#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: A Lackluster Week for the U.S. Ski Team:
Well, it’s been a back and forth type of year for both the men’s and women’s U.S. Ski Teams, and unfortunately this week fell decidedly into the “back” category. After what was a solid showing for the women’s division last week, with Breezy Johnson securing a 3rd and 5th place finish, and Mikaela Shiffrin earning a 4th, this week things were much more subdued. In part that was due to the schedule, which saw just a pair of Super G races, arguably a weak spot in the U.S. Women’s team’s talent coverage. Still, the weekend wasn’t a total wash as a number of team members managed to earn points across the two races. That list includes, and is limited to, Breezy Johnson, who earned a 34th and 20th place finish, Isabella Wright who finished in 29th and 27th, AJ Hurt who finished in 39th and 30th, Jacqueline Wiles with a 41st and 33rd place finish, and Laurenne Ross, who placed 36th in the second of the two races. Unfortunately, the women’s team will have to sit with these results for quite a while, as their next races aren’t scheduled until February 24th-28th.
For the men’s team, the week was just as rough, if not rougher. Also having just two races in which to prove themselves, both of which were Slaloms, the men’s team nearly came up empty handed. Fortunately, U.S. Team member Luke Winters finished in a respectable 19th place in the second chance race. Looking ahead, the men’s team is already in Garmisch, Germany, where they’ll compete in a Downhill and Super G race. To review last week’s results and to see what lies ahead, check in with the official FIS website.
#2: Time Magazine Highlights Jackson Hole in a Covid-Ski Season Case Study:
Next up this week is our regrettably regular Covid-19 coverage. As we’re all aware, the impact of the global pandemic is inescapable, regardless of who you are, where you live, or what sport interests you. As such, we continue our coverage of how the virus continues to affect skiing. This week, we came across a great article from Time Magazine that takes a closer look at some of the dynamics playing out in Jackson Hole, America’s wealthiest ski town. More specifically, the article focuses on the wealth gap between locals who primarily work in the service industry, and second home owners or frequent vacationers who are often some of the wealthiest people in America. In fact, Teton County, home to Jackson Hole, is also home to the largest income gap in America, with the top 1% making 150x the income of the other 99%. Still, despite this disproportionate wealth imbalance, a certain type of harmony exists in the region as those who aren’t ultra-wealthy are able to earn a living with the revenue brought into their community. This year, however, the additional factors presented by Covid have brought this delicate balance further into question than ever before.
The primary issue caused by this dynamic this season, as you might guess, is the economic necessity of operating both the resorts and its supporting businesses, while also balancing the health concerns of welcoming tourism into the area. There’s no doubt that the constant travel to the area is having an impact on cases- the area’s highest number of cases came just after the holiday season. What’s peculiar though, is that the hospital in the area, which could be easily overrun in the event of an outbreak, has remained at below 50% capacity, with no patients currently requiring a ventilator to combat the illness. That stat has led at least one area expert to speculate that guests who catch Covid are returning home for treatment. Noting the dangerous outcome seen last March in Ischgl, Austria, this “Covid hub” has the feeling of a dangerous game. Still, despite the dangers, it seems as though locals prefer to take the risk of exposure over the alternate option which would require the closure of businesses and the loss of their livelihood. As is typically the case with stories like this, there’s a ton of great information and anecdotes packed into the piece, so we’d highly recommend giving it a proper read. You can do so right here, on the Times Magazine website.
#3: It's Been a Brutal Week for Avalanche Deaths. Please, Be Careful Out There:
Moving along this week, we unfortunately feel compelled to share news related to an issue we’ve been concerned about since the fall: an increase in avalanche deaths. While we’ve been championing the sport of Alpine Touring as an excellent alternative to the resort experience this season, we’ve also been pushing words of caution as the sport itself is inherently more dangerous than in-bounds skiing due to the unpredictable forces of nature. As such, anyone who ventures into either the backcountry or side country where avalanche risk exists should be well equipped with safety gear, and well versed in how to use it. Even still, with that knowledge, back and sidecountry skiers and snowboarders should practice extreme caution and awareness when traveling in any zone that has the potential to slide. We mention all of this, because it’s been an absolutely tragic week in regards to avalanche deaths.
While we don’t want to dwell on any particular incident, and we certainly don’t want to pass any judgement regarding anyone who was involved in these incidents, whether they survived or not, we do feel it’s important to share a few stories from this week regarding them. The first of these avalanche accidents occurred last Saturday, just outside of the Park City boundaries in a sidecountry zone known as, “Square Top.” There, a man who was well equipped with safety gear, as well as a knowledgeable partner, was caught in an avalanche. Unfortunately by the time his partner was able to locate him, it was too late. Just two days later, tragedy struck again, this time in southwestern Colorado. There, seven backcountry skiers descended a remote peak. Four were caught in an avalanche, with three ultimately losing their lives in the accident. Finally, for those who feel as though the East Coast is a safe haven, it was reported just two days ago that another skier has unfortunately died in an avalanche on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. News from this particular incident is still sparse, but it sounds as though the avalanche victim was knowledgeable and prepared with safety equipment, but without a partner to attempt a rescue at the time of his burial.
These stories and conversations are incredibly difficult, there’s no doubt about it. Again, we’re not here to pass any judgement regarding any of these incidents, and won’t comment about anything related to preparedness. Instead, we’ll urge you to keep them in the back of your mind if you intend to go on any type of backcountry expedition. Please keep safety in mind at all times, and don’t be afraid to pull back if the conditions feel unsafe. If your gut tells you for even half a second that what you’re about to ski could slide, take that instinct seriously. Even if you miss what appears to be the line of your life, turning back and returning another day is absolutely the right move. To learn more about avalanche safety, we’ll turn you over to the official American Avalanche Association website.
#4: 2021 X-Games Recap: Eileen Gu Makes History, Judges Make Mistakes:
Finally, on any other week we would’ve shared this highlight second to stick with our competition theme, but given the weight of highlights #2 & #3 this week, we decided it would be better to hold off on the more lighthearted news. So, with that said, let’s hit reset and take a look at some of last week’s X-Games action!
As we previously reported, the X-Games had a bit of a different vibe this year as the impact of Covid forced the games to not only eliminate crowds, but also reduce their event program to just include ski and snowboard events. As such, there were a total of seven ski events: men’s and women’s Big Air, Slopestyle, and Superpipe, as well as a Men’s Knuckle Huck. Now, there’s a lot to get into in regards to the results of these events, so rather than touch on each individual one, we’ll simply send you over to the X-Games result page where you can explore further. We will however, give a quick shout out to Eileen Gu, who made her X-Games debut in a big way, taking home a medal in each event, including a bronze in the Big Air, and gold medals in both Superpipe and Slopestyle. Regular readers may recall that we shared a summer edit of Eileen skiing at Mt. Hood, saying simply that she was, “Quite good at skiing.” At the time, we were unfamiliar with her. Now, after a historic X-Games debut, it feels safe to say that the world will soon know her name. Just remember folks, you heard it here first.
Now, let’s circle back and talk about some of these results. First and foremost, congratulations to all competitors, and those who landed on the podium in particular. That said, there’s been a considerable amount of grumbling within the ski community in the wake of the games, as many found the judging hard to digest. This sentiment really began after Saturday night’s Ski Big Air event. While judging is normally a very subjective thing, where judges are forced to put a number on a trick based on what they saw, there is room for some certainty when it comes to comparing tricks. In this particular event, a perfect example of inconsistent scoring can be seen in the case of Henrik Harlaut, who landed both a forward double cork 1620 with a safety grab, and a switch double cork 1800, also with a safety grab. Between these two tricks, that latter is objectively more difficult as the takeoff is backwards and it features an additional half rotation. Despite that fact, the judges ultimately scored Henrik’s 1620 a full 4 points higher. Upset by the inconsistency and his ultimate 6th place finish, Henrik sat out the Slopestyle competition the next day, saying he felt “uninspired.” While some may be quick to suggest that Harluat was simply being a poor sport, it’s important to remember that not only is Henrik one of the most enthusiastic skiers in the competition circuit, but his coach also agreed with the decision.
Ultimately, the drama that began Saturday night would continue into Sunday. After electing to skip the Slopestyle event, Harlaut rejoined his X-Games competitors for the Knuckle Huck on Sunday night. In what anyone watching would consider a loosely scored event (there was, in fact, no scoring, just a sole winner announced at the end of the event), Henrik ultimately took home the gold medal in what many considered an apologetic decision. It would seem to many that even Henrik didn’t fully appreciate the win, as he could be seen congratulating Jesper Tjader after the announcement, the competitor that many expected to win. At the moment, it’s yet to be determined whether or not this year’s inconsistent scoring will impact the judging of next year’s events, but if the community on Newschoolers has anything to say about it, a change is most definitely going to come. For more information regarding last weekend’s X-Games, check out their official website.