By Karen D. Lorentz
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on Killington hosting the Audi FIS World Cup Women’s Giant Slalom and Slalom races on Nov. 26-27, 2016.
Eight years ago Herwig Demschar, currently Powdr Corp senior vice president for international business development but then COO, described Killington as a wonderful opportunity and challenge. Respecting the mountain as an “icon of the East,” he foresaw a bright future but counseled patience, noting that as with an athlete, it may take years of training before the goal is reached.
Part of that goal was a vision: “to fix what needs to be fixed, have the best snow, provide great customer experiences, and develop a village.”
He also added that with those improvements he could foresee Killington hosting a World Cup competition.
With his background that has taken him to the great winter sports sites of the world, one can understand how that foresight is now coming to fruition.
Man with a vision, experience
A native of Graz, Austria, Demschar is an athlete’s athlete with a history that includes ski racer, ski guide, educator, coach, and manager. On skis since the age of 3, he was an Austrian collegiate champion but never made it to the World Cup, having chosen to go to school instead. He received a master’s degree in sports science/physical education and geography/economics from the University of Graz in 1985.
He coached the Austrian national ski team (men and women) for nine years and was the head coach of the U.S. women’s ski team for four years. He coached athletes to 13 World Championship medals, one overall World Cup title, over 40 World Cup victories, and five Olympic medals, including Picabo Street’s Olympic Gold in Nagano.
Demschar observed that meeting (the late) Nick Badami, former owner of Park City Ski Area in Utah, was an important event during his years coaching the U.S. ski team. He recognized “the significant influence Nick had on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and myself,” he explained. “I appreciated Nick’s continued guidance and friendship when I started to work for Powdr Corp.”
Badami was an influential figure in the history of the U.S. ski team. His leadership helped popularize the FIS World Cup, brought the Olympics to Salt Lake City, and provided a modern business model for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). He sold his ski area to Powdr in 1994 and was also a beloved and respected mentor to Powdr CEO John Cumming.
Demschar also has 10 years of executive administrative Olympic experience, having worked in venue and sport management for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, the Torino 2006 Olympic Games, and the 2010 Vancouver Games until May 2007. That was when Powdr purchased Killington and Demschar returned to Park City as Powdr Corp COO.
World Cup goal
Having gained a good understanding of what makes for a world-class racing venue, Demschar recognized a great opportunity to bring top skiers to the East when Aspen was selected to host the World Cup Finals in March 2017, thus creating an opening for another resort to host the November World Cup Women’s slalom and giant slalom events.
Noting the East had not hosted a World Cup since 1992 at Waterville Valley, N.H., and in Vermont since 1978 at Stratton, he said there were “three thoughts” behind the desire to have Killington host the World Cup. They include:
1) bringing top skiers to the East where the most U.S. Alpine racing among youth occurs due to the numerous clubs and ski academies that offer competition programs;
2) Powdr Corp promoting Killington Resort;
3) Promoting and helping the ski industry as most of equipment sales of soft and hard goods occur in the East.
The vision extends to “promoting not just Killington Resort but all the businesses in town and the greater community as a whole,” he noted. “It’s about making the entire community stronger. Hopefully, this event will show, if we do things together, it will be good for all of us,” he said.
Demschar acknowledged that Powdr is making “a huge investment” in supporting this event. America’s Opening World Cup events at Park City in 1985 began the tradition and World Cup hosting has continued under Powdr CEO John Cumming and included the 2002 Olympics.
From his own coaching experience, Demschar said he always knew Superstar would be a good hill for a World Cup slalom and giant slalom. The course was “homologated” with USSA over the last six months and meets FIS rules and regulations and is one of the more difficult hills for these events, he said. The GS race will start from the top of the Headwall and the Slalom about halfway down.
“The cool thing is a finish area that is so situated that spectators will see about 40 percent of the GS and 60 percent of the slalom live. They’ll be able to view the rest (start of the courses) on the jumbo TV screens that are erected in the base area,” he added.
It takes a community
In his role as chairman of the organizing committee, Demschar oversees a team that includes professionals whom he contracted for their considerable international and Olympic events experience. They include Katrina Ammer as director of events; Niina Haaslahti as the chief of operations focusing on all services; Derek Huddle, assistant chief of operations, as overseer of all temporary facilities (installation and construction) at the venue; and John Dakin who will act as the chief of media.
They will assist the organizing committee, which includes Killington’s management team as well as local community members and leaders and provide training in their respective fields so that future events can be handled locally, Demschar explained.
Among those working on the committee are Chuck Hughes as chief of course, Ted Sutton as chief of race, and Meg Horrocks, who is organizing some 350 volunteers. Demschar noted there was an excellent response to the call for volunteers to assist with preparations and hosting details for the events.
Although grandstand tickets sold out within six hours, Demschar stressed that there is free access to spectator viewing areas that will accommodate around 7,500 visitors to the races each day.
Additionally, he noted that a number of activities like concerts and the venue village itself should enhance the overall excitement and guest experience. By working together the resort and community will be contributing to a good experience that will bring people back. That will be good for the mountain, area businesses, the region, and the reputation of eastern skiing, Demschar concluded.