#1: FIS Race Results: Shiffrin Sits While the Men Impress:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays December 31, 2021, the last installment, and last day, of 2021! This week we’ve got ski racing results to recap, as well as a story regarding numerous unknowns from the upcoming Beijing Olympic games. We’ll follow those highlights up with some unfortunate news regarding Covid’s impact on the ski industry, before ending the week with an insightful article from Stöckli, as well as a handful of excellent edits. Before we get into all of that though, let’s talk ski racing.
Last week, the women’s circuit was in Lienz, Austria for a Giant Slalom and Slalom race. Ahead of those events, we had high hopes for another weekend of Shiffrin related headlines as those two disciplines are her strongest. Unfortunately though, Mikaela tested positive for Covid, forcing her to sit on the sidelines. At the time of this writing, no further details are known, and we can’t forecast when she might return. If she’s unable to return in time for the nighttime slalom race in Zagreb on January 4th, her next opportunity would come on January 11th, at a Slalom race in Flachau. As you could likely guess, we’ll keep you updated on this story as it progresses. With Shiffrin sidelined it was a much quieter week for the women’s team than we’ve become used to. Between the two races, only U.S. athlete Paula Moltzan finished in the points, taking 22nd in the Giant Slalom, and 20th in the Slalom event. Looking ahead, the men’s and women’s circuit both have a mellow week with just a slalom race each on the schedule, hosted in Zagreb. You can check last week’s results from Lienz here, or preview the Zagreb races here.
On the men’s side of things, the Downhill and Super G races held at Bormio played into the team’s strengths better, resulting in a number of noteworthy finishes. The highlight of the weekend was without a doubt Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s 4th place finish in yesterday’s Super G. As we’ve mentioned previously here on Top 5, it’s something of a comeback season for RCS, who showed signs of greatness last season before suffering a season ending crash. So far this year, he’s had success at times, but has yet to crack the podium. While his 4th place finish continues that trend, it’s still extremely promising to see that result as it suggests he’s almost back to where he was, and it could hopefully give him the final bit of confidence that he needs to truly get back into top form. Also earning points in the Super G race was Travis Ganong who finished in 18th. A day earlier, in the Downhill race on the 28th, the U.S. team collectively performed even better, with Travis Ganong taking home 8th, Jared Goldberg finishing 15th, RCS coming in 20th, and Steven Nyman sneaking into the points with a 30th place finish. Again, looking ahead, the men have just one slalom race in Zagreb on the schedule for the week ahead. To preview that race, click here. To check out the full results from Bormio, click here.
#2: Just Months Away, Details Surrounding Beijing’s Olympic Ski Race Courses Remain Unknown:
Next up in ski racing news is an eyebrow raising headline preceding the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. From the day that Beijing was selected to host the Winter Olympics, many had concerns about their ability to pull it off. While the verdict remains out on that, we caught an article this week that only raises the level of intrigue surrounding the alpine race events at the upcoming games. In short the situation is this: at no fault of the Chinese organizers, and entirely at the fault of the global pandemic, it will be the first time ever that no one will have skied or tested the courses laid out for the games ahead of time. In other words, because the venue has been constructed specifically for the games, and because previously planned events at the venue had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the first time the courses will be used will be at the games. The result is a number of unknowns.
For event organizers, this lack of a test run has several implications. First, and most obviously, no one will have ever actually set up and hosted a race on this course before. As such, there’s a number of logistics ranging from snowmaking to course setting that will hopefully be accomplished for the first time specifically for the games. Then, there are the question marks surrounding the course itself. While the plan for the course is known, it’s not at all uncommon for tweaks to be made to the course design once athletes actually ski it. Without racing a course at full speed, it’s impossible to be 100% certain that every turn, hump, gate position, etc. will be optimal. And then there’s the additional challenge for ski technicians who will essentially have to put their best guess out there as they won’t have any historical snow data to utilize to ensure that they’re setting their athletes up with the best wax possible. There is, however, one silver lining to all of this madness: all of the athletes are in this together. With none of the competitors or their teams having any experience on the hill, it could make for an interesting Olympics with an added element of difficulty. One way or another, we’ll be watching. To learn more about this, check out the report from SkiingHistory.org.
#3: Covid Year 2: Cases Surging in Ski Counties:
Well, we hate to do it, but we have to. As we all very well know, Covid is back in a big way. While we’ve been fortunate enough to not have to discuss it on a weekly basis as we were doing at this time last year, this week’s news is forcing our hand into updating you on the situation once again. Over the course of the last few months, we’ve seen one off instances where a resort might see a spike in cases, but it always came off as an isolated occurrence. This week however, we caught headlines in multiple regions discussing outbreaks, indicating that Covid’s threat to skiing is becoming more significant.
In Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune shared news from Alta, where a few cases amongst staff quickly snowballed into a much larger situation as the resort became overwhelmed with guests on their holiday vacations. The result of the outbreak is pretty much in line with what you’d expect: staffing shortages, argumentative and uncooperative guests, and disappointed skiers left quarantining as they watched hordes of skiers enjoying the latest snowfall on the slopes. Elsewhere in Utah, despite having the state’s highest vaccination rate, Park City also saw a surge in cases over the course of last week. Of course it isn’t only Utah that’s seeing quickly rising cases. Summit County Colorado is also experiencing an unfortunate uptick, with positive results making up 35% of test results last Sunday. The situation there, to be frank, sounds like a bit of a mess. In the early days of the pandemic, this county was more or less responsible for kicking off the domino effect that resulted in nearly every ski resort in North America shutting down, as Colorado Governor Jared Polis made his decision to close every resort in the state after observing rising case counts in the county. Now, despite that recent history, the county doesn’t have a mask mandate in place, spurring the current rise. Here on the East Coast, we’re starting to see similar stories. At Killington Resort, under 100 miles south of the SkiEssentials headquarters, at least 86 resort employees have tested positive for Covid in the wake of the holiday break. There, the outbreak is currently considered to only have impacted employees, but after accounting for incubation periods, another story may be coming.
Depending on how you see things, the good news is that at the moment, these outbreaks aren’t affecting ski resort operations here in North America. Vail did adjust their mask policy to require masks on gondolas, but beyond that minor change, some of the more drastic measures we saw implemented last year remain at bay. That said, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some familiar protocols come back into play if things continue trending in this direction. Finally, on a closing note, without getting too political, we’d simply ask all of our readers to do what they can to help curb the spread of Covid. If nothing else, please be courteous to mountain employees, and if you’re asked to wear a mask, just do it. As you may have already experienced this season, the resorts can be crowded as we all look to take advantage of the outdoors for a bit of a reprieve. The last thing these overwhelmed and often understaffed employees need is a political argument in the middle of their shift. So please, be safe and be mindful out there everybody!
#4: Pulling Back the Curtain: How Stöckli Skis is Surviving Supply Chain Shortages:
Finally, we close out this week with a story for our readers who enjoy learning the inner workings of complex issues, or are interested in learning what it takes to produce skis on a strategic level. This week, SwissInfo.ch published an article examining the intricacies of the ongoing global supply chain problem using Stöckli as a case study. As you know, Stöckli is a high end ski manufacturer, making some of the best skis in the world. To do so, they use a unique type of adhesive that can only be made using a specific ingredient from Japan. Knowing how crucial this ingredient is to their success, they’ve always been sure to stock far more than they need, enabling them to prevail through any shortages such as the one at hand. What the team at Stöckli couldn’t have seen coming however, is a scenario in which it’s not just this special ingredient that’s difficult to source, but almost all of the raw materials needed to make their skis, from the wood to the metal edges. As such, despite their best efforts, Stöckli has more or less found them in the same boat as every other ski manufacturer as strained supply chains have increased both the cost of their supplies as well as the amount of time it takes to receive them. While Stöckli’s been able to manage to storm, it hasn’t been without great effort. Their factories have had to run through the night in order to meet deadlines, supplies have had to be sourced from new suppliers, and in some cases, slight adjustments to materials have had to be made.
While the story itself is a very interesting read for those interested in this type of thing, we have a few takeaways for those simply searching for the bottom line. First, shout out to Stöckli for being able to manage their supply chain issues and still deliver their products in time for the season. At SkiEssentials, we love Stöckli skis and would’ve been devastated if they had to take even a season off. So, thank you and congratulations to every Stöckli employee who helped persevere through an incredibly difficult challenge. Second, one of the notes made in this article is that despite the rising cost of goods, Stöckli’s pricing hasn’t increased, in large part because they’d already collected payment from buyers such as ourselves for this year’s skis, and therefore couldn’t account for the increase in cost. While this is simple conjecture at this point, we wouldn’t be shocked to see ski prices increase slightly next year- not just from Stöckli, but across the board from all manufacturers if raw material prices remain high. Third, once again, we’ll just give you a friendly reminder that if you’re in the market for skis, it would be wise not to wait too long. While we’re still well stocked here at SkiEssentials, it’s conceivable that the industry wide inventory of skis could run low in the months ahead, especially within popular models. And on that note, we’ll turn you over to SwissInfo.ch to learn more!