Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays
Top Five Fridays: February 3, 2023
Lead Image: Henrik Harlaut hucks a knuckle at this year’s X Games Knuckle Huck event. Image: X Games on Facebook
#1: The FIS World Tour Continues, With More Shiffrin Medals Ahead of the World Championships:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the February 3, 2023 edition! Following last week’s competition preview, we’re back again with another issue that’s heavy on competitive news as we have a ton of events to recap. In addition to our regular FIS World Cup coverage, we also have X Games results, as well as two Freeride World Tour events to cover. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
Compared to two weeks ago, last week was a relatively light schedule for both the men’s and women’s circuits, with just two races apiece. For the women’s circuit, that meant two slalom races in Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic. Heading into that stretch, Mikaela Shiffrin had 84 World Cup wins and the potential to tie Ingemar Stenmark’s all time record of 86 World Cup victories. Shiffrin’s week got off to a strong start in pursuit of that goal, with a victory in the first of the two slalom races. With that finish, Shiffrin’s tally climbed to 85. Then, in the second slalom race, with the opportunity to tie the record on the line, Shiffrin came up just short, finishing .06 seconds behind Lenna Duerr in first place. While it certainly would’ve been nice for Shifrrin to tie Stenmark’s record last week, it remains only a matter of time before she surpasses it. Before switching to the men’s recap, we want to be sure to applaud Paula Moltzan, who is also having an incredible season. In last week’s races, Moltzan finished in 5th and 8th place, continuing a streak of strong slalom finishes. As a result, Moltzan now finds herself in 6th place in the overall points for slalom. Despite being overshadowed by Shiffrin’s historic season, Moltzan has been skiing incredibly well and we look forward to her continued success.
On the men’s side of things, two super g races in Cortina yielded few results for Team America. In the first of the two races, Ryan Cochran-Siegle earned a 21st place finish, followed by River Radamus in 27th. The next day, it was Kyle Negomir and Bryce Bennett representing the U.S., with a 28th and 29th place finish. This week, the men’s circuit will have one last chance to earn FIS points at a slalom event in Chamonix, France, before heading to the World Championships in Courchevel Meribel, France.
Speaking of which, that’s the preview for the next couple of weeks: it’s World Championships time. This event, which more or less mirrors the Olympics schedule, features a slalom, giant slalom, super g, downhill, alpine combined, and parallel slalom event for both men and women’s divisions. While these events don’t count towards World Cup standings, or Shiffrin’s gold medal record chasing for that matter, they’re one of the most highly anticipated events on a global scale each year, and one that athletes certainly have highlighted on their calendars. So, while the FIS World Cup side of the sport will take a brief hiatus for two weeks, the action will continue with the World Championships. You can preview those events here.
#2: The Results Are in as the X Games Makes its First Appearance Under New Ownership:
Next up in competitive ski news this week is a recap of the X Games. As you likely know, last weekend was the first time an X Games event had been hosted by a company other than ESPN, having been sold to MSP Sports Capital in the Fall of 2022. Along with that change came a number of questions regarding how the presentation might differ. We’ll get to that in a second, but first, let’s get into some highlights from the event.
Now, to be clear, there’s more results from this event than we have the space to thoroughly breakdown, so in lieu of a full detailed recap, we’ll suggest heading over to Newschoolers.com to check out their event coverage. Instead, we’ll simply share some of the highlights from the world of freeskiing as the X Games continued to be a venue where firsts happen. On that note, we want to start by sending a huge congratulations out to Megan Oldham who had arguably the best moment of the entire weekend in the women’s big air event, stomping the first ever triple by a female in competition, with her triple 14, complete with a high mute grab and perfect landing. That trick was rightfully rewarded with a perfect score of 50. What makes this accomplishment even more interesting is Oldham’s strategy for the event. In her first two runs, she went for the trick and washed out on the landing. Heading into her 3rd run, she was in last place. Then, after her perfect execution and score of 50, she suddenly found herself in a solid position to win the event, which she ultimately did with her 4th run, a right side double 12 which earned her 41 points. All in all, it was a strong showing and historic moment from Megan Oldham.
While there were countless highlights from the weekend, the other standout for us was the men’s big air event, which featured so many flips and rotations that we’d need multiple calculators to figure out the cumulative degree of spins across all athletes and runs. Again, while there were a number of highlights, the one that stole the show came about in Mac Forehand’s fifth and final run. Having taken home second place in last year’s event Forehand was determined to bring home the gold this year. To do so, Forehand decided to throw the first ever forward double 2160, holding a perfect cuban grab the entire way, and stomping the landing. As a result, Forehand also earned himself a perfect score of 50 points, catapulting himself into first place, just in the nick of time. Despite Forehand stealing the show, it’s worth mentioning that numerous other athletes put down jaw dropping performances. From quad attempts and nose butter 19’s, to a switch 19 bring back, this year’s big air event was by far the most impressive display of freeskiing to date.
On a closing note, we feel compelled to briefly touch on the presentation of this year’s event. For the most part, the consensus is that it feels like the new ownership got a lot of things right with this event. There were less issues with judging, the venues and features were all up to snuff, and in general the production value was there. Of course there were some hiccoughs, like Yung Gravy’s musical performance being all over the map from a censorship and audio quality standpoint, or the fact that “Stoney McBlaze” was a guest on the YouTube broadcast, something that angered many who felt as though including a Cheech and Chong inspired character perpetuated the stoner stereotype within action sports, setting perception of the athletes back at least 15 years. Still, while there were some growing pains, the overall feeling around the event itself is that it was a success. From here, fans of the sport are hoping that MSP Capital focuses on the athletes and their stories more than “gen-z theatrics,” but all things considered, the first iteration under their guidance went smoothly. To learn more about this year’s events, check out the X Games website, the X Games YouTube channel, or the news recaps on Newschoolers.com.
#3: The Freeride World Tour Gets Off to a Heated Start, With Two Events in One Week:
Finally, for our third competitive highlight this week, we’re bringing you updates from the Freeride World Tour! After a delayed start to the season, the Freeride World Tour got off in a big way this week with not one, but two events being held in rapid succession. There’s obviously a ton to cover here, and much like the X Games, we won’t be able to do the action justice, but we’ll do our best to cover highlights from both stops.
First up on the tour this season was a stop in Baqueira Beret, Spain, for one of the more playful venues on the tour. When we previewed the FWT last week, some of the questions we were pondering revolved around a possible changing of the guard, with last year’s rookies making big statements and more promising talent on the way. As it turns out, that’s very much what seems to be happening as first or second year athletes nearly swept both the men’s and women’s podiums. On the women’s side, rookie athletes Addison Rafford and Molly Armanino took home first and second place, followed by second year athlete Sybille Blanjean. For Addison and Sybille, the name of the game was to put down smooth, solid runs with excellent technique and fluidity, while throwing a couple of stylish airs in the mix. Molly, on the other hand, appears to be following a more exciting, yet higher risk, formula, as she opted to ski the line of the day for the women’s field, although nearly lost it coming out of the chute. That resulted in a reduction in control points, but a higher line score, ultimately giving her the points needed for her silver medal. On the men’s side, second year athlete Max Palm took home gold, followed by rookie Oscar Mandin in second, and veteran athlete Carl Regnér Eriksson in third. For each of these podium athletes, massive, risky airs were part of the strategy, with Max Palm kicking his run off with a 360 over significant exposure that set him straight down a couloir upon landing. Eriksson, for his part, launched a massive flatspin 7 off a windlip to highlight his run. This freestyle sensibility, combined with technical skiing, appears to be the direction the Freeride World Tour is heading, and while those who’ve followed the sport for years may prefer otherwise, we have to admit, it does make for an incredible viewing experience. Finally, on the subject of changing the guard, we’re compelled to mention that FWT legend Aymar Navarro announced that Baqueira Beret would be his last event. While his Freeride World Tour career may be over, he promises he’ll continue skiing and releasing hair raising content.
Moving onto the second Freeride World Tour event this week, athletes had just four days to relocate, rest, and reset before competing once again, this time in Ordino Arcalís, Italy. Here, the newcomer wave continued to make its presence known, although tour veterans made a stronger push for themselves. On the women’s side, rookie Justine Dufour-Lapointe took home first, followed by Molly Armanino in second place again, with tour veteran Elisabeth Gerritzen in third. Much like the first stop, the strategy for the first and third place finishers was to present strong, fluid skiing with a number of airs sprinkled in. Again, Armanino played the role of wildcard, finding a line that no other female competitor skied, while hitting it with the type of speed that kept her on the edge of disaster. Holding it together however, Armanino scored her second second place finish and is now the overall leader. If you’re wondering who to watch in the women’s field this year, keep an eye on Molly. Her brand of skiing is exhilarating.
On the men’s side of Ordino Arcalís, the freestyle influence continued. Taking home first place was Valentin Rainer in just his third FWT event ever. In his run, Rainer sent multiple big airs, backflips, and 360’s, all of which were linked by smooth, strong skiing. Following his lead in second place was Ross Tester, whose run could be summed up by simply saying, “fast and big.” While we can’t confirm this, we suspect Ross had the top speed of the day as he made some massive GS turns down the fall line following a massive backflip. From there, he scattered in numerous hits and 360’s ultimately putting together one of the longest and most enjoyable runs of the day. Finally, in third place was last year’s champion, Maxime Chabloz, who put down the most freestyle inclined podium run of the day, with a massive step up gap, cork 7 off a cornice, and double backflip off a windlip. Had it not been for a back seat landing to start his run, Chabloz likely would’ve claimed the gold medal at this event. While these top three runs were certainly deserving, it’s also worth mentioning that a number of athletes fell on their otherwise promising runs. Finally, rounding out this recap, we also want to give a huge shout out to Finn Bilous who had the most freeskiing inspired FWT run we’ve possibly ever seen. Not only did Bilous sneak a quick nose butter 360 into his run, but he also aired a 180 safety to switch, stayed switch, carved, and then floated a switch 180 off a cliff. While the FWT has been trending in a freeskiing direction, seeing an athlete ski switch for a considerable distance before popping a switch 180 off a cliff is an entirely different story. For his efforts, Bilous was rewarded with a 5th place score. Looking ahead, the Freeride World Tour’s next stop will be in Kicking Horse, British Columbia sometime between February 17-22. With the way this Tour’s started, we recommend circling those dates on your calendar as you won’t want to miss this.
#4: As Tourists Flock to Japan in Search of Powder, Local Participation is Plummeting:
Finally, we end this week’s news on a non-competitive topic: skiing in Japan. As we’re sure you know by now, Japan has become something of a mecca for those who call themselves diehard powder skiers. With friendly terrain and seemingly endless snow, Japan’s slopes are something of a siren call for skiers across the globe. Back at the end of 2022, we shared an article from the New York Times that gave us some perspective on just how desirable ski trips to Japan have become.
This week, we’re back with a story that shares a different angle regarding skiing in Japan: the growing divide in the Japanese ski market between tourists and local skiers and snowboarders. In the story from the Washington Post, we learn that while ski tourism is absolutely booming in post-covid Japan, participation amongst citizens of the country is doing just the opposite. According to the report, participation in skiing and snowboarding peaked in Japan in 1998, coinciding with the country hosting the Winter Olympics in Nagano. At that time, there were 18 million skiers and riders, good for about 14% of the nation’s population. Now, despite the surge in powder tourism, that number has dropped more than 75%, with just 4.3 million skiers and snowboarders, or about 3% of the population. The reason for this shift, as you might guess, is both complicated and predictable.
In essence, there are three issues causing the decline in interest: high costs, decreasing accessibility, and an aging population. While Japan has avoided most of the snow drought that’s plagued much of the world this season, it hasn’t been immune to it. In the more southern regions, smaller resorts are facing the same issues that smaller ski hills across the world are facing. With less snow comes a shorter season, forcing the resort to make more money in less time. As a result, they’ve had to increase prices, resort to crowdfunding, or in some cases, simply close altogether. With feeder hills in Japan becoming less accessible, the proverbial pipeline is tightening, with less new participants exploring the sports. At the same time, Japan’s population is aging, meaning that not only are younger skiers being priced out of participating, but the population of those who were skiing and snowboarding in 1998 is also slowly declining. Compounding the issue is the fact that larger resorts that host international powder hunters are pumping money into facility upgrades to keep up with tourist expectations. As a result, the costs of skiing and riding at some of Japan’s best resorts is also rising, creating further barriers to entry for new skiers. Ultimately, what we’re left with, is a nation that offers some of the best skiing and riding in the world, but whose citizens are either uninterested or unable to participate. Still, there is reason to think this trend might reverse: Sapporo is considering a 2030 Winter Olympic bid, and as we’ve seen in both Japan and China, when the Winter Olympics come to town, national interest and participation in snowsports tends to rise. For more on this story, check out the writeup from the Washington Post.
2 thoughts on “Top Five Fridays: February 3, 2023”
Clarification from the horse's mouth: 1. I started my technique at age 18 because I wasn't going to be a racer (blind left eye, no depth perception) 2. Credit should go to an instructor form Hunter Mountain I watched while riding the single. 3. I slowly developed the ability to turn almost effortlessly because I started - control swinging of my shoulders, which always kept my poles ready for use and synchronized. Never double pole. Swiveling on top of a mogul is best done with feet together. Go slow, skiing's joy is not in how fast you can go - but in how ssslllooowww you go!
more thoughts re the charlie technique - I always use a sleeve brace on both knees, practice on top of a small mogul, semi lock your legs together and swivel R shoulder to left and then L shoulder to right, then back and forth .Do not use this technique on ice ,wet or soft snow (can put a lot of stress on the knee) or in powder. Can practice easily on flat, gentle, groomed trails like wedelning turns, but just swinging shoulders. Legs, feet, and ski direction will follow. Always remember - go slow and enjoy waltzing - no jitter-bugging and no pounding the moguls.