MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — The best collegiate skiers in the country will receive the red-carpet treatment when they arrive in Middlebury for the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Alpine and Nordic Skiing Championships on March 6-9.
Skiers from as far away as Alaska, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, and from as close by as UVM, Harvard, St. Lawrence and Williams arrived in Vermont this past weekend. They began practicing at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and the Rikert Nordic Center on Monday.
The planning for the four-day event began in 2009 when Middlebury submitted its bid to host the NCAA Championship for the fifth time in history (1961, 1972, 1988 and 2001). It may have started preparing to host the 2013 nationals as far back as 2006 when the Snow Bowl undertook widening and contour improvements to the Ross and Allen Trails
Since that time, Middlebury has replaced the chair lift on Worth Mountain where the slalom and giant slalom events will take place, constructed a five-kilometer “homologated” race course at the Nordic center to meet international standards for width, climbing levels, and total elevation, added fiber-optic cable at the Snow Bowl for improved communications services, and, most recently, installed at Rikert the most extensive snow-making system of its type among all of the cross-country skiing areas in North America.
Getting ready to host the nationals takes more than skiing facilities, snow and favorable weather. It also requires the host school to handle hundreds, if not thousands, of details like lodging, dining and meeting space for athletes, coaches and NCAA officials. The skiers need access to training rooms, ski waxing and sharpening equipment, and medical personnel. Members of the media expect high-tech telecommunications, credentials and up-to-the-minute statistics. And then there are essentials like snow-making, grooming, transportation, timers, security, banners, bibs, signage, parking permits, safety checks and everything in between.
The responsibility for getting all the details right has fallen on the shoulders of Middlebury’s Alpine coach Stever Bartlett, Nordic coach Andrew Gardner, athletic director Erin Quinn, athletic facility coordinator Franklin Dean-Farrar, Snow Bowl director Peter Mackey, Rikert director Mike Hussey and former director of skiing at Middlebury, Terry Aldrich, who is the championship director.
In addition to the regular staff on site, it takes dozens of volunteers to ensure the safety of the athletes and spectators, and guarantee the efficiency of each day’s events.
“Most of our volunteers come to us. It’s such a major event –- an international event, really, with so many of the top collegiate skiers coming from Europe these days -– that people in the skiing community want to a part of it,” Hussey said about getting personell to help with the preparations.
Both the Alpine and Nordic events will be free of charge and spectator-friendly.
At the Snow Bowl, a 15-foot-wide video board (described as a “Jumbotron”) will display the races, and spectators situated near the base lodge will have a direct line of sight to watch the racers ski down the lower half of the mountain. Two-time Olympian Doug Lewis will provide expert commentary for the Alpine events.
For the Nordic races at Rikert, four video cameras will be set up along the course to feed the webcast while spectators will have plenty of live action to watch. The way the course is set up, people watching the 10-kilometer classic race, for example, will be able to see the skiers in person at the start, at the 2.5-kilometer mark, at five kilometers, at the 7.5-kilometer mark and at the finish, in addition to hearing the expert commentary on the PA system.
Alpine events begin on Wednesday with the men’s and women’s giant slalom races on the Allen Trail. Nordic begins on Thursday with the women’s and men’s classic races. Alpine resumes on Friday with the men’s and women’s slalom races on the Ross Trail, and the championships will culminate on Saturday morning with the women’s 15-kilometer freestyle race followed by the men’s 20-kilometer freestyle race.
“The economic impact of hosting the championships will be huge in Addison County,” director of Snow Bowl Peter Mackey said.
Not only are most lodging establishments booked to capacity (with the Middlebury Inn designated as “race headquarters,”) but restaurants, shops and other attractions should experience an uptick in business due to the influx of skiers, coaches, officials and spectators. “The local merchants I’ve spoken with are very excited about how many people are coming to our region for the championships,” Mackey said.
Hosting the NCAAs has another benefit too, one that accrues to Middlebury and to the college-owned ski areas. As athletic director Erin Quinn points out, when most other colleges host the NCAA Championships, the skiing facilities are owned and/or managed by private enterprises. (For example — in 2011 when Vermont hosted — the downhill races were at Stowe Mountain and the cross-country competition was at the Trapp Family Lodge.) But when Middlebury hosts the NCAAs, “It’s our own people out there grooming the trails, running the lifts, making the snow and putting on the events,” Quinn said.
“This is our opportunity to showcase and celebrate our college, our ski program and our people,” Quinn said. “How well the event is run and how hospitable we are to the athletes, coaches, officials and spectators will always reflect back on Middlebury College because this is a true-blue, once-in-a-decade Middlebury event.”