#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: A Slow Week for the U.S. Team:
Well, after last week’s exciting ski racing news, this week was a bit more subdued for both the men’s and women’s U.S. Teams. After a weekend in which numerous team members scored points in a series of races, last weekend presented just two Giant Slalom race opportunities for the women, and two Slalom race opportunities for the men. Unfortunately, across the four races, no podiums were landed. Instead, Mikaela Shiffrin offered the best results of the weekend, securing two 6th place finishes. Also earning points on the women’s side was Nina O’Brien who finished in 13th in both races. While that result may not seem overly impressive upon first glance, it is notable that 13th place represents O’Brien’s personal best in a Giant Slalom race, so the fact that she was able to earn that position twice in as many days is actually an incredibly encouraging sign of progress. On the men’s side, the men’s team was less fortunate as no U.S. athlete earned points in either race. Looking ahead, both the men’s and women’s team will aim to get back on track with two Downhill races and a Super G. For the men, those races will take place in Kitzbuehel, Austria, while the women will compete in Crans Montana, Switzerland. You can preview those events and check early results, right here.
Also worth mentioning from the world of ski racing this week, is that Lindsey Vonn will be joining the NBC broadcast team to cover the women’s races in Crans Montana. This will mark the first time Vonn’s joined a broadcasting team since retiring from the sport. While it’s obviously far too early to tell, if Vonn’s able to handle her duties well, it could be an exciting development for the sport as her inside knowledge could result in next level insights, while her name power could potentially bring more viewers to the sport. For more on this, check out the quick update from the Star Tribune.
#2: Tough Times Continue for French Ski Resorts, Tensions Between Countries Rise:
Next up this week is an update to a story that’s been ongoing all season long, and that we’ve checked in on a few times so far this season. That story, unfortunately, is the continued struggle of the ski industry in Europe. As you may or may not know, the story surrounding Euopean ski resort operations amidst the pandemic has been one centered around the theme of disagreement. Due to the nature of resorts in Europe, and how it’s not uncommon for one ski area to be accessible from multiple countries, there’s been a significant amount of conflict centered around each nation’s policies regarding ski resort operations. Some countries, such as Switzerland, are taking an American-esque approach in which the lifts remain open while Covid protocols are implemented in an effort to mitigate the spread of the illness. Other nations however, such as France in particular, are taking a much more hardlined stance on the matter and forcing lifts to remain closed entirely. That policy has been in place since early December, and was just extended again this week. Previously, French ski resorts had hoped to be able to reopen on February 1st, just in time for their busiest stretch of the year. Unfortunately for them, the nation’s Tourist Minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, announced this week that a February 1st reopening would not be happening, and that even a mid-late February reopening remained unlikely. These decisions, in essence, mean that the 2020-2021 ski season in France is in danger of becoming a full on no-go.
As we’ve pointed out countless times here on Chairlift Chat, the world depends on the cause and effect relationship to move forward. In this instance, the effect of France’s decision is most prevalently seen in ski resorts that share a border between France and Switzerland. That dynamic is examined in depth this week in an excellent article from the Washington Post. From that article, we learned of the surreal dynamic playing out where lift lines and crowds at Swiss ski resorts have become excessive, even for a time without a pandemic. On the flip side, the French side of these ski areas remain vacant, with chairlifts and groomers sitting idly to collect snow. In addition to the imbalance of congregating crowds, there’s also an underlying resentment amongst businesses being impacted by the decision. While retail shops, restaurants, and lodges are benefiting from the additional business in Switzerland (though, not without restrictions and regulations), those just over the border in France are being devastated by a lack of traffic. This is creating a situation where French businesses are essentially looking on as their counterparts weather the pandemic, while they feel as though they’re being left out to dry by their own government. All told, it’s an incredibly difficult time for the French ski industry, and while we’re not here to pass judgement, we are here to share the news. To learn more, check out this writeup from the Washington Post.
#3: Utah Governor "Leaning Towards" Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola Project:
Fortunately, highlight #2 is going to be the only “heavy” piece of ski news we share this week, as highlight #3 is an update to an exciting story that we first shared over the summer. At that time, formal discussions had begun in Salt Lake City, Utah, surrounding possible solutions to ease congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon. While this mountain pass has become more problematic in regards to traffic over the course of several years, the growth of popularity in multi-passes has pushed the issue to a breaking point requiring swift resolution. In our initial reports, a handful of different ideas were floated, including a widening of the road, an increase of public transportation, and most excitingly, a gondola.
The last time we checked in on this story was back in July, when a private landowner who owns development property at the base of the canyon agreed to work with the state’s transportation department to reserve a parcel of land to be used as the base area for the gondola. At the time, that was a huge step forward as the availability of a large enough parking area was something of an Achilles heel for the idea. Since that announcement back in July, things have been relatively quiet on this front, until this week when we learned via Utah’s Deseret News that state governor Spencer Cox is “leaning towards” the gondola plan. Now, that’s not at all to say that this means the gondola project is absolutely happening, but it’s an encouraging sign for those who are excited by the idea of taking a gondola from the base of the canyon to either Alta or Snowbird. In addition to that small, yet significant update, the article from Deseret News takes a deep dive into the issue, exploring the other options as well as the steps that lay ahead for any potential decision. If this is an issue you feel invested in, we’d highly recommend giving the article a read in order to stay current on the topic. You can do so right here.
#4: Freeride World Tour Announces Latest Competition Plan, With First Event Less Than 30 Days Away:
Finally, we end this week’s highlight reel with an update from the Freeride World Tour, as event organizers made an effort this week to bring us up to speed on their latest plan for this year’s series. If you’ll recall, back in October, the Freeride World Tour announced that they’d be handling this tour in much the same way as previous years, and the news at the time was centered primarily around some exciting adjustments to the competition format that was expected to push riders even further at each stop. You can read the full details of that format in our update from October 9th, but the long and short of it is that organizers had originally planned to shift the qualifier cutoff from after the 4th event to after the 3rd event, and to give athletes two runs at Fieberbrunn, which was scheduled as the 4th stop. Unfortunately, about a month later, organizers announced that they would have to cancel the Hakuba and Kicking Horse stops, instead hosting the entire series in Europe. At that point, the tour was scheduled to go on with three definite events, with the hope that organizers could secure an additional two venues in order to keep the format scheduled as planned.
This week, with the first event scheduled to take place in Ordino-Arcalís Andorra during the week of February 20-26th, we received some more details regarding both adjustments to the format, as well as potential schedule changes. First, let’s talk scheduling. At the moment, there are three confirmed FWT events: Ordino-Arcalís, Andorra, Fieberbrunn, Austria, and Verbier, Switzerland. That said, organizers are continuing to work on securing a 4th and 5th location to add to the schedule. Keeping that in mind, the format for the competition remains fluid as the qualification cutoff and potential for hosting a 2-run event remain on the table, but uncertain. You can see the official details of these updates on the Freeride World Tour website, but essentially what they’re doing is playing the cutoff by ear. If the schedule remains three events long, the cutoff will be after the second. If they find a 4th location, it will be after the 3rd, and if they’re able to secure a 5th location, then the cutoff will remain after the 3rd and the finals will consist of two venues, as originally planned. In addition to the qualification cutoff adjustment, it’s also worth noting that Verbier’s point system will remain the most valuable, as scores from that run will receive a 1.5x multiplier, which could be a significant difference maker if it remains the qualifier cutoff event. At any rate, even with the uncertainty surrounding the final format of the event, we’re incredibly excited to know that despite the craziness within the world, we’ll still get to witness some incredible skiing, courtesy of the 2021 Freeride World Tour. For more on this, check in with their latest post.