#1: FIS Recap: A Mild Week for the Women, a Strong Showing From the Men, and Young Slalomers Offer Hope:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the January 28th, 2022 edition! This week, the stars aligned and we’ve got a full slate of competitive ski news. From our weekly FIS World Cup Alpine recap, to results from the first stop of the Freeride, an X Games recap, and several highlights from the upcoming Olympic games, this week’s Top Five is one that those of you interested in the competitive side of the sport are sure to love. On the other hand, if that doesn’t sound like you, we’ll see you next week. Just kidding! If you don’t think competitive news is your cup of tea, we suggest sticking around this week anyways, as across these four highlights, we hit on a number of subgenres of our sport, and we suspect you might just come across a highlight that turns you on to something new. With that being said, let’s start how we always do this time of year: with a recap of last week’s FIS World Cup results.
As you might recall from our preview last week, this week saw a full slate of action for both the men’s and women’s circuits, with each participating in a series of mostly speed races last weekend, followed by a mid-week race in a second location. For the women, it was a modest week, with a number of athletes appearing in the points, although none with podium finishes. To kick things off, the women started in Cortina, Italy, where they competed in a Downhill race on Saturday, followed by a Super G on Sunday. Unfortunately, the weekend started off on a down note as U.S. athlete Breezy Johnson crashed on a training run for her second time in two weeks. That fall rendered her unable to compete in this weekend’s race, as well as in upcoming races (more on that below). As such, only two U.S. athletes earned points in that race: Jacqueline Wiles who finished in 14th, and Alix Wilkenson who came in 18th. Results from the race a day later weren’t any stronger, with Mikaela Shiffrin finishing in 16th and Keely Cashman coming in 28th. Following their stint in Cortina, the women’s circuit moved onto a Giant Slalom race in Kronplatz, Italy. That race proved to be the highlight of the week for the American team as Shiffrin earned 5th place, Nina O’Brien took home 15th, and Paula Moltzan took 17th. At present, the women’s circuit is in Garmisch, Germany for a Downhill and Super G; their last races before the Olympics.
On the men’s side, it was an interesting slate of events as the calendar offered two Downhill events, and two Slalom races: two styles of racing that exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. For the U.S. men, the Downhill races provided more promise as the team has more competitive speed athletes. That promise played out as expected, with both Downhills seeing a slew of U.S. men earn points. In last Friday’s Downhill, Travis Ganong represented the U.S. well, coming in 7th place. Behind him was Bryce Bennett in 11th, Steven Nyman in 21st, and Jared Goldberg in 24th. Two days later, in the Downhill on Sunday, the U.S. men put up a similar performance, with Travis Ganong finishing in 11th, immediately followed by Bryce Bennett in 12th, while Jared Goldberg took 19th, and Steven Nyman again earned 21st. Perhaps the best sleeper result of the weekend however, would go to Luke Winters who placed 11th in a Slalom race in Kitzbuehel, Austria last Saturday. Later in the week, at the Slalom race in Schladming, Austria, Winters again earned points, finishing in 26th, while his U.S. teammate Benjamin Ritchie performed even better, finishing in 23rd. While these results might not seem particularly eye-popping, it’s important to keep in mind that Slalom racing isn’t a strong point of the U.S. team. With that noted, seeing this week’s results, and particularly those from Luke Winters, are quite exciting. From here, the Men’s circuit is set to rest up until the Olympic games.
#2: The First Stop of the 2022 Freeride World Tour Was Jaw Dropping:
Next up this week is a moment we've been waiting for for months: the first Freeride World Tour (FWT) recap of the year! Now, the FWT doesn’t get as much attention as we personally think it should, so before we dive in, let us bring you up to speed. The FIS World Cup Alpine circuit is for ski racing, the X Games (which we’ll get to shortly) are for freeskiing, and the Freeride World Tour, is for big mountain skiing. More specifically, this competition asks a roster of riders (split into four categories: men’s and women’s ski and snowboard) to descend down a big mountain face, putting together the most difficult, fluid, and impressive run. Athletes can utilize the terrain however they’d like, often combining technical steep sections with big cliff drops and even freeski inspired tricks. If you’ve never given this contest a watch, we’d highly recommend catching the replay from the first stop or tuning in to the next stop which is happening this weekend in Ordino Arcalis, Andorra.
This year, the Freeride World Tour kicked the season off at a brand new venue: Baqueira Beret, Spain. Now, truth be told we were feeling a bit apprehensive about this change prior to the event. Not because we had anything against Baqueira Beret, but because this location replaced Hakuba, Japan, a venue that we had a soft spot for. Then, the event happened, and just like any good rebound, we immediately fell in love with Baqueira Beret. This venue had it all: massive drop opportunities, gnarly chutes, and plenty of windlips and other trickable features that allowed athletes to let loose. As it turns out, that’s exactly what they did too. On the men’s side the gold medal was earned by rookie rider Max Palm who put down the first ever double backflip in FWT history. Behind him was another rookie, Abel Moga, who waltzed right up to, and dropped off the end of what the announcers estimated to be a million foot tall cliff. Finally, rounding out the men’s podium in third place was relative newcomer Craig Murray, who unleashed a slew of 360’s including arguably the most stylish cork 3 of the day. Beyond the podium, a number of athletes put down a number of incredible runs that we wish we could recap, but simply don’t have capacity for here. That said, we would also encourage you to check out Aymar Navarro’s run in particular. Without giving anything away, we’ll simply suggest that that guy is out of his mind.
On the women’s side, the feats of athleticism were just as impressive, with a number of competitors stepping it up and taking advantage of big air opportunities while also highlighting their technical riding abilities. At the end of the day, it was second year competitor, and first time winner, Olivia McNeill who took home the gold. Behind her on the podium were familiar faces Hedvig Wessel in second, and Zuzanna Witych in third. All in all, the first stop of this year’s tour was wildly successful. As previously mentioned, the second stop of the tour is fast approaching, as the athletes are scheduled to drop on either January 29th or 30th depending on the weather. To preview that event or to review results from last weekend, check out the Freeride World Tour’s official website.
#3: The 2022 X-Games Were Must See TV, Especially the Men’s Big Air:
In our third competition recap, we’re focusing on freeskiing as Aspen played host to the 2022 edition of the ESPN X Games. After Covid hit last season, causing the games to scale down the number of competitions on the schedule and eliminate crowds, the games came roaring back this season as properly vaccinated fans were allowed to once again watch the events in person. Interestingly, one change that carried over from the pandemic version of the games was a reduction in the number of events and sports included at the games. This time around, just like last year, the X Games stuck to just skiing and snowboarding events, with men’s and women’s categories for most disciplines. On the skiing side of things, there was a men’s and women’s Big Air, men’s and women’s Superpipe, men’s and women’s Slopestyle, and a men’s Knuckle Huck competition. Additionally, while not a full competitive event, the games also gave legend in the making and professional sit-skier Trevor Kennison the opportunity to hit the big air jump, which was equally inspiring and terrifying. Now, with that background knowledge in place, let’s do a lightning fast recap of what went down in Aspen this weekend.
On the men’s side, every single one of the four events made for excellent spectating. It seems that the X Games expected this to be the case as they back loaded the weekend with the Big Air contest being the first men’s skiing event, which was held at 6:45 PM EST on Saturday. As it turned out, that was the right call as the Big Air event was insane and arguably the event of the weekend. In that contest, which was a jam style format in which each athlete's top two hits were tallied up, the podium was incredibly competitive. While we don’t have the space we wish we did to really get into a recap of this event, it’s safe to say that it once again upped the level of Freeski Big Air competitions, with Alex Hall’s 2160 Buick Grab taking home the trick of the night and set a new benchmark for the largest spin done in competition. To check out this event in full, check out the replay on YouTube.
After Saturday night, the men’s freeski athletes had an action packed day as their Slopestyle, Knuckle Huck, and Superpipe competitions were all on the schedule for Sunday. Again, all three of these events were thrilling to watch. In the slopestyle event, after a slow start in which a number of athletes fell on early runs, things heated up in the last two rounds as competitors finally began putting down the runs they were looking for. As always, there’s likely to be disagreement about who squeezed out the victory, but on Sunday afternoon, it was Andre Ragettli in first, followed by Max Moffatt in second and Alex Hall in third. Later in the day, the Knuckle Huck highlighted a number of familiar names, as well as a handful of athletes who were new to the X Games, and whose unique approaches to skiing make the Knuckle Huck the perfect event for them. That statement is backed by the podium, which saw Quinn Wolferman take home the gold, followed by Jake Mageau with the silver, and Alex Hall with the bronze. Of those three, Alex Hall easily had the biggest weekend as the Knuckle Huck was his third podium in as many events, and earned him a medal in every contest he was a part of. Finally, rounding out the weekend for the men and the Games at large, was the ski Superpipe on Sunday evening. In that event, the ever stylish Nico Porteous took home top honors, followed by Aaron Blunck, and veteran David Wise with bronze. All in all, it was a thrilling weekend for the men’s ski events.
While the X Games back loaded the weekend with men’s ski events, it also front loaded them with women’s ski events. We’ll let you come to your own conclusion in regards to what that tells you about skiing’s popularity vs. snowboarding. In addition to that observation, it was also hard not to notice the absence of Ailing Gu, widely regarded as the best female freeskier on the planet. While Ailing was missing, her nemesis Kelly Sildaru did attend the Games, although it was an up and down affair for the young athlete. In the superpipe competition, Sildaru took home top honors, followed by Brita Sigourney and Hanna Faulhaber. Unfortunately, she was unable to replicate that result a day later, settling for last place in the women’s Slopestyle. In that event, Tess Ledeux took home gold, followed by Mathilde Gremaud with silver, and Megan Oldham in third place. The one event in which neither Gu nor Sildaru competed was the first women’s event of the weekend: the Big Air. That was excellent news for Tess Ledeux who started her weekend off in a big way, earning the gold medal, followed by Megan Oldham and Olivia Asselin. All in all, it was an excellent weekend for the women’s side of the sport as well, and for Tess Ledeux and Megan Oldham in particular who made great use of their chance to steal the spotlight in the absence of Gu. To check out all of the results from this year’s X Games, check out their website. To watch replays of any of these events, check out the X Games channel on YouTube.
#4: An Olympic Level Roundup: Highlights as the Games Draw Near:
Finally, with all of our competition recaps complete for the week, we figured we’d keep the theme alive as we turn our attention to the upcoming Winter Olympics, set to get under way just a week from today. We’ll dive deeper into the event schedule in next week’s coverage and share any additional news that pops up between now and then, but this week, we’re looking to share a few highlights that will likely be of interest. To start that process, we’re excited to share the news that the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team has officially announced all of their rosters via press releases on their website. You can check all of those out there, while we share some of the highlights here. Of all the rosters, one of the most interesting is the Women’s Alpine team, which will feature a total of seven first time Olympians. Joining them will also be Mikaela Shiffrin, who we have every expectation of being in top form for the games. Unfortunately though, we also learned this week that Breezy Johnson has dropped out of the Olympics after suffering her crash this past weekend in Cortina. As a result, she has an injured knee that, while skiable, she (correctly) feels would be better to rest rather than to push on the world stage. As for the men, we’ll be seeing plenty of familiar faces as Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Bryce Bennett, Tommy Ford, and Travis Ganong will all be making their returns to the games. In addition to the Alpine team, we’re also excited about the Freeskiing team as a number of top contenders, such as Alex Hall, Colby Stevenson, Nick Goepper, David Wise, Alex Ferreira, Aaron Blunck, Brita Sigourney, and Maggie Voison all have strong odds to end up on podiums, while it’s conceivable that every other U.S. Freeski athlete has a fighting chance as well. While we’ll have to wait to see what happens, if this past week’s X Games were any indication, the U.S team could be in for a huge showing this time around.
In other Olympic news, we’ve got three additional highlights we’d like to share before rounding out the week. First, sticking with the freeskiing theme, we caught a preview of the Beijing Slopestyle course, which not only looks incredible, but also features a replica Great Wall of China, built to block wind from the course. Second, despite the skiing world’s best efforts and intentions, waxes containing fluorocarbons will be allowed at this iteration of the Olympics. While officials have been banning or at least attempting to ban this toxic ingredient from ski wax for years, there still isn’t a reliable way to instantly test for the substance. As such, with no way to ensure a level playing field, officials have greenlit the substance for at least one more Olympic games. Finally, our last but perhaps most exciting pre-Olympic update, is that the Jamaican Bobsled team will be making its return to the Winter Olympics for the first time since 1998. We wish them the best of luck, and truly hope that they earn second place. To start previewing the games and picking out your must see events, check out the Olympics.com.