#1: FIS World Cup Alpine Racing Update: Big Weeks For Both Teams:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays December 24, 2021, a very rare Christmas Eve edition! Despite the pseudo holiday, we’re forever committed to keeping you updated on the latest in ski news, and so here we are. It’s a good thing too, as this week there’s a ton of competition news to go over, between a total of five FIS race venues as well as this year’s Dew Tour event. We’ll bring you up to speed with the latest results before shifting gears to check in on the state of Vail, and ultimately ending the week with yet another story regarding the latest endeavors from Bode Miller. To start, let’s jump right into Women’s FIS Alpine results.
All told, it was a highly successful week for the Women’s team. To kick things off, they found themselves in Val d’Isere, France for a Downhill and a Super G race, before heading to Courchevel for a pair of Giant Slalom races- the second of which replaced a cancellation from Killington. As you might recall from last week, Shiffrin had just made the last minute decision to compete in the Super G at Val d’Isere, likely feeling empowered by her strong showing in St. Moritz. Whether or not that decision was the right one for Shiffrin is likely only known to her and her coaches as she ultimately finished in 5th place in what was a surprisingly close race. Between the top 8 competitors, there was only a one second difference between times. Still, while Shiffrin just missed her third consecutive Super G podium, she did manage to earn a good chunk of points to put towards her overall standings. Also putting up a strong result for the U.S. Team in that race was Breezy Johnson who finished in 9th. In fact, it was a particularly strong weekend for Johnson as she raced to a second place finish just a day earlier, earning the silver medal in the Downhill event. That result marks Johnson’s seventh Downhill podium in the last year, after landing on her first podium ever at the same Val d’Isere Downhill a year ago. If you were to chart her trajectory, it’d be plain to see that Breezy’s star is on the rise. A huge congratulations goes out to her for her continued success and progress.
Also occurring this week were back to back Giant Slalom races in Courchevel. There, Shiffrin stole the show once again, putting up a first place finish in Tuesday’s race, followed by a second place finish in Wednesday’s race. These results, as significant as they are, are most helpful for her as she pursues this year’s crystal globe- an award that she last won three years ago, before her stretch of tumult. As strong as Shiffrin’s showing was in Courchevel, it’s worth mentioning that she wasn’t the only U.S. athlete with noteworthy finishes. In Tuesday’s race, Nina O’Brien finished in 15th, Paula Moltzan earned 16th, and AJ Hurt came in 28th. A day later, Paula Moltzan improved on her placement, coming in 13th. All in all, it was a wildly successful week for a number of U.S. athletes. After that intense stretch, the women will have 6 days to recover before retaking the course at Lienz, Austria for a Slalom and Giant Slalom race. You can preview that event schedule here.
Hopefully you’re not sick of ski racing yet, because in addition to a strong showing from the Women’s team, the U.S. Men’s team also made waves this week. To start the stretch, the Men’s circuit found themselves in Val Gardena-Groeden, Italy for a Super G and a Downhill race. At the end of last week’s recap, we teased that things were looking promising for the U.S. team, as Ryan Cochran-Siegle had already won one of the Downhill training events. Well, those high hopes prevailed as a number of U.S. athletes earned points on the weekend. To start, in last Friday’s Super G race, RCS finished a team best 9th place, immediately followed by Travis Ganong in 10th, while Jared Goldberg just snuck into the points with a 30th place finish. The big news however came a day later as U.S. athlete Bryce Bennett bested the entire field, finishing in 1st place in the Downhill race, marking his first ever gold medal. In addition to that personal honor, it also marked the first time an American competitor had won a Downhill event in 5 years. While we certainly don’t want to diminish Bennett’s personal victory, the implication of this result is even more massive. Considering the fact that RCS, not Bennett, was the favorite for the U.S. team coming into this event after winning the training run, this seems to mean that there’s some serious momentum building within the U.S. team. After this weekend, a strong argument could be made that the U.S. team has not one, but two athletes capable of winning any given Downhill race. For a team that’s had its struggles in recent years, that notion is huge. In addition to Bennett’s victory, four other U.S. athletes earned points in this race as Travis Ganong finished in 15th, Jared Goldberg secured 19th, Steven Nyman took 23rd, and RCS ended up in 27th. All in all, it was a huge weekend for the men’s team in Val Gardena-Groeden.
While last weekend’s races were undoubtedly the highlight for the men’s team, there were a few more races and results worth mentioning last week. After that initial stop, the circuit traveled to Alta Badia for a pair of Giant Slalom races. There, River Radamus put in a strong showing, earning 6th place in Sunday’s race and 10th in Monday’s race. Joining him in the points on Sunday was RCS who finished in 27th. Finally, the men’s circuit rounded out the week in Madonna di Campiglio for a nighttime slalom race where unfortunately no U.S. athletes were able to qualify. Looking forward, the men’s team will gather in Bormio in just a few days for a Downhill race as well as a pair of Super G races. You can preview that schedule here.
#2: 2021 Dew Tour Recap: The U.S. Men Display Dominance:
Well, we sincerely hope you’re not tired of competitive recaps yet, despite our best efforts in the previous highlight. Or, if you are, hopefully switching gears to the freeskiing side of the sport will re-energize your interest, because we’ve got a whole slew of Dew Tour results to discuss! Now, before we dive in we’ll pre-emptively attempt to clear up some potential confusion regarding the importance of this event. First, no, the Dew Tour isn’t an official FIS World Cup event, meaning the results from these contests won’t earn athletes points towards their FIS standings. That said, the Dew Tour is a qualifying event for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team, meaning, in short, that podiuming at one of these events is a huge boost to an athlete’s chances of finding themselves representing the U.S. Ski Team at the upcoming Olympic games. With this in mind, there were ultimately four events at the Dew Tour this year with Olympic implications: Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle and Superpipe. Additionally, there were also Men’s and Women’s Streetstyle competitions, which are more in line with what you might consider a rail jam. While it’s not an Olympic discipline currently, it would be cool to see this type of competition make the Olympic cut, but that’s a discussion for another day.
For now, let’s stick to Olympic level results, starting with the Men’s Slopestyle which was an absolute celebration of U.S. talent. Coming into the event, Colby Stevenson was the top qualifier and the one to beat and ultimately managed to secure that top spot through finals, although not without being challenged. We won’t get into the nitty gritty trick details here as we’re already running the risk of forcing your eyes to glaze over with all of the competitive coverage this week. Instead, we’ll defer you to Newschoolers.com for that and simply tell you that when all was said and done, the U.S. took the top four spots, with Stevenson in first, Alex Hall in second, Nick Goepper in third, and Mac Forehand in fourth. With such a strong showing from the Men’s team in this event, it could be quite the decision for the U.S. Olympic committee when it comes to finalizing the roster. On the Superpipe side of life, the decision is only slightly easier as the U.S. team once again dominated, taking 4 of the top 5 places. In first place it was Alex Ferreira, followed by teammate Aaron Blunck. Canadian athlete Brendan Mackay managed to sneak onto the podium in third, while U.S. athletes Birk Irving and David Wise finished in 4th and 5th respectively. Again, for a full in depth review of each athlete's runs, we’ll turn you over to Newschoolers.com.
On the women’s side of things, the results felt a bit more predictable, and much less favorable for the U.S. team. At present, there are really just a handful of female freeskiers who seem capable of routinely grabbing podium finishes, so it’s a pretty familiar list of names at the top of both the Slopestyle and Superpipe results. In Slopestyle, Tess Ledeux took home gold, followed by Eileen Gu in second, and Johanne Killi in third. Unfortunately, due in part to Gu’s controversial decision to represent China in the Olympics, this means no U.S. athlete landed on the podium. In the Superpipe competition, the U.S. team fared slightly better as Hanna Faulhaber took home the bronze. Ahead of her were Eileen Gu in first, and Kelly Sildaru in second. Again, for a comprehensive recap of these results, you can check out Newschooler’s recap of the Women’s Slopestyle event here, and the Superpipe event here./p>
#3: A Tale of Two Vails - With Great (Amounts of) People Comes Great Problems:
Congratulations! You’ve made it through our gauntlet of competition coverage! Now, let’s move onto a topic that’s rife with controversy: Vail’s impact on the ski industry. Before we dive into this one, we have to say, this is a topic that feels like it’s not exactly news as we typically report it, as we’re lacking headlines to refer you to. That said, we tend to keep our finger on the pulse of skiing here and while the 2021-2022 ski season is still young, there’ve been some significant murmurings regarding Vail Resorts on social media already this year. Before we get into that conversation though, we’d like to share with you a quick update from Vail regarding their recent Epic Lift Upgrade campaign. As you might recall, we first shared news of this campaign back in late September, when Vail announced that they would be committing $320 million to lift upgrades. Making up that figure was plans for 19 new lifts across 14 different ski resorts. This week, that figure was increased by two, with additional lifts planned for Jack Frost and Big Boulder ski resorts in Pennsylvania. The goal of this campaign is pretty straight forward: increase uphill capacity and reduce lift lines. For skiers who’ve seen images of ridiculously long lines at Vail Resorts over the past couple of years, this campaign is very welcomed.
Unfortunately however, it’s not all roses in the world of Vail. In addition to long wait lines at a number of resorts this year, there’ve also been a number of reports concerning huge lines of traffic as eager skiers and snowboarders attempt to make their way to the resort. At best this is seen as a frustrating aspect of being an Epic skier on a powder day. At worst it’s being cited as deeply problematic for the roadway infrastructure within resort communities. Compounding the traffic issues, frustrated Epic skiers and employees are also beginning to question Vail’s commitment to the skiing experience at their non-flagship resorts. Across a number of regions in North America, skiers and staff alike are questioning Vail’s limited use of snowmaking to open new terrain as it seems as though ski areas aren’t blowing as much snow as they typically would this time of year. Behind this scenario are a couple of different factors. First, due to the continued staffing issues that are hitting the entirety of the service industry spectrum, many are wondering if Vail is purposely pumping the brakes on opening new terrain as they simply don’t have the staff to manage the entire mountain. The second area of concern that people are pointing out is that, because Vail presells their season passes now, they’re far less incentivized to open their entire mountain as quickly as they can. In other words, because they have less need to sell daily lift tickets, they don’t need to entice people to the mountain by opening new terrain. In fact, opening more terrain faster would simply cost them more money and eat into profits as snowmaking and chairlift operations are both expensive endeavors.
So, what’s the takeaway here? Well, again, this isn’t exactly “news” in the sense that nothing is really happening beyond chatter on social media. But, we’re seeing some yellow flags pop up as disgruntled guests and employees alike are beginning to share their grievances online. While we won’t pretend to know what the team at Vail is thinking, or whether they’re aware of accounts like @EpicLiftLines, we will say that it’s going to be crucial for them to begin to solve some of these issues moving forward to maintain a favorable image in the eyes of skiers and riders. Otherwise, the idea that they’re selling an incredible guest experience will soon become an empty promise. Because this isn’t a headline related item, we can’t exactly point you anywhere to learn more. Instead, we’d invite you to share your thoughts on the matter in the comment section below!
#4: Bode Miller Announces New Ski Academy, Further's Commitment to Making Skiing Accessible:
Finally, rounding out this week we have another exciting update from Bode Miller. Regular readers of Top 5 Fridays might recall that just two weeks ago we shared the news that Miller has officially joined the team at Alpine-X as their chief innovation officer. In making that move, Miller and Alpine-X hope to make skiing more accessible for more Americans. This week, Miller made headlines again in a separate move that furthers similar goals, as he’s just announced his plans to create the Bode Miller Ski Academy at Granby Ranch. In cahoots with his long time partner, Andy Wirth, whose son Jace Wirth is the general manager at the Granby Ranch, Miller hopes to build on his experiences as a student athlete at the Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine to create an even stronger athletic and academic opportunity for upcoming athletes. To Miller, this largely means accessibility. While most ski academies are seen as exclusive opportunities, Miller hopes to create an academy that’s accessible to athletes of all backgrounds. To achieve this, Miller is committing to a goal of providing scholarship opportunities to 25% of the student body, regardless of the size of the student body. Additionally, he hopes to modernize the experience by making better use of technology to provide a stronger educational experience. Perhaps most importantly though, is the fact that Miller’s academy will be inclusive of four types of skiing: Alpine, Nordic, Freestyle, and Adaptive. While the announcement of the academy itself is exciting news, what’s even more exciting to us is seeing Miller’s new commitments to growing skiing’s accessibility in multiple ways. At a time when many in the industry are talking about ways to grow the sport and to become more inclusive, Miller has just put forth plans to make that goal a reality in not one, but two different ways. Truth be told, we love to see it. To learn more about Miller’s recent announcement, check out this writeup from Sky Hi News.