Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays
Top Five Fridays: January 27, 2023
Lead Image: What makes Mikeala Shiffrin a legendary athlete? Many things, to be sure, amongst which has to be her dynamic mentality that allows her to find moments of peace and introspection, even after accomplishing the most impressive feat of her career thus far. Image: Mikaela Shiffrin on Facebook
#1: FIS Update: There’s a New Record Holder in Town as Shiffrin Strikes Gold (Twice). Meanwhile, the Men Showed Off Their Speed:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the January 27, 2023 edition! This week’s issue is heavy on the competitive news as we have a number of FIS results to discuss, followed by previews of the upcoming X Games and the first stop of the Freeride World Tour, both of which are scheduled for this weekend. To get things underway, let’s start with the biggest name in skiing right now: Mikaela Shiffrin.
At this time last week, we found ourselves on the edge of our seats yet again as Shiffrin was sitting even with Lindsey Vonn’s record of 82 World Cup Wins, the most ever in the women’s division. With a slew of races on the schedule, it was everyone’s hope that this week would be the one in which Shiffrin finally took sole ownership of the record. Getting last week’s races underway, Cortina d’ Ampezzo, Italy played host to two downhill races and a super g. While speed races aren’t Mikaela’s specialty, she’s still highly competitive and fully capable of winning any event. With early reports of Shiffrin skiing well in training runs, we held our breaths as we wondered if Shiffrin would break the record in a speed race. The first of those chances came last Friday, in a downhill race, where Shiffin skied her way into a 4th place finish, just missing the podium. Also skiing well for the women’s team were Breezy Johnson and Isabella Wright, who took home 9th and 11th places respectively, putting three U.S. women in the top 15, and almost in the top 10. A day later, in the second downhill race, the same three athletes each took just a small step back in the standings, with Shiffrin finishing in 7th, Johnson tying for 10th, and Isabella Wright earning 16th. Also finishing in the points that race was Keely Cashman, who came in 27th. Finally, on the third day of racing, Shiffrin had one last chance to break the record via a speed race as Cortina d’ Ampezzo hosted a super g. Unfortunately, Shiffrin repeated her previous result, earning a 7th place finish, while Breezy Johnson took home 29th. All in all, it was a successful trip to Cortina, despite no records being broken.
From there, the women’s circuit had a day off as they relocated to nearby Kronplatz, Italy for a pair of giant slalom races. There, as it would turn out, is where the magic would happen. In the first of the two races, Shiffrin found herself in the starting gate, having just witnessed Lara Gut-Behrami beat Federica Brignone’s lead time by almost a full second. Despite having had the fastest first run, Shiffrin recalled feeling nervous in the starting gate, totally aware that one of her biggest rivals had just beaten her other biggest rival by almost a second. In her words, she thought, “ Why did I watch? I can't go that fast.” But then, she did. Putting down a nearly flawless run, Shiffrin proceeded to beat Gut-Behrami’s time by .45 seconds, and Brignone’s by 1.43 seconds. In the finish corral, as you might expect, Shiffrin was at a loss of words and was clearly humbled by the moment. She had just become the winningest female ski racer of all time. Never one to settle, Shiffrin immediately spent the next day chipping away at the next record within her reach, and arguably the biggest one of all: Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 World Cup Victories, the most by any FIS World Cup athlete ever. After winning the second giant slalom race in Kronplatz, Shiffrin now has 84 first place victories to her name, and is within 2 of tying Stenmark’s record. Considering the pace that she’s been on this season, it feels like the matter of breaking that record is no longer an “if,” but a “when.” Huge congratulations go out to Shiffrin this week, for an absolutely incredible accomplishment. To learn more about her record setting victories, simply Google her name and pick your favorite publication.
Before moving onto the men’s division, we want to quickly circle back and share a few more results from Kronplatz, as Shiffin was far from the only successful U.S. Women’s athlete in those races. In the first of the two giant slaloms, Nina O’Brien earned a 19th place finish. A day later, Paula Moltzan finished in 7th, while Nina O’Brien took 10th, putting three U.S. Women’s athletes in the top 10 of that race. Not a bad accomplishment for the team on the whole. Looking ahead, it’s a much lighter schedule for the women’s circuit this week, as they find themselves in Spindleruv, Czechoslovakia for two slalom races this weekend. You can preview those races here.
While the women’s side of the sport was packed with action and updates last week, don’t be fooled, the U.S. Men’s team had a heck of a week as well. Much like the women’s division, the men had a full slate of events, with 5 races over the course of six days. For them, the week started off with a bang as two downhill races in Kitzbuehel led to the type of points packing we’ve come to expect from the men’s team. In the first of the two downhill races, Jared Goldberg just missed the podium, taking home 4th, followed by Travis Ganong who tied for 7th, Erik Arvidsson in 21st, and Bryce Bennett in 29th. A day later, the points packing trend continued, as Travis Ganong found himself on the podium with a 3rd place finish, while Ryan Cochran-Siegle took home 20th, and Bryce Bennett took 22nd. From there, Kitzbuehel held a slalom race in which team America came up empty handed before the men’s circuit relocated to Schladming, Austria for a nighttime slalom and a giant slalom. In the night slalom, U.S. athlete Benjamin Ritchie held it down for the U.S. team, earning a 23rd place finish. A day later, in the giant slalom, River Radamus earned 21st, Brian McLaughlin took home 23rd, and Tommy Ford secured 24th. All in all, it was a strong showing from the U.S. men’s team last week, particularly in the speed events. Looking ahead, this week’s schedule is much lighter, with Cortina d’ Ampezzo hosting two super g races. You can preview those events here.
#2: Under New Ownership, the 2023 Iteration of the X Games Gets Underway This Weekend:
In other competitive news this week, we’re excited to remind you that this weekend Aspen will be holding the annual X Games event! In recent years, perceptions of the X Games have been variable amongst those in the freeskiing scene, due to questions about judging, the overall importance of the event, and the general organization and promotion of it. Mix in the fact that when covid hit, ESPN trimmed the events from a plethora of winter action sports to just skiing and snowboarding, and there were starting to be some questions about the viability of the event’s future. Then, as we shared back in November, a majority of the event was purchased by MSP Sports Capital, an investment group that owns several soccer teams, as well as McLaren racing. With the new agreement, MSP Sports capital will organize and operate the event, while ESPN’s minority stake retains their motivation to broadcast it. In other words, in theory, the X Games is now owned by an organization that excels in handling sporting events, as well as a company that excels in broadcasting them. On paper, this should be a win win. While we’ll wait to see what happens, we will say, the new X Games website is already proving to be easier to navigate, and has an updated aesthetic that feels much stronger. Their social media channels are also doing an excellent job of promoting the event, so our hopes are high that this year’s iteration will show an improvement over recent iterations.
As for the event itself, you can expect to see Superpipe, Big Air, and Slopestyle events for both men and women, ski and snowboard. In other words, there’s three events per gender, per sport, for a total of 12 events. Additionally, there will also be a ski and snowboard knuckle huck event, which has arguably become one of the most entertaining events for spectators in recent years. For those unaware, the knuckle huck is essentially a session where 8 athletes compete on just the knuckle (the part of the jump where the deck rolls over into the landing) to throw their best tricks. This simple setup allows athletes to get incredibly creative and show off a number of unique, often mind boggling tricks. Unlike the three “traditional” events, it’s not always a matter of packing in as many spins and flips as possible. Instead, the knuckle huck allows for more creative approaches, filled with different presses, taps, butters, and more. For those of you who haven’t seen it, if there’s one event we recommend watching from this year’s X Games, it’s the knuckle huck. To check out a full list of events, athletes, and the broadcast schedule, check out the X Games website.
#3: Also Under New Ownership, the First Stop of the 2023 Freeride World Tour is Scheduled For This Week:
For our third competition update this week, we’re equally as excited to remind you that this weekend is the first stop of the 2023 Freeride World Tour! After rescheduling the Kicking Horse stop, which was originally scheduled to occur earlier this month, this year’s touring is starting off in Baqueira Beret, Spain. While we would’ve loved to see the Tour already underway, we have to admit, we’re not totally bummed out by this adjustment. As you’ll see in the teaser video for this venue, Baqueira Beret offers numerous ways down the venue, enabling athletes to play into their specialities. With big lines, massive gaps, drops, and playful transfers, this venue truly has something for everyone, meaning athletes should be able to find a way to start their season off in a strong, confidence building way. These first few stops are crucial for competitors as the Freeride World Tour treats the first three venues as a qualifier round, with only the top athletes being invited to the fourth and fifth stop of the Tour.
This season, there are a few new storylines to keep your eye on. First and foremost is the emergence of rookies like Maxime Chabloz, who won the tour in his first season by bringing forth freeskiing sensibilities, most specifically his double backflip. In addition to Maxime, Lily Bradley, representing America, also made a name for herself in her first season, finding podium success by exhibiting strong skiing and smooth style. The question this season is if last year’s rookies continue their success, putting pressure on the old guard. Likewise, will there be new rookies this year also looking to stake their claim, potentially by pushing the competition even more in a freeskiing direction?
Beyond those questions, it’ll also be interesting to see what changes, if any, are made to the presentation of the event now that it’s owned by the FIS. The biggest question there is whether free streaming of the event will remain available, as the FWT has historically had excellent live coverage and replay access available via both their website and YouTube. At the moment, we know for sure that the event will be live streamed on their website, and we suspect their YouTube replays will also remain, but we can’t verify that quite yet. Additionally, we have questions about whether the presentation of the event will see any changes, from the team of announcers who’ve covered past events, to the graphics and explanations of judging and scoring. While we really don’t expect to see many changes show up in the Freeride World Tour this year as a result of their new ownership, this first event will be the first tell as to whether or not that’ll hold true. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the tour or are just beginning to gain interest, we highly recommend tuning in. The weather window for this stop runs from 1/28 - 2/2. To find out exactly when the first stop goes off, keep an eye on the Freeride World Tour website.
#4: For the First Time in 75 Years, Warren Miller Entertainment Will Not Be Filming a New Ski Movie:
Finally, we end this week on a bit of a down note, but one that absolutely needs to be shared as one of the five biggest news topics of the week. This week, on January 24th, which marks the fifth anniversary of Warren Miller’s passing, Warren Miller Entertainment announced that rather than filming a new movie this season, they will celebrate their 75th anniversary by creating a 2 year project that’s a retrospective of both Warren Miller Entertainment and modern ski culture. Next fall, the company will release the first of their two part series which focuses on the birth of modern skiing in America, as well as the spread of ski culture to places like Greenland and Morocco. The following year, in 2024, they’ll release a film focusing on Warren Miller’s legacy, highlighting his story and impact. At face value, this is a concept we can get behind: a 75th anniversary retrospective of easily the most important ski filmer of all time, as well as his cultural importance. Unfortunately though, the decision and the impact of the announcement are not things to be celebrated.
Shortly after Warren Miller Entertainment made their announcement, WME’s longtime director and director of photography, Chris Patterson, made an Instagram post sharing the full story. This year, for the first time in 30 years, WME wouldn’t be filming for a new project. As such, Patterson, the entire film crew, and the roster of athletes have found themselves without an assignment for the winter. For the team behind the films in particular, this move has been devastating. Whereas they used to be able to rely on the yearly project to keep them afloat, Outside Inc, the parent company of WME, has decided that in light of financial issues, they can’t afford to produce a film. Instead, they’ll be using archival footage to create movies for the next two years. While films will still be produced, and the Warren Miller film tour will continue, it’s hard not to feel like this is another deep cut to ski culture. For 74 years, Warren Miller films have been a staple of the ski community, inspiring both those in the industry to pursue their dreams, as well as city dwellers with only minor interest in skiing. At risk of sounding overly dramatic, Warren Miller films were transcendent, bridging the gap between ski culture and mainstream audiences who may never have been on a pair of skis in their life. They inspired us, while explaining to the outside world where our love for skiing comes from. To say that this week’s news is heartbreaking would be an understatement. Alas, to learn more about this update, we’d recommend checking out the Instagram post from Warren Miller Entertainment, the post made by Chris Patterson, and this reflective editorial piece from Mike Rogge, editor of the Mountain Gazette.