Christian Ziörjen: “And then the question of snow will definitely come up at some point”

Ski fans still have 45 days to wait for the first cross-border World Cup race in history: the Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening. Behind the scenes, work on the inaugural race has been feverish for months. Why OC boss Christian Ziörjen is not panicking despite the current snow situation, why he is so enthusiastic about his team's commitment and what he can tell us about the build-up in Zermatt and Cervinia: we reveal all in the following interview.

Christian Ziörjen, in a month and a half Beat Feuz, Dominik Paris, Corinne Suter, Sofia Goggia and all the other top skiers will be flying down the newly designed “Gran Becca” course. Is everything going according to plan?

We are definitely on track. Of course, there are still lots of construction sites at the moment. And plenty of new challenges have emerged that we need to resolve. There are also some internal tensions because not everyone can work equally well under pressure – but that is completely normal for a process like this. These small details take time and patience. If we use the Pareto principle: so far, we have completed 80 per cent of the work with 20 per cent effort. Now we are faced with the remaining 20 per cent – which requires 80 per cent effort!

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge was and remains the cross-border cooperation. Zermatt and Cervinia are geographically close to each other and we share an Alpine mindset. Nevertheless, the distance, cultural differences and language barriers sometimes present us with difficulties. It is not possible to quickly meet to discuss things because we are at least two hours apart. Digital meetings are not always ideal either – they can be stressful too.

Has anything worked surprisingly well?

That is clearly the passion, the dedication, and the commitment of all the people who are working on this project. Everyone in the team is driving the project forward with one goal – the races on the last weekend in October and the beginning of November. Everyone knows that they have to play their part for us to meet this deadline. Everyone knows that they have to give their all. The time pressure we are under actually creates a positive effect. We can’t and mustn’t allow ourselves to become sloppy.

How is the cooperation in the team?

The cooperation is really good, despite or maybe even because of this special constellation. We are not yet an entrenched team that has been organising World Cups for decades. Although it still requires considerable diplomatic sensitivity. If I need support from an employee in the municipality of Cervinia or a helper in Zermatt, for example, they are not paid by a company I manage and don’t have to answer to me. So it takes a lot of tact to achieve a successful outcome. 

Let's think about staff: how many people are currently on the job?

The core team that is working currently comprises around 25 people – up to a maximum of 30.

And how many people will be required to make sure that everything runs smoothly for the World Cup races?

If we count all the volunteers, it comes to about 450 helpers. If we also include the production team from Swiss television, then there will be about 550 people. So it's an impressive number.

Is anything creating a headache right now?

The number of people worrying about the snow situation is giving me a headache! People are constantly discussing it and asking when it will finally snow. I wait for the weather report with bated breath every day and would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the first snowfall. As things stand today, it would not be possible to hold any races. But there is absolutely no reason to panic. Everything is progressing well. It will get cooler in the next few days, but at the moment the sun is still shining. As I say: there are no grounds for alarm. Otherwise, my thoughts constantly revolve around the myriad details and the fear of forgetting something somewhere. But I still sleep reasonably well!

What is the mood in Zermatt and Cervinia? Can you feel the anticipation yet?

At the moment the anticipation is building in Cervinia a little bit more. The town is full of banners already. It’s still summer season in Zermatt though, which is why people are busy with their daily business. Even then, when I talk to people in the village, it's all about the Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening. People often say to me, “We're looking forward to it,” or “You're doing a great job.” And, of course, the question of snow will definitely come up again at some point!

How are the ticket sales going?

Ticket sales started very quickly. It's a bit quieter at the moment. However, the VIP tickets are sold out and we have sold 70 per cent of the “standard” tickets for the first weekend. There are fewer sales for the second weekend. Maybe it's because the weather is still nice at the moment so the fans aren't really thinking about skiing yet. But we are all confident that the ski stars will race in front of packed grandstands at the Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening.

What do you think will draw people to the races at the foot of the Matterhorn?

The Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening is an event for real ski racing fans. So anyone who is enthusiastic about skiing and within reach should definitely come. It is the first cross-border race in history. And in a completely new setting. From Switzerland, the race course and finish line can only be reached on skis. So it's a real outdoor experience with a finish area at almost 3,000 metres above sea level. And even if “only” 6000 fans are allowed in the finish area – the enthusiastic ski fans from Switzerland and the Italian “tifosi” will ensure a terrific atmosphere. And speaking as a former tourist: where else can you get this panorama with a view of the Matterhorn and the other 4,000-metre peaks?

Thank you very much for the interview!