#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: A Big Week in Cortina for the U.S. Women's Team:
What a week it’s been in the world of ski racing! After what was a bit of a down week last week, thanks in no small part to multiple race cancellations, the action returned in a big way these past seven days, with numerous notable World Cup Results. Topping that list is once again Mikaela Shiffrin, who’s having an incredible run in Cortina. While Shiffrin’s results have been a bit back and forth throughout what many might consider a “recovery season,” these past 8 days have easily been Shiffrin’s most successful since her return to snow. Starting with a bronze medal in a Super G on February 11th, Shiffrin has since won an additional three medals: a gold in Monday’s Alpine Combined, and a silver in both Monday’s Super G and Thursday’s Giant Slalom. While this week’s accomplishments have furthered Shiffrin’s standings in numerous medal counts (she’s now third on the all time, most World Championship medals list), the bigger story here is that this feels like something of a return to power for Shiffrin. Since the beginning of the season, she’s referenced a decrease in her natural competitive edge, and taken a more “enjoyment-first” approach to racing. While we can’t pretend to know Shiffrin’s thoughts at the moment, it does seem as though a successful run such as this one might be just what Shiffrin needed to regain that competitive fire, reminding her that there’s still a place for her at the top if that’s what she wants.
Of course this week wasn’t entirely about Mikaela Shiffrin. In fact, a number of other U.S. Women’s team athletes also put up some great results. Topping that list has to be Nina O’Brien, who paired up with Shiffrin to put together what was nearly the story of the year for the Women’s team. In Thursday’s Giant Slalom race, after the initial run, Mikaela Shiffrin sat in first place with a time of 1:13:22. Just .02 seconds behind her in second place, was Nina O’Brien, creating an air of excitement as many wondered if the pair could pull off a 1-2 sweep for the U.S. Team. Unfortunately, that scenario wouldn’t come to fruition as equipment issues between runs and one on course mistake from O’Brien saw her second run time plummet, ultimately earning her a 10th place finish. Still, despite the missed opportunity, O’Brien’s performance is certainly notable and gives hope for an ever stronger Women’s team. Additionally, U.S. Women’s team athletes Paula Moltzan, Breezy Johnson, Isabella Wright, Jacqueline Wiles, and Laurenne Ross all put up finishes earning points this past week. We don’t have the space here to give each result the attention it deserves, but you can review all of this week’s World Ski Championships results right here.
On the men’s side of the event, while no U.S. Team member managed to land a podium finish, a number of athletes still put up notable results. On that list is Bryce Bennett, who added a 10th place Downhill finish, 16th in an Alpine Combined, and 8th place finish in a Super G race to his resume. Also competing for our unofficial “U.S. Men’s Team Athlete of the Week Award,” was River Radamus, who landed an 8th place finish in a Parallel Slalom race, as well as an 11th place finish in a Giant Slalom race. In addition to Bennett and Radamus, Travis Ganong and Jared Goldberg also earned points this week, placing 12th and 20th respectively in Sunday’s Downhill race. Once again, to see a full list of this week’s events and results, we’ll send you over to the official FIS website. To check out the upcoming streaming schedule, we’ll refer you to NBC Sports.
#2: Ischgl's Road to Redemption: Becoming a Case Study in Covid-19 Immunity Research:
Next up in ski news, is our semi-regular Covid-19 update. Most weeks we find ourselves discussing a range of coronavirus related issues as resorts and areas across the world struggle to navigate the pandemic amongst their own unique sets of circumstances. This week though, we were treated to a surprising article that checks back in with the situation in Ischgl, Austria. If you’ve never heard of this resort, allow us to bring you up to speed with an exceptionally quick overview. At the start of the pandemic, just about a year ago, the ski town of Ischgl remained fully open, hosting thousands of skiers from around the world in its crowded bars. Unfortunately, that resulted in the ski town being something of a global epicenter for the Covid-19 outbreak as hundreds, possibly thousands, of people became infected in the area before returning to their homes across the world. In the weeks, months, and year that’s followed, the town and resort have faced anger and lawsuits as those who became infected their claim authorities were aware of the presence of Covid-19, but did nothing to curtail its spread.
This week though, we caught an excellent story that brings at least a hint of positivity to the area, as scientists have been able to use the local population as a case study to learn more about the effectiveness and longevity of Covid-19 antibodies. Back in April, a study was conducted in Ischgl to determine just how widely spread the virus had become in that area. In that study, it was determined that approximately 42% of the local population had antibodies in their system. Skipping ahead to this week’s news, it was just announced that the same group from the initial study was retested for antibodies again in November. In that second test group, roughly 90% of the test population had retained enough antibodies to maintain some protection against reinfection. The conclusions from this second study are twofold, and ultimately have implications that extend well beyond skiing. First, it suggests that Covid-19 antibodies are likely to remain effective for at least 8 months, as a large majority of those who had the antibodies in April continued to have them in November. Secondly, when comparing ongoing infection rates within Ischgl to neighboring communities, it was determined that a population in which between 40-50% of the community has antibodies, some level of herd immunity was present as the number of overall new cases was lower. In other words, what this story is ultimately becoming is not just a story of a mismanaged public health crisis, but also one in which significant scientific contributions have been made as a result of the outbreak. Speaking more philosophically, it’s also a concrete example of the notion of yin and yang. That for every negative outcome in life, there’s an equally positive reaction. We’ll let you sit with that for a moment, and when you’re ready, head over to this recap from Yahoo! News for more information.
#3: Watch Out Gondola Concept, a Cog Railway Up Little Cottonwood Canyon Gaining Traction:
Moving right along, we have yet another update from the ongoing story of reimagining transportation in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. The last few times we’ve checked in on this story, it seemed to have been trending towards the implementation of a gondola. If this story is new to you, that proposed idea would see the development of a new parking garage and gondola station at the base of the canyon, which would take skiers to either Snowbird or Alta. This week however, we caught an article that highlights a resurgence in support for a rail line up the canyon. One of the original options first discussed when this topic was introduced, the rail line idea has the advantage of offering the fastest route to the resorts, as well as the highest capacity. It also, unfortunately, has the disadvantage of being the most expensive option on the table. Additionally, there’s a dark horse concern amongst canyon users that the implementation of a rail line up the canyon might be too efficient. As those in the area are well aware, crowding is already an issue at Alta, Snowbird, and the surrounding backcountry areas. With the implementation of a rail line that could bring 3,000 passengers up the canyon every hour, there’s justified concern that this option would alleviate traffic congestion, only to elevate congestion in the mountains. Ultimately this, as well as financial and practical feasibility considerations, seems to be one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of enabling this concept to move forward. To learn all of the details regarding this proposed rail line, check out the article on the Salt Lake Tribune, or on Outline.com if you’re unable to view the original article.
#4: Black Skiers Leading the Push to Diversify Skiing:
Finally, we end this week with a pair of articles that require our attention. It’s no secret that outdoor sports, and skiing in particular, have a history of being predominantly “white”. That is, the sport we enjoy so much has historically been enjoyed almost entirely by peers that look like us. As a white male from a middle class background, this is something that I personally have always simply, ignorantly accepted without question. While a discussion could ensue regarding whether that perspective, which I’m sure is widely shared, is justifiable, the fact of the matter is that it’s time for our community to change. Whether homogeneity is the result of purposeful or accidental actions, the issue remains the same: the sport that we all know and love so much has been unfairly inclusive, making it uncomfortable and even prohibitive for people of color, particularly black people, to become involved with and enjoy. While this is a conversation that should be ongoing and addressed year round, February is in fact black history month, which is likely the reason why we caught a pair of stories this week that address the racial imbalance within skiing. Again, as a white skier, it’s not my place to comment on or judge the perspectives within these articles. Instead, I’d like to simply share the stories in an effort to raise the volume on the message being communicated by black skiers who are actively working to diversify our sport.
The first of these two articles is a report from Newsday.com that shares the thoughts of Henri Rivers, the president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. That organization, as you might’ve guessed, serves to unite and represent black ski clubs across the United States. As such, it should be seen as the de facto voice of the black ski population, and referred to for guidance in regards to how white ski culture can become more inclusive. In his interview with News Day, Rivers makes the solution clear and obvious: ski culture can become more inclusive, by simply including black representation in its marketing and outreach efforts. One of the key points he makes is that ski marketing rarely, if ever, shows members of the black community engaging with skiing. That simple lack of representation not only shows that the ski industry doesn’t consider black Americans to be a part of its market, but also suggests the same to black Americans who see the advertisements which only feature white people. In River’s eyes, one of the first, most immediate steps the ski industry can take to fix this issue, is to let black people know that they’re welcome by including them in marketing efforts. The second suggestion that Rivers has, is for the ski industry to actively reach out to black communities to create opportunities to access the mountains. As it stands, outreach programs in black communities are severely limited. By creating more opportunities to involve black skiers in skiing, particularly from a younger age, the issue of racial imbalance within skiing will slowly start to resolve itself. To hear more of Rivers’s thoughts, check out this article from Newsday.com. To learn more about the National Brotherhood of Skiers, refer to their official website.
The second article we caught this week, is particularly interesting as it highlights the efforts of a black businesswoman who’s taking matters into her own hands and actively working to create opportunities for black people to experience mountain culture in the same way that white people currently do. The article itself starts out by sharing some eye opening anecdotes regarding what the mountain experience is like for black skiers. Centered around stories shared by Simisola Oke, a black, European skier, we quickly learn that the Apres ski scene in mountain towns can be extremely uninviting for black skiers. In those situations, Oke experienced exclusion by way of ignorance. More specifically, comments and questions made by white skiers who likely didn’t realize the undertones of their words, made Oke and her peers feel as if they didn’t belong. Fortunately though, Oke is the embodiment of strength, so rather than decide that the mountain life simply wasn’t for her, she created a business called Mount Noire. Operating as a ski travel business, Mount Noire is looking to host all inclusive, luxury ski vacations specifically for black skiers. While the luxury angle of this business is a stark contrast from Henri Rivers’s idea of engaging the black community with ski opportunities, we would argue that it’s also a crucial step towards inclusion. The fact of the matter is, skiing is a luxury sport. To be able to ski, some amount of surplus income is required, and to act as though there isn’t a certain market for luxury of the ski community would demonstrate willful ignorance. So, the fact that Oke is developing a successful business that introduces black skiers to a luxury ski experience is actually a massive step towards inclusion as well. Looked at from a slightly different perspective, if there was no effort to include black skiers at the luxury level, the message would ultimately become “black skiers are welcome in our community, just not at the wealthier end of the spectrum.” Again, while it’s tempting to insert our own opinions on the matter, and perhaps we’ve already gone too far, we’d prefer to let these black voices within our community speak for themselves, to share their own authentic perspectives. As such, we’ll turn you over to CNN to learn more about this story. To learn more about Mount Noire, head over to their official website.