MIDDLEBURY — Local merchants and innkeepers are always happy to see winter activities bring people from out of state to Addison County. But locals can expect more ski traffic than usual early next March when Middlebury College hosts the 2013 NCAA Skiing Championships.
Fans, coaches, parents and alums will descend on the Middlebury area for the culminating event of the college ski season. Around 150 skiers from 20 schools across the country are expected to qualify in both Nordic and Alpine competitions.
Alpine races will take place at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl in Hancock on March 6 and 8; Nordic races will be held at the Rikert Nordic Center at the Bread Loaf Campus in Ripton on Mach 7 and 9. The Middlebury Inn will serve as race headquarters.
The races are free, and the public is encouraged to attend.
“It’s really exciting,” said Erin Quinn, Middlebury College athletic director. “Our Alpine and Nordic coaches are thrilled, and for the staff at Rikert and the Snow Bowl, it’s a great opportunity to showcase the facilities.”
The NCAA championships switch off each year between the East and West, and hosts are selected based on a bidding system, though Quinn notes that there is an expectation of variety; no one school will host several championships in a short period of time. To submit a successful bid, schools prove that their ski facilities can accommodate the races, and that there are sufficient hotels in the surrounding area. 2013 was set to be an East Coast year, and Middlebury’s bid was selected.
“We’re expecting an excellent crowd,” Quinn said. Based on his staff’s memories of the 2001 NCAA championships, the last time Middlebury hosted, “both venues are going to be lined with more spectators than we usually see, even for Carnival.”
Rikert and the Snow Bowl have both been treated to renovations and improvements since the last time Middlebury hosted the NCAAs.
In 2006, the Ross and Allen trails at the Snow Bowl were both widened. “It’s a much safer and appropriate ski area,” Quinn said.
Rikert has undergone even more drastic changes. Its lodge was completely remodeled last year; a ski shop was added, and the interior was made more spacious, open and comfortable. But the best change was outside with the creation of a new 5K “homologated” loop, which put the trail on par with the Fedération International de Ski’s standards of width, climb level and elevation.
With new snow-making capacity as well, Rikert can now boast of being one of only a few 5K FIS-certified homologated trails in the country, making it a truly top-notch facility.
Aside from the excitement that comes with the races, local business owners can expect a big boost in business during the week of the championships. Though early March can be a quiet time for tourists, the event is expected to draw hundreds of people to Addison County.
“It’s fabulous, it will fill up all the rooms in the general area,” said Addison County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Andy Mayer. “It’s easy to market our area at times like the fall when people already know what we’ve got, but this will help increase traffic after the event, as well.”
Quinn also noted that showcasing the new facilities, particularly the new trail at Rikert, could mean more tourist traffic in the future.
“People will begin to think of it as a destination,” he said.
“As a local person, I love that we get to bring people to our town,” Quinn added. “Skiing is such an iconic cultural phenomenon in Vermont. To be able to bring the national championship here is great.”