased by something about the course, threatened to boycott the downhill, but dismissed his threat later as a joke and placed 21st.


Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg won the giant slalom despite a cold drizzle, soggy course and flat light. Girardelli muscled past Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark and Switzerland’s Max Julen and Pirmin Zurbriggen to win the event.


The 1985 World Cup was shaken by a brief controversy. A ruling by the FIS that would have been adopted for the first time in Aspen, instituted a change in the manner of determining the starting order. The racers were adamantly against the change and a debate raged until moments before the races began. In the end, the FIS gave in to the racers, and the traditional criteria was upheld. 


March 1986

The giant slalom was canceled in Aspen in 1986 after racers blocked the second gate of the course in protest of dangerous course conditions. Rain had fallen the night before the GS, and slush on top of ice was deemed a hazard to racers. Andreas Wenzel of Lichtenstein, giant slalom silver medalist in the 1980 Olympics, was one of the organizers who denounced course conditions.


Peter Mueller won the men’s downhill, skiing the course with a cast on a broken wrist. Mueller again broke the course record, having set the two preceding records in 1982 and 1985. Mueller ignored warnings from his doctor that his “season was finished,” and he raced better than ever with cast to finish in the top spot. Second place was claimed by Austrian Peter Wirneberger, and in third place was Austria’s Leonhard Stock, gold medalist in the 1980 Olympics. Doug Lewis was the highest ranking American. He placed ninth.


March 1987

Swiss phenomenon Pirmin Zurbriggen made history in Aspen in 1987, winning both the men’s downhill and the giant slalom. His run on the downhill was aggressive and fast, despite sloppy conditions on a warm, sunny spring day. He was followed in second and third places by Swiss teammates Daniel Mahrer and Karl Alpiger. Already the overall winner for the World Cup series, Zurbriggen cinched the downhill title in Aspen as well.


In the GS, Zurbriggen showed he was at the top of his game, winning the race by almost a one-second margin ahead of Italy’s Richard Pramatton. Zurbriggen’s teammate, Alpiger, called him the “best skier in the world” after his coup in Aspen. Responded Zurbriggen, “I’d like to be remembered as one of the great racers of all time.”


The spectator turnout on Aspen Mountain was a record-breaker. Fans crowded the course in unprecedented numbers to watch the downhill and bask in spring sunshine. Estimates by Aspen Skiing Company put the gallery at more than 4,300.


March 1988

This year was the first women’s-only World Cup race in Aspen.


Flat light and a tough course wreaked havoc on the downhill as half a dozen racers crashed, several ending their seasons with debilitating injuries. The race was canceled less than half way through the starting order, and rescheduled the following day. With better light and visibility, Brigitte Oerth of Switzerland took first place.


The slalom was at least as demanding as the downhill for women racers, 70 percent of whom failed to complete the course. “If you stood up through this one, you had a good chance of winning,” commented Aspen’s Beth Madsen.

Only 15 racers from a large international field were able to complete two runs. When it was done, Roswitha Steiner of Austria had placed first, followed by teammates Anita Wachter and M. Maierhofer. Wachter, as overall winner, was awarded the Bingham Cup, which had been dormant for nearly a decade.


February 1989

Three events were held for the men in 1989 — downhill, super G, giant slalom — but no events for the women. To date, this was the only World Cup in Aspen held in February.


Karl Alpiger of Switzerland won the men’s downhill, squeaking past Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg. Peter Mueller, a defending champion and course record holder, placed 10th. Girardelli, despite a second-place finish, took the overall downhill World Cup title. Former winner Bill Johnson placed 57th.


In the super G, 1988 Olympic super G bronze medalist Lars-Boerge Eriksson won his first-ever World Cup event. Marc Girardelli placed fourth. Girardelli was awarded the Roch Cup for his combined times.


Just prior to the race, Girardelli’s father, Helmut, was refused access to the racecourse because he had arrived late. Helmut became embroiled in a shouting match with a course guard, then took revenge by refusing to allow his son to attend the awards ceremony or press conference. Making matters worse, Helmut’s illegally parked car was towed during the race.


The slalom was also a stage for drama as the competition included top skiers Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, Alberto Tomba of Italy, Marc Girardelli, and Lars Eriksson of Sweden. Heavy snow fell that morning as Girardelli led by less than two-tenths of a second over Stenmark in the first run. Tomba sat in a distant 15th place. On the second run, Tomba skied a near perfect run, ending in sixth.


When Stenmark ran the course, the crowd knew he had excelled in this, his 86th career win. Girardelli was one of the first to give Stenmark a bear hug of congratulations. On his way to the victory podium, Stenmark was serenaded by a chorus of Swedes bearing the Swedish flag. “This man is truly one of the greatest racers of all times,” announced Andy Mill to a cheering crowd.




March 1991

Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg managed to sew up the overall World Cup title while in Aspen in 1991. Alberta Tomba of Italy won the giant slalom to win that overall title. The Austrians and Swiss were dominant, and the young American team failed to win any points at all, either on the scoreboard or with fans.


In the men’s downhill, Peter Mueller of Switzerland placed a disappointing ninth, despite an enthusiastic crowd that hoped to cheer the returning veteran to victory. They settled instead for Franz Heinzer, Mueller’s teammate. Mueller had recently recovered from major knee surgery and said he felt “nervous” on the course. Americans AJ Kitt and Tommy Moe placed 18th and 29th .


Alberto Tomba won in the giant slalom after posting a flawless first run that gave him an untouchable lead. Tomba hammed it up in Aspen, a real crowd-pleaser with a “party hearty” reputation. He mugged for the camera, fondling fruit in a suggestive manner, and he filled a water bottle with beer so he could sip suds in public without offending his sponsors.


Soft snow and a tight slalom course made mincemeat out of the entire U.S. team, plus a handful of World Cup veterans. First run leader Rudolf Nierlich of Austria hung onto his lead, despite a gatekeeper’s protest, which was ruled out after viewing Nierlich’s run on video. Girardelli placed fourth, and Tomba was sixth.


March 1992

Four-time winner of America’s Downhill, Peter Mueller of Switzerland, raced the Aspen Mountain course for his last time in 1992 as he was forced into retirement at age 34. Mueller, who last won Aspen’s downhill in 1986, said the Swiss Team had decided he was too old. “They’re so stupid,” said Mueller, who maintained that experience was still on his side, despite the younger, faster skiers dominating the event.


Mueller’s teammate, Daniel Mahrer, won the downhill, with Mueller in 19th place. Mahrer set a new course record, formerly held by Mueller. Leonard Stock of Austria placed fourth and Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, seventh. Americans AJ Kitt and Tommy Moe took eighth and 47th.


The super G course this year was so fast, half the field failed to negotiate it, including Swiss racers Franz Heinzer and Marc Girardelli. Olympic gold medalist in the event, Kjetl Andre Aamodt of Norway, won.


March 1993

“Bitter Winternational ‘93” was how the Aspen Times headlined the controversial cancellation of America’s Downhill that year. The bitterness came when FIS officials canceled the race with American AJ Kitt holding an undisputed lead.


The race was canceled due to a rut that had developed at a new gate that had been added for this year’s course on Dago Road.  Many of the top-ranked skiers had already cleared the gate, with Kitt in the lead, when Austria’s Olympic gold medalist Patrick Ortlieb hit the rut and suffered a knee injury. Ortlieb finished the run in ninth place, but the rut caused FIS officials, led by an Austrian, to delay, then cancel the race.


Not only did Kitt lose his chance for winning a World Cup downhill, but his teammate, Tommy Moe, had placed sixth in the first run — the first time in history two Americans had ever placed in the top six of a World Cup downhill. The U.S. Team filed a formal protest, but the FIS decision was upheld.

Kjetl Andre Aamodt of Norway won his second consecutive Aspen super G. Stefan Eberhartner of Austria placed second, and Swiss downhill champion Daniel Mahrer placed third, a career high for Mahrer in super G.


March 1994

Three new names were elevated to the list of Aspen winners in 1994 — Hannes Trinkl, Cary Mullen, and Fredrik Nyberg. Three events were held this year — a giant slalom and two downhills, the Sister City Downhill and America’s Downhill.


Hannes Trinkl of Austria won the Sister City Downhill on Aspen Mountain, a make-up race for one that had been canceled in Germany earlier in the year. He was faster than second-place Cary Mullen of Canada or third-place Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg. Trinkl’s reign was short-lived, however, as he fell in the “Airplane Turn” the following day in the America’s Downhill.


The race was won by Canadian Cary Mullen, a new North American downhill star from Banff. America’s Downhill was Mullen’s first World Cup win. He was followed in second place by Atle Skaardal of Norway, with Pietro Vitalini of Italy in third. Mullen’s teammate, Ed Podivinsky, placed fourth.


In the giant slalom, Swedish racer Fredrik Nyberg placed first, coming from behind to win the event after finishing fourth in the first run. Christian Mayer of Austria, the Olympic bronze medalist, was second, and Italy’s Alberto Tomba placed sixth.


March 1995

Aspen became embroiled in a major controversy in 1995 when heavy snow cancelled the super G and halted the America’s Downhill in mid-race, in which American racer AJ Kitt had distinguished himself with the fastest time.


Since most of the racers — all the top-seeded competitors — had run the downhill course before the race was canceled, it was assumed Kitt’s victory would stand. When a similar cancellation had occurred in 1993, Kitt had also been in first place and, despite a protest by the U.S. Team, was denied the victory.


In 1995, the FIS on-site jury validated the downhill and awarded Kitt the first-place win. In the aftermath of protests from France, Canada and Luxembourg, however, another FIS jury revoked Kitt’s win just three days later.


Despite the FIS ruling, Aspen Skiing Company announced they would recognize Kitt’s apparent victory by awarding him the Roch Cup.


November 1998

World Cup racing returned to Aspen after a three-year hiatus with a men’s super G and slalom. The super G course was slightly rerouted to take advantage of early-season snowfall and provide more viewing excitement while increasing racer safety. Aspen Skiing Company also made an $800,000 investment in snowmaking enhancements to ensure prime course conditions in November. An early-season storm laid down a sufficient base of snow and the course preparation became an all-out effort that produced what race organizers dubbed a “bad-ass” course. Racers called it one of the most challenging super G courses in the world.


The Austrian team took most of the honors by filling the winner’s podium with the first-, second- and third-place finishers in the super G, and taking first place in the slalom. Stephan Eberharter, Hermann Maier, and Christian Mayer took the first three positions in super G, and teammate Thomas Stangassinger won the slalom. France’s Sebastien Amiez and Norway’s Tom Stiansen took second and third in the slalom.


The U.S. Ski Team placed five racers in the top 30 in the super G, with Paul Casey Puckett landing the highest position in 12th place. The slalom proved more daunting for the Americans, however, who failed to place any racers in the top 30 after the first run.


Hermann “the Hermanator” Maier, an international ski-racing star, won a dubious distinction in Aspen when he and Austrian teammate Andreas Schifferer were arrested a day after the race by Aspen police for “borrowing” a bicycle and riding double down the road.


Schifferer and the Herminator ditched the bike when approached by police, and attempted to escape on foot. They were apprehended, handcuffed, taken to the Aspen police station and were turned over to an Austrian coach once charges of theft were dropped. The racers explained they had borrowed the bike only because they had no other transportation and feared they might miss their flight out of Aspen. No charges were brought against the two.