Snowboard fans the world over may want to turn their attention to Sunday River this week as 300 of the top-ranked riders on the planet arrive for the Visa U.S. Snowboarding World Cup.

Buoyed by Maine’s own Olympic gold medalist, Farmington native Seth Wescott, the competitions set for Thursday through Saturday are expected draw 3,000 spectators.

“I think Seth Wescott will pull in a lot of people,” said Darcy Liberty, spokeswoman for Sunday River and Sugarloaf. Wescott won a gold medal for snowboardcross at the 2006 Olympics. In Europe last December, Wescott also won his first World Cup race.

Snowboardcross, relatively new to the Olympics, is on its debut World Cup tour. The competitions at Sunday River will be the only U.S. stop for snowboarding this year.

Races include parallel giant slalom, snowboardcross and team snowboardcross. Five of the 132 trails on Sunday River’s Barker Mountain will be used for the courses.

In addition to Wescott, the races will feature a host of Olympic and World Cup contenders: three-time X Games champion Nate Holland, snowboarding legend Shaun Palmer, 2006 silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis, and Olympian Michelle Gorgone.

Parallel giant slalom will heat things up with nothing but speed as racers go head to head on the resort’s Monday Mourning Trail, traveling 4,000 feet in about 45 seconds, said Jake Treadwell, Sunday River’s competition manager.

Snowboardcross, which never fails to stoke crowds with its competitive intensity, features four riders simultaneously tackling turns and jumps while zipping along elbow to elbow at speeds of up to 45 mph, snowboardcross course designer Jeff Ihaksi said.

Bethel-area businesses are beginning to prepare for the event and expect a surge of spectators, according to state and local business officials

“We’re extremely happy and excited that Sunday River is hosting something of this caliber,” said Brad Jerome, sales and marketing director for the Bethel Inn.

Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce said the size of the event was proof the region can be a world-class host.

“We are really excited to have the World Snowboard Cup here,” Zinchuk said. “Not only is it great for the area, but it shows that Sunday River and the Bethel area can accommodate such events.”

Greg Sweetser, the executive director of the statewide Ski Maine Association said the attention the World Cup will draw to the state and its snow sports is significant.

“The importance of a World Cup cannot be understated,” Sweetser said.”The best athletes in the world are competing right here in Maine. The credibility of a ski area and its host state is elevated whenever the eyes of the world are cast our way.”

Sweetser also touted Wescott’s star power.

“What a chance for Mainers to see their hero competing for another World Championship. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Jerome and Zinchuk said they hadn’t seen any direct impact from incoming spectators. Last week, most area lodging and restaurant businesses were still handling school vacation week visitors.

“I think most of the athletes will stay on resort property, but we’ll be looking forward to welcoming the spectators,” said Jerome of the Bethel Inn.

The Sunday River resort won by bid the contract for the event and to house and feed the athletes and their entourages, spokeswoman Liberty said.

“I would like to think the business community knows a World Cup is coming,” Zinchuk said. “The trends all winter long are that people wait until the last minute. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of international visitors circulating in the community next week.”

Sweetser said he thinks the snow sports industry is underestimated in Maine.

“I don’t think that Mainers truly understand the role of our industry in the overall Maine economy,” he said. “I think that having the World Cup in Maine puts an exclamation point on the fact that winter sports are critical to the state.”

It takes a big resort with the experience, terrain and facilities to pull off an event the size of a World Cup competition, Sweetser said.

“We could not host such an event (without) an area like Sunday River, which has invested millions of dollars in their resort,” he said.”It takes skilled employees to prepare the course, maintain the venue and attend to all of the details of the competitors, the officials, the media and spectators.

“This World Cup will bring the media spotlight to snowboarding and Sunday River.”

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