This past winter was a crowd pleaser for several reasons, from historic snowfall to record visitation to the Golden State’s winter locales. One of the biggest factors, both for visitors and destinations alike: The Audi FIS Ski World Cup at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in March 2017.
This was the first time that World Cup ski racing returned to the Golden State in 19 years — and the event’s first return to Squaw in half a century. The last major event held at the destination? The 1960 Winter Olympics.
Over the course of four days, Olympic champions competed in the women’s giant slalom and women’s slalom races, which included 19 teams and 90 athletes. Women from all over the world trained at the facilities for weeks leading up to the competition, meaning a lot of preparation went into getting the courses and facilities ready for massive crowds.
“We got four feet of snow within a week of the event,” said Liesl Kenney, spokesperson for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. “We had been carefully preparing the course for the three weeks prior. When temperatures rose, we had to adjust to this as well.”
The destination learned that they had secured the event in June 2016, meaning there was just a short lead time of 10 months to prepare. A local organizing committee of 70 members met once per month leading up to the event, which doubled to semimonthly by January. Help from organizations such as the Ski and Snowboard Association and other national entities was also extremely important to get everything in order.
“This was a really exciting opportunity to step up to the challenge,” Kenney said. “We’ve hosted international events here recently. There’s a lot of internal passion on my team’s part.”
Over the weekend, 20,000 spectators (not including skier visits) attended the event, and general admission tickets were sold out within a mere 15 minutes of going on sale. More than 450 volunteers were involved with the event, including many individuals from the local community.
In addition to the spectators, 118 media were hosted through the media center. Kenney estimates that the event reached 500 million people internationally--annually, the resort reaches 1 billion unique visitors.
“The demand is totally there for ski racing,” Kenney said. “We kept hearing from people how it was so much fun to watch.”
To enhance the visitor experience, Squaw also incorporated activities like free live music, parades and engaging art performances. Signature California products — including food and wine — were also a big hit.
Looking to the future, Kenney says that continuing to work closely with alternate transportation services is something they’d like to focus on.
“On Saturdays, traffic can be heavy,” Kenney said. “To mitigate this, we had shuttles going back and forth to Tahoe City and Truckee. Expanding these options more and more would be a top priority.”
Leveraging high-end retail products is also something Squaw would do more of in the future, given the high price point for tickets.
“We were selling out of stuff even before people had come,” Kenney said.
One obstacle Squaw did avoid was the need for increased Wi-Fi access. The team brought in additional cellular support in advance to ensure more bandwidth for Wi-Fi and cell coverage, which was a big win.
As with any event planning, staying cool, calm and collected is always necessary.
“Our panic level as a team was really low,” Kenney said, “and in my mind, that’s a huge positive quality in that type of team.”
How has your destination or attraction handled large-scale events? Share your best practices with us below!
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