WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) – Emotional. Toasty. Proud. Those words come up repeatedly when describing world freestyle ski championship host Switzerland.
The Swiss have been hosting ski races for more than a century, most recently in Swindon in England in 2016. But the return to the West Coast will be as unique as Sunday’s opening ceremonies, where skiiers from Switzerland, the United States, France, Norway, Slovenia, Austria, Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, and hosts the United States take to the moguls course at Whistler Blackcomb.
“We’re all very proud of our sport,” said Thomas Murray, chief executive of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, who is overseeing the world championship. “This is an athletic event, what we do, the way we skate or ride or race. For us to have the U.S. being in one place at one time, hosting such an important event to the international community – and we’re on that podium – it’s a great experience. These athletes really enjoy this kind of opportunity.”
Under Swiss legend Stoltenberg von Stoltenberg, the sport took hold in his home country. The giant slalom and slalom world championship were held at Grenoble, and the downhill world championship was also held there. Then the downhill was moved to Calgary.
One year later, it was back to Switzerland in 1942.
There are other mighty dynasties, the Germans and Austrian teams forming one of the most formidable partnerships in skiing history. Some of the greats have moved on: Benjamin Raich, Daniel Albrecht, Bode Miller, Jean-Claude Killy and Alberto Tomba.
“It’s pretty emotional,” said Miller, who hasn’t competed for the U.S. in two years, most recently in Sochi, Russia. “The fact that there are so many of us still standing here after so long and all these guys retire every year, it’s pretty amazing. These guys are a big deal. It’s one of the things that I used to sit there and compete on … and have all these guys finish their careers like that. It’s hard to watch because it’s emotional.”
The U.S. is only allowed to use 80 athletes in the games, meaning everyone who was not injured or dropped out is one of the 80 who will be making the trip to Vancouver. The country will also feature 27 skiers in the freestyle and Alpine combined events.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said Michael Mahrer, CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “It’s like going to the Super Bowl when the Pats get that chance.”
The atmosphere at the beginning of the week is all about beer and tailgating. Later, the athletes will mix and mingle at the athletes village. There will be a tribute concert by the Academy Award-winning band La La Land, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its best original song Oscar for “City of Stars.”
And then the goliaths come to town.
After that, all eyes will be on Alpine. Slalom world champion Mikaela Shiffrin headlines the U.S. team, which will include Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Derek Parra, Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Patrick Herrmann, Anastasia Bucsis and others.
Switzerland, which is hosting Alpine for the second time, gets the benefit of an elite women’s team – not to mention back-to-back world championships – while also boasting a rich men’s history that is equally historic. Bode Miller, Patrick Kueng, Marcel Hirscher, Benjamin Raich, Michel Mulder, Mario Matt, Anselmo Moreno and Julien Absalon all have Olympic and world championship medals.
“To come back and do it again, it’s pretty emotional,” said Shiffrin, who is the reigning Olympic slalom champion. “It’s exciting because it’s the (first) time in many years where I’m not skiing because of slalom and super-G and even though it’s the next week, the first race of the year, it’s cool. They’re going to be in their hometown.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion in both those things, especially the Alpine part, I feel. The men’s team has been going through some struggles over the last few years, we’re all focusing on moving forward. I’m pretty excited for it.”