#1: FIS Roundup: Races, Cancellations, and a Record Tying Feat:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the December 3, 2021 edition! This week, we’ve got an even split between highlights covering competitive aspects of our sport, and highlights covering the safety side of things. To start, let’s focus on recapping the latest from the world of FIS World Cup ski races. When we touched base on this last week, there were a number of upcoming races scheduled for both the men’s and women’s circuits, paving the way for what should’ve been an overwhelming amount of results to share with you this week. Unfortunately, due to weather, there were a number of cancellations which makes today’s news a little less chock-full. That said, there were still some races held with some notable results, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
Coming out of last week, the biggest headline was undoubtedly made by Mikaela Shiffrin after her slalom race in Killington. In the lead up to that race, we’d mentioned that Shiffrin had the chance of tying Ingemar Stenmark's long standing record of 46 wins within a single discipline. That potential, along with the fact that Shiffrin had won the previous 4 slalom events held at what could be considered her home venue, caused quite a bit of excitement for the race. Fortunately for us and Shiffrin alike, the hype never made it to her head as she ultimately pulled off the feat, making it 5 straight slalom victories at Killington, and 46 slalom victories. With that stat recorded, it seems all but guaranteed that Shiffrin will break Stenmark’s record in the near future. While Shiffrin certainly stole the show, she wasn’t the only American who put up a notable result in the race. Also making her mark and earning several points was Paula Moltzan, who finished in 7th. Prior to the Slalom race, the Giant Slalom race had already been cancelled, and so the women’s circuit traveled to Lake Louise, where two Downhills and a Super G race are on the schedule. While all three training races were cancelled, the first of the two Downhills is currently underway, so hopefully we’ll have plenty of results to go over next week. Until then, you can review the results from the Killington stop here, and preview this week’s races in Lake Louise here.
On the men’s side of things, cancelled events was the name of the game as well. Having convened in Lake Louise for two Downhill events as well as three training races, the men’s group was ultimately only able to compete in one of the five events: the Downhill race. That race however went moderately well for the Americans as Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished a team-best 10th place. Following his lead, Travis Ganong and Bryce Bennett tied for 26th, while Steve Nyman finished in 35th, Erik Arvidsson in 37th, and Sam Morse in 41st. After having the second of the two Downhill races cancelled, athletes traveled to Beaver Creek for the annual Birds of Prey races. At this stop, the men are scheduled to compete in two Super G and two Downhill races through this weekend. The first of the two Super G’s was actually held yesterday, and produced middling results for the U.S. Team. Leading the way for Team America was Ryan Cochran-Siegle once again, finishing in a team best 19th. Behind him was Travis Ganong in 22nd, Steve Nyman in 42nd, Bryce Bennett in 43rd, and Jared Goldberg in 46th. To see the full results from that race, click here. To see the schedule for this weekend’s races, click here.
Finally, before we wrap up our FIS Alpine Racing recap for the week, we have the unfortunate task of sharing the news that former ski racing icon Ron Lemaster has died after being involved in an on-hill collision. A jack of all trades, Lemaster was the author of multiple skiing books, most notably ‘The Skier’s Edge’ and ‘Ultimate Skiing,’ as well as a photographer and contributor to Ski Racing Magazine. We offer condolences to all who knew Lemaster, and we thank him for his contributions to skiing. To learn more about this unfortunate story, check in with SkiRacing.com.
#2: The Park City Ski Patrol Union Demonstrates for Fair Wages:
In other news this week, we’re actually bringing you a continuation of a story that bubbled up over the course of the last few weeks, and has roots that date back even further. As you may or may not have seen on social media this week, the Park City ski patrol has been demonstrating in demand of higher wages. For regular readers of Top Five Fridays, you may recall that we shared a series of articles highlighting the unionization of ski patrol units at several west coast mountains. While some of those votes resulted in unions, and others did not, Park City’s ski patrol has actually been unionized since 2016. That’s worked out well for them for the most part, however trouble began brewing last Spring as it became clear that Park City and its unionized ski patrol would not come to an agreement on the terms of a renewed contract. As such, that contract came to expire on May 1st. Since then, patrollers and the resort have been in discussions, trying to come to an agreement before this season kicked off. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, resulting in a new round of headlines over the past couple of weeks.
While we don’t know all of the details of this contract negotiation, we do know that one of the biggest demands being made by ski patrollers is an increase in wages. Currently, the starting wage for a new ski patrol member is $15/hr. If you’ll recall, Vail and Alterra both recently announced an increase in their minimum wages to $15/hr for all staff members. While this is certainly great for a majority of service workers at these mountains, Park City’s unionized ski patrol has rightly brought attention to the fact that their starting wage is the same as a number of positions that require far less expertise. Without deriding any specific profession, the ski patrol’s argument is that their line of work involves a considerable amount of medical expertise and knowledge, which should be compensated at a higher rate than other jobs around the mountain which could be performed by nearly anyone with a minimal amount of training. To put strength behind their message, off-duty patrollers have been demonstrating in town, spreading their message to the wider public. In the meantime, their colleagues continue to patrol the mountain so that it can remain in operation. While this issue looks as though it won’t affect the daily operations of Park City, it should be noted that a strike by ski patrol could bring immediate closures to the resort. This is similar to what happened at Hunter Mountain in January of last year, when the mountain was unable to find enough willing ski patrollers to open the resort for multiple days. To learn more about the developing situation in Park City, click here.
#3: Avalanche Season is Back, as is Our Annual Avalanche Awareness Reminder:
Next up this week is one of our least favorite highlights to write, but one that feels increasingly important as the sport of backcountry skiing continues to grow in popularity. Earlier this week, Banff Sunshine Village Resort in the Canadian Rockies was forced to close due to extreme avalanche danger. After receiving a considerable amount of snow, followed by warming temperatures, conditions rose from considerable to extreme. Between that escalation and continued precipitation, the avalanche mitigation team at Banff was unable to safely perform their avalanche control measures, resulting in a forced closure for a day. While that’s certainly a bummer for the resort and the locals, it was also undoubtedly the right move as avalanches aren’t anything to play around with. Unfortunately we have proof of that matter as we also learned that Canada saw its first avalanche casualty this week as three snowmobilers were caught in an avalanche in the Northern Canadian Rockies, one of whom passed away.
We bring all of this up not to be a downer on a Friday, but because we truly think it’s important to remind you all of the very real dangers of backcountry skiing. While this segment of the sport is one of our absolute favorites, and we’d encourage anyone who’s interested in it to give it a shot, we also can’t stress enough the importance of being aware of avalanche conditions, terrain traps, and having the proper equipment and knowledge within your crew. Backcountry skiing is an amazing experience as it can take you to remote, peaceful areas where the only turns you see are your own. Along with that privilege however, comes added responsibility as there aren’t typically ski patrollers on hand or avalanche mitigation efforts in effect. Therefore, the onus of responsibility is on you, the backcountry skier. If you’re someone who’s experienced in backcountry and avalanche safety, use this as your reminder to check your gear and brush up on your knowledge ahead of the season. If this is the first season you’re planning a backcountry expedition, we suggest heading over to Avalanche.org to begin learning the basics you’ll need to know before heading out there. And with that, we’ll round things out by simply asking you all to please, be safe out there.
#4: FIS Freeski Athlete Sarah Hoefflin Shares Her Thoughts On Women’s Freeskiing Contests With Newschoolers.com:
Finally, we end this week with an excellent read from Sarah Hoefflin, courtesy of Newschoolers.com. If you read our report last week, you might recognizes Hoefflin’s name from our recap of the FIS Freeskiing Slopestyle event in Stubai Zoo, as she was the second place winner in the women’s division. In an earlier Top Five Friday this year, when we covered the first FIS event, a Big Air competition, we mentioned how impressive it is that the top female athletes are landing doubles, marking a huge progression over the previous few years. As it turns out, that’s something that Hoefflin is also extremely excited about.
In her piece for Newschoolers, which reads as a reflection on the state of competitive women’s freeskiing on the whole, Hoefflin gets things started by saying how impressive the level of freeskiing has become amongst women. Echoing our own thoughts, she points out that women weren’t throwing doubles even just three years ago. Now, there are multiple women with multiple doubles in their bag of tricks. Expanding on that idea, Hoefflin makes a point that we hadn’t considered yet: because women are throwing doubles, but because they aren’t spinning as fast as the men’s field, it’s easier for audiences to discern different tricks from female competitors. In other words, women’s freeskiing competitions are at something of a sweet spot, where the tricks are incredibly impressive, but aren’t so overwhelmingly technical that the casual, or even experienced viewer, can still tell them apart. It’s a great point, actually. Even us former park-rats at SkiEssentials can struggle to count the rotations in the men’s field as athletes are clocking doubles and triples up to 1800 degrees.
Building on her thoughts surrounding how far female competition has come in recent years, Hoefflin goes on to point out how this might be impacting younger female skiers with big ambitions. In this regard, there are two dynamics that she points out as potentially troublesome: younger girls may see the level of skiing as unattainable, and the sport is increasing in danger as younger athletes are being asked to perform bigger tricks regardless of conditions. While the first issue is more or less just a fact of life, and one that hasn’t had a negative impact on the men’s division, her second point is much more actionable. While she doesn’t make any hard and fast suggestions here, the implication is that Hoefflin is hoping competition operators at all levels require higher quality conditions to greenlight contests. Doing so, she would argue, will help keep athletes safer, particularly at a younger age. All in all, this piece from Hoefflin is simply an insightful and entertaining read for anyone tuned into the competitive freeskiing scene, and the women’s side of things in particular. If this sounds like you, we’d encourage you to give it a read in full.