#1: FIS Recap: Newcomer Alix Wilkinson Had Potentially the Best Week of Her Life (So Far):
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the February 4, 2022 edition! This week is our pre-Olympic special, as the opening ceremonies occurred just hours ago, officially kicking off the 2022 Winter Olympics. With the Games kicking off so recently, there isn’t a whole lot of actual Olympic news yet, so we’ll take some time this week to share a handful of articles sharing interesting previews and perspectives ahead of all the main events. Before we get into that though, we do have just a small amount of FIS World Cup ski racing to recap, as the women competed in a pair of races before heading off to Beijing.
Earlier this week, the women’s side of the circuit met in Garmisch, Germany for a Downhill and a Super-G race. If you follow the U.S. Ski Team, you likely know that neither of these are particularly strong suits for the women’s team, and with Breezy Johnson currently resting a recently banged up knee, the showing for Team America was relatively light. Still, it wasn’t without any athletes earning points. In fact, in Saturday’s Downhill race, Jacqueline Wiles earned a 21st place finish and Alix Wilkinson finished in 24th. Also of note was Keely Cashman’s result, as she finished in 31st, missing the points by just .27 seconds. In other positive news for Alix Wilkinson, her recent successes have resulted in her being a last minute addition to the U.S. Olympic team, subbing in as an alternate for Breezy Johnson who recently made the tough decision to sit this one out as a result of the aforementioned knee injury.
On that note, looking ahead, the story for both the men’s and women’s team for the next two weeks is the Winter Olympics. While the events at these games aren’t FIS sanctioned events and therefore don’t result in any FIS points, they’re still massive career events and you can be sure that every athlete will be pushing themself just as hard, if not harder, than they would be in any FIS World Cup race. We’ll preview the upcoming games a bit more in highlight #3 this week, but if you’re eager to get a sneak peak, you can check the competition calendar here. Finally, we wish both the U.S. Men’s and Women’s teams the best of luck in the week’s ahead! We’ll be sure to keep you updated here on Top Five Fridays, likely reserving this top highlight slot for Olympic result news.
#2: Freeride World Tour Stop #2: Things Got Rowdy Once Again in Ordino Arcalis:
In other competitive ski news this week, we’re back with our second Freeride World Tour recap. Despite being located at a resort that’s familiar to the tour, this year’s event venue at Ordino Arcalís, Andorra was brand new to the tour, and actually the sixth event location that the resort has hosted. As such, it was also the second straight venue in which no riders had prior competition experience. It’s hard to know whether or not this has had a negative impact on the proverbial veteran advantage, but we can say with certainty that rookie athletes have now taken the top spot two weeks in a row in the men’s ski division. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Before we dive into a recap of results, let’s discuss this new venue and athlete strategies. On the day of the event, the sun beat down on the venue, causing there to be some concerns regarding the snow being too sticky for a proper competition. Fortunately while the snow did seem a bit heavy, it didn’t prevent the athletes from showing out. With those conditions in mind, three themes emerged throughout both the men’s and women’s ski competitions: strong, strategic lines in an effort to make the cut for the final two events of the season, massive massive airs to impress the judges, and runs with incredible potential that ultimately ended in a crash instead.
With the stage set, let’s take a look at how the event played out. On the men’s side, all three podium finishers combined really strong line choices with massive airs and a number of 360’s and/or backflips. At the end of the day, it was FWT Rookie Maxime Chabloz who took home the well deserved gold medal after absolutely stomping a run that consisted of two 360’s, the second of which was absolutely massive, as well as an XL size backflip and easily the largest hit of the day with his step up transfer. After placing 5th in the first stop of the tour, this week’s result all but guarantees Chabloz will make the cut to finals. Joining him on the podium were Americans Ross Tester and Andrew Pollard in 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Again, both of these athletes also put down strong runs featuring multiple stomped airs, 360’s, and backflips.
Finally, while he just missed the podium, Aymar Navarro’s run is also worth discussing, if only because he’s the perfect example of a veteran athlete taking a strategic approach to the tour. As you might recall, at the first stop of the tour, Navarro sent an absolutely insane line that certainly would’ve competed for a podium result, had he skied it successfully. Instead, he had a highlight reel crash and earned 0 points. While we don’t know for sure, we suspect that Aymar was open to taking the risk at the first stop as the best possible outcome would’ve given him an incredible advantage towards making the cut, while the worst outcome would still give him two additional chances to earn points towards qualifying. With that in mind, Navarro scaled his insanity back at this stop of the tour, and instead put down a run that was both well within his capabilities and impressive enough to earn a 4th place result. While he may have missed the podium, his approach to the Freeride World Tour is highly impressive.
On the women’s side of things, the story was similar as athletes selected lines that showed off their skiing abilities, but didn’t take any exceptional risks, ensuring that they’d walk away with at least some points. At the end of the day. Jess Hotter redeemed herself after finishing in 10th at the first stop, coming in 1st place after putting down a run that showcased excellent skiing and line choice, combined with two massive cliff drops. In second place was 5 year FWT veteran Elizabeth Gerritzen whose run showcased exceptional flow, confidence, and skill, and was capped off by a massive air at the bottom of the face. Again, while Gerritzen didn’t elect to push the limits of her comfort zone, her strategic approach to the face, smart line choice, and confident skiing were enough to bring her the silver medal.
Maybe our favorite run of the day came from third place finisher Lily Bradley. While she didn’t take home either of the top two spots, Lily caught our eye in the first stop as her approach to skiing oozes with style. At that stop, she made one small error in her run that disrupted her flow, resulting in a 7th place finish. Unhappy with her performance, she reportedly went back to the venue the day after to reski her line in a way that she was pleased with. That type of perfectionism and drive, combined with her naturally flowy approach to the mountain, showed up in a big way at the second stop as her run showcased an impressive level of control and style. While some of her hits weren’t quite as large as her competitors, a 3rd place finish in her second stop, at just 19 years old, has Lily as an athlete we’ll watch for at the stops and seasons ahead. On that note, we’ll turn you over to the Freeride World Tour website, where you can review last week’s results as well as preview the upcoming stop at Kicking Horse, currently scheduled to go down in just over 7 days. You can find out all you need to know about the Freeride World Tour, right here.
#3: With the Winter Olympics Underway, We’ve Got an Ultra-Rare, Quadrennial Sort of Preview::
Next up this week is a highlight that makes us downright giddy. With the opening ceremonies having just taken place earlier today, the 2022 Winter Olympic games are officially underway! Now, we acknowledge that some wish these games weren’t being held at all as a result of China’s arguably abhorrent human rights record, but, they are, and that’s out of our hands. So, rather than get into that, we’re going to focus strictly on the sports side of the games. To do that, we’ll start by sharing the official schedule of events so you can keep an eye out for all of your favorite events. For fans of Alpine Skiing, the calendar is incredible as there are medaling races on eleven of the next fifteen days. For Freestyle Skiing fans, the calendar is just as exciting as medals will be earned on all but three of the next fifteen days. To get a preview of those events, as well as every other competition being held, click here.
In addition to the calendar of events, we also have three excellent articles offering Olympic preview coverage. At the top of that list for us is a post from SkiRacing.com sharing photos of the National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing, where the Alpine Racing events are set to be held. A few weeks back, we discussed the unusual circumstances that have resulted in this being the least familiar, least tested Alpine Skiing venue in Olympic history. While a number of concerns from that article remain as the courses have yet to be thoroughly tested, we have to admit these early images are pretty incredible. The one we’ve used as the accompanying thumbnail for this highlight in particular has a certain hair raising effect. To check out the other shots that preview this new venue, click here.
The final two articles we’d like to share in this highlight take closer looks at the athletes involved. One of those two articles is a Washington Post piece highlighting one Ailing Gu. In case you’re unfamiliar with Gu, her story is equal parts intriguing, admirable, and polarizing. At just 18 years old, the American born Gu has taken the world of freeskiing by storm, being a shoe-in for the silver or gold medal in nearly every competition she enters. She’s also an international model, holding contracts with two of the largest high fashion brands in the world: Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton. And yet that’s not all. On top of these accolades, Gu is also set to enroll in the prestigious Stanford University. This would all be incredible news for the U.S. Ski Team, and would make her one of the most marketable athletes on the team… if she didn’t elect to ski for her mother’s native country of China instead. In making that decision, Gu has put herself on a sort of high-risk, high-reward tightrope as she navigates wildly lucrative endorsement deals from Chinese corporations alongside criticisms for choosing to ski for China rather than her own home country. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, the article from Washington Post is an illuminating look into Gu’s highly unique world.
Finally, the fourth Olympic preview we’re compelled to bring you this week is an incredible piece from the New York Times that highlights the relationship that world class athletes have with fear, and in particular the fear of injury. Through a number of videos and athlete highlights, we get to learn more about how these top-tier athletes handle fear and injury through their own words and experiences. As is always the case when the NYT puts a piece like this together, the best way to consume it is directly on their website, and not a wordy recap here on Top Five Fridays. As such, we suggest giving this link a click.
#4: The Story of Vermont’s Mount Ascutney’s Resurgence is Yet Another Sign That the Soul of Skiing Lives On:
Finally, we round out this week with another article from the New York Times that’s the perfect opportunity to share some decidedly non-competitive news. Earlier this Fall, back in November, we shared an article written by author David Goodman for the same publication that highlighted the wonders of Maine’s 100 mile hut-to-hut trail. This week, Goodman’s back again with another look at the growing niche of human-powered and community skiing, this time focusing on the story of Ascutney Mountain, a mid-sized ski resort here in Vermont. It’s a story we’ve actually touched on a couple of times over the years, including when they first shifted to their current model. Still, that coverage was way back in 2015, so allow us to quickly recap the story there.
After years of mismanagement and spotty snowfall, Ascutney Mountain closed in 2010. When it did, it put the small community it calls home in peril of vanishing. Then, five years later, in 2015, a non-profit made up of local community members called Ascutney Outdoors purchased the mountain and has since turned it into a unique community ski center, offering a nearly 500’ vertical rope tow to accommodate intermediate skiers and families, and another 1,300’ of vert above it for those willing to skin for it. In other words, it’s a unique model that somehow manages to accommodate everyone from first time skiers to avid backcountry skiers in search of technical terrain.
In Goodman’s article, we’re treated to all of the details and imagery we could ever ask for as he takes us through his experience visiting the resort, while simultaneously weaving in and out of the larger story surrounding the local community. From anecdotes about just how bad things got back in the early 2000’s, to how successful the resurgence has been, Goodman’s coverage of Ascutney inspires confidence and hope for those who share concerns over the future of the soul of skiing. The fascinating aspect of all of this to us, is how a return to the roots of skiing and mountain patronage- using human power to access the mountain as it is, with little impact - has shown its ability to revitalize rural communities. It’s the theme that this entire story is based off of, and one that other Vermont communities such as Rochester and Burke also know quite well. While there’s certainly a place, and even a need, for large ski resorts, it’s somehow comforting to know that there’s a small but surging movement behind low-frills local resorts as well. Again, as is always the case when we come across a Goodman piece, we don’t want to do it a disservice by overexplaining an incredibly well written piece, so instead we suggest giving it a read in full to get all the details. You can do so right here.