World Cup returns to Aspen

Women's event will be race circuit's lone stop in the US

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— It will be turkey and technical races at this year's Aspen Winternational.

On Thanksgiving, two days after the lifts open for the 2009-10 season, women's World Cup racing returns to Aspen Mountain for a sixth consecutive year. Two-time defending World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn, of Vail, and the world's top women will compete in giant slalom Nov. 28 and slalom the next day, the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Tuesday. It is the circuit's lone U.S. stop of the season and falls a little more than two months shy of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

While an early date presents great challenges (the resort is hosting Thanksgiving weekend races for consecutive years after alternating between November and early December dates from 2004 to 2007), it also creates a multitude of opportunities, said John Rigney, the Skico's vice president of sales and events.

"You're trying to prep a mountain for the skiing public, we're up against fall temps, and you're trying to get everything else across the four mountains ramped up for business," Rigney said. "Thanksgiving does have its opportunities, though, in that it's a great way to kick off the season. ... We'll be on worldwide television on Thanksgiving weekend."

One hundred million people watched the Aspen World Cup races last year on television, and 10 million watched them live in Europe, Rigney said.

"We're a global resort, and to get that message out internationally that we're open for business, we've got snow, and we've hosted a couple of great races, it's huge," Rigney added.

While it has a "small degree of preference" for a December date - one that provides "more of a weather cushion and fewer gray hairs," Skico Senior Vice President David Perry joked - securing a November date was hardly a surprise. The tentative season schedule was formulated last fall at an FIS meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. It was finalized in the last week, Rigney said.

While the international ski community's decision to give Aspen the early date puts pressure on the resort (coincidentally, the last time a Winternational race was postponed was in December 2007 when snow postponed the much-anticipated return of "America's Downhill"), Perry said it also is a compliment.

"Even with the huge weather challenges, we've been able to pull off excellent events," he said.

The U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and International Ski Federation have seen the Skico do it and appreciate it, Perry added.

"I think that's one of the reasons they like coming to us in November," he said. "Not many resorts in the world can pull off reliable races (this early)."

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