Saslong Classic Club / Gardena - Gröden
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Claudia Rifesser: "It takes a team to make this happen"


She knows the World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden like few others. She is the hub where all threads and information come together. She is one of the few people who works year round for one of the biggest winter sport events in Italy and has been Secretary General in Val Gardena/Gröden for one and a half years. An interview with Claudia Rifesser, who has helped shape the classic races on the Saslong for 13 years.

Claudia, the first snow lies on the Saslong. This is always a sign that it won't be long before the World Cup races in Val Gardena/Gröden. At the same time, your working days are getting more and more intense, aren't they? Yes, the days are certainly getting more intense now, but also more exciting. More and more people are in the office. Normally there are three of us, now there are an additional six to seven employees and I expect 20 people will go in and out through these doors every day as we get closer to the World Cup. During the race week, 800 people will be hard at work to ensure a smooth running of the Ski World Cup on the Saslong.

Then it's teamwork...
Absolutely. Only as one big team can we succeed year after year in making this great event in Val Gardena/Gröden possible. Each employee represents an important piece of the puzzle, which only as a whole creates the full picture. It's nice to see that the closer we get to the races, the more motivated everyone is. One thing is for sure: this event cannot be organized by four or five of us anymore.

What has been the focus of the preparatory work so far?
Contracts with sponsors and such are negotiated and signed in the spring. Various strategies are also developed during this period. Now it's all about the details, about implementing what was stipulated and promised previously. Additionally, the entire program has to be finalized, and the advertising machinery is really getting going. Of course, we want to complete as much as we can in advance here in the office, but many items can only be decided at the last minute. I think that 40 to 50 percent of all organizational projects are realized in the last three months.

What tasks will you and your assistant Elena be facing in the coming weeks?
Above all, operational tasks need to be completed as quickly as possible. And then we act like a kind of filter. We accept information, tasks and assignments that we pass on to the sector managers if we cannot handle them ourselves. We have to make sure that everything keeps moving, that nothing gets stuck, that we don't waste any precious time. Decisions must now be taken quickly.

Surely this often creates pressure?
Yes, but I work best under pressure anyway (laughs).

What do you like best about working for the Ski World Cup?
My father is a wood sculptor and maybe that's why I have this picture in front of me: the Ski World Cup is like a piece of wood that is being worked on. Month after month, week after week, and last but not least day after day, there's always a little bit more to it and at the end you have a great sculpture. In our case it is the race. You stand in the finish area and see the fans, the race runners, the helpers and simply everyone enjoying being here. And then you think to yourself: "Cool. We did a good job." These moments give you a lot of strength and joy, you're happy to be part of this team and you already look forward to next year.

Has the Ski World Cup and your work changed a lot in the past years?
When I started to work for the World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden, the advertising agency - in our case Infront - promised us a sum of money with which we as organizers had to organize races. If you want to be attractive today, you have to offer much more. A two-storey VIP tent is almost a must, but the fans also want to get their money's worth. These value-adds to the actual race cost a lot of money. Money that we have to raise through sponsors alone. It has become much more complex on all fronts.

But the investments in the entertainment program were worth it, considering that 16,000 fans came to Val Gardena/Gröden last year...
Absolutely. We had an average increase of 15 percent of spectators in the past years. In 2018 we also had the women's races, which is why these figures are even higher. These are very nice increases and we hope to continue growing like this.

The days during the World Cup are always very stressful. Do you find the time to immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere of the finish stadium?
We take the time. After all, we work all year round for the World Cup and want to see the result. We always make a point to connect with a lot of people, welcoming them and making sure that they are happy.

There are also a lot of events around the World Cup that take place away from the racing action. What are you particularly looking forward to?
This year certainly to the big World Championship party on Friday evening with the many stars like Gustav Thöni, Bernhard Russi or Annemarie Moser Pröll. Almost everyone is coming and they will be thrilled with great anecdotes from the 1970 World Championships.

How do you feel when everything is over on Saturday evening after the downhill? It's a very strange feeling, because I go from full throttle to a standstill in very little time. Then I think to myself: Is it really finished now?
Is anything else coming? I'm usually very satisfied when everything went well and all racers are injury-free. Of course, I'm also very tired. On Sunday I usually sleep the whole day. And after that I have to hurry to buy all my Christmas presents... (laughs)

Let's dream a little bit more at the end: If you had a free wish for the World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden with the fairy godmother, what would be...
When I see all employees coming to the World Cup with a smile and great anticipation, but also a little pride, and looking forward to the races, I realize how important it is that our organization acts professionally and that we have to keep growing - without losing our positive spirit and joy. The World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden should be a fixed date and a folk festival for everyone: athletes, spectators, journalists, but also for all employees, who return every year.