World Pro Ski Tour returns to Aspen, Steamboat Springs with women’s race

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For the third straight year, the World Pro Ski Tour is coming to Howelsen Hill Ski Area, pitting some of the best Alpine skiers in the world against each other in riveting dual slalom races over the course of three days.

New this year is the Rocket Mortgage Women’s Tour. Women will race once at Howelsen, and the men will race twice between Feb. 13-15, lining up with the end of Winter Carnival. Steamboat Springs is one of four destinations on the schedule, including the World Championships in Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

“We love Howelsen,” said Briar Schreiber, the World Pro Ski Tour’s vice president of marketing. “It’s really a racer’s home. They’re so accommodating to us; they’re so excited about having the race there.”

The format for the World Pro Ski Tour is not only made for entertaining television; it’s also the easiest to follow and most engaging format for in-person audiences, which will be permitted again in 2022 unless restrictions change.

For the races, two skiers face off against each other in a bracket-style, single-elimination competition. Unlike some competitions, it’s always easy to tell who is winning and who advances.

Returning athletes include two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety and part-time Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach Garret Driller. The women will be highlighted by two-time Olympians Alice McKennis and Laurenne Ross, as well as NCAA giant slalom champion Lindsey Cone.

The women’s tour will debut in Aspen from Jan. 7-9 alongside a pair of men’s races.

The World Pro Ski Tour has been trying to get a women’s tour going since the rebirth of the tour in 2017. The odd seasons in 2020 and 2021 prevented the women’s division from getting off the ground, but in 2022, the new presenting sponsor, Rocket Mortgage, helped get it going and provide an equal podium package for the men and women. While the men’s total prize purse is larger, the winner in either gender is awarded $10,000.

Robert Cone celebrates his victory of the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival Cup during the World Pro Ski Tour at Howelsen Hill Ski Area from a previous year. Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Men qualify to a round of 16, and the women will qualify to a round of eight. Due to travel restrictions and projected signups, the tour doesn’t want to promise a big women’s field, but it will guarantee a competitive women’s field, Schreiber said.

The World Pro Ski Tour began in the 1960s, and U.S. Ski Team and World Cup competitors took part in the dual slalom format.

For decades, the series grew in popularity, picking up major sponsors, such as Chrysler and Coors. However, the tour ended in 1999. Schreiber said there was a women’s tour during the height of the tour in the 80s and 90s, as well.

In 2017, Ed Rogers revived the tour with new sponsorship. In 2019, the tour was backed by other investors and started gaining traction again on air and among winter sports fans.

The tour has come to Howelsen twice in the past two years, seeing Rob Cone win on both occasions. Cone was the champion of the tour the past two years, and other tour athletes have been looking to take over.

In the season opener at Granby Ranch nearly two weeks ago, Nolan Casper ended Cone’s five-race winning streak.

The beauty of the tour is that any local athlete can sign up to take on the pros. Last year, Steamboat’s Alex Barounos made the top 16 after years of not competing. Additionally, the tour athletes aid youth competitors in the Alpine Bank World Pro Ski Tour Junior Challenge.