Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays
Top Five Fridays: January 6, 2023
Lead Image: It’s been a tale of two winters so far this season, with resorts like Snowbird in Utah being one of the biggest beneficiaries. More on this below! Image: Snowbird Resort on Facebook
#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Recap: Two Slalom Races & Another Shiffrin Win:
Hello, and welcome to 2023! This year, we’re starting our Top Five Fridays series in much the same way we ended 2022: by talking about Mikaela Shiffrin. If you’ve been following along with ski racing news recently, or even just sports news, then you likely know that Mikaela Shiffrin is rapidly approaching Lindsey Vonn’s record of 82 World Cup wins - the most ever for a female alpine skier. When we last checked in a week ago, Shiffrin had won her previous four races, bringing her total to 80, and just 2 wins away from tying Vonn’s record. With two slalom races scheduled in Zagrab, Croatia this week, there was a high possibility that this could be the week in which Shiffrin achieved that milestone. So, how did she do?
The first race of the week took place on Wednesday, January 4th, and Shiffrin did what Shiffrin does: she won the race, her fifth in a row. Watching the accompanying video, you can really see how high of a level Mikaela is skiing at currently, as soft conditions resulted in an environment in which each and every mistake, even the small ones, resulted in significant decreases in time. As such, Shiffrin skied nearly flawlessly, securing her 81st victory. Unfortunately, her opportunity to tie the record wouldn’t come this week as warm temperatures in Zagreb led to the cancellation of the second slalom race. The good news though, is that this weekend presents two more strong opportunities for Mikaela as Kranjska Gora, Slovakia is set to host two giant slalom races, Shiffrin’s second best discipline. Now, to be clear, winning seven straight world cup races would be an insane feat to accomplish, so earning her 82nd and 83rd wins are far from a lock. That said, Shiffrin has been known to consistently defy the odds, so we’ll see what happens. One way or another, we’ll be watching this weekend and reporting back next Friday with what we saw. For now, you can preview the Kranjska Gora races here.
On the men’s side of the sport, there was also just one race held last week: a slalom race in Garmisch, Germany. There, rising U.S. talent Luke Winters earned himself an 11th place finish, earning his first FIS points of the season. Looking ahead, the men’s circuit will be in Adelboden, Switzerland this weekend for a giant slalom and a slalom race. You can preview those events here.
#2: Start of the Freeride World Tour Postponed as Kicking Horse Event Delayed Due to Conditions:
In other competitive news this week, we learned of another round of schedule changes, this time from the Freeride World Tour (FWT). That circuit, which asks the world’s best big mountain skiers to compete on untamed mountain faces across the world, was set to kick off in Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada next week, with a weather window between January 13-18. Unfortunately, an early conditions check has shown that the venue isn’t ready for the kind of competitive skiing that the FWT brings. Now, based on what we know about how the weather has been on the East Coast as well as Europe (a topic we’ll discuss in detail in highlight #3 this week), you might suspect that the postponement is due to higher than average temperatures. In this case however, the opposite is partially to blame: colder than average temperatures, combined with lower than average precipitation, as well as a windy start to the year, has resulted in a dense, firm snowpack that doesn’t allow for safe competition. While there is snowfall on the way, it’s too soon to know how the additional snow will affect avalanche conditions, resulting in the decision to postpone the event. As such, the Kicking Horse stop will be delayed for about a month, currently being rescheduled for sometime between February 17 - 22. Ultimately, this doesn’t change much besides travel plans for the athletes as the Ordino Arcalís Pro, Andorra stop is still scheduled to occur sometime between February 4-9, and Kicking Horse remains among the three qualifying venues. All things considered, the only bad news here is for us, the fans, who were eager to see the FWT kick off next week. But, with the postponement, athletes are sure to have better conditions to compete on, which should result in a more entertaining event for spectators. To learn more about this decision and to view the revised schedule, check out the announcement from the Freeride World Tour.
#3: A Tale of Two Winters Reminds Us of the Realities of Climate Change:
For our third highlight this week, we find ourselves in a similar spot as we did just a week ago: forced to talk about the elephant in the room. This year, as we’ve scanned the headlines for ski news each week, we’re seeing the story of two very different winters playing out. In the Western U.S., the third edition of La Niña is finally proving to be fruitful as ski areas in the Tahoe region, Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, and other western regions are in a never ending snow globe. Storm after storm is producing feet of snow, particularly in California and Utah, resulting in snowpacks in excess of 100” in some areas. In Colorado, a “lucky” weather pattern has resulted in the entire state having a 26% higher snowpack than normal, with some ski resorts, such as Steamboat and Powderhorn, having snowpacks of over 40% higher than average. For those living in these areas, thoughts of global warming and climate change must feel like a lifetime away. Unfortunately though, the experience of these regions is isolated as a significant part of the rest of the world is getting an unwanted first hand lesson in climate change this year.
Last week, we briefly touched base on the challenges facing snowmakers here on the East Coast, as well as a study that’s forecasting a grim future for European ski resorts. This week, we’re unfortunately following those headlines up with more reporting from Europe, where this winter has been about as bad as it’s ever been. As you’ll recall, this season’s FIS Alpine World Tour started off with a slew of cancellations as European resorts that once offered reliable early season venues were unable to produce or maintain the volume of snow needed to host races. This week, as you’ve just learned, the problem continues as even in the first week of January, Zagreb was forced to cancel the second of two slalom races due to warm weather. For more perspective on that, simply view the accompanying image.
This week, Europe’s bleak situation was hammered home by multiple reports from major outlets sharing the news that, due to record breaking warmth across Europe, countless ski areas are unable to operate. To be honest, it’s not the bird’s eye view of this story that gets to us though. It’s the details and statistics shared throughout. In an article from Bloomberg, we’re hit with a deluge of facts and statistics that make even the most optimistic of us feel an emotional response similar to that of dread: “Switzerland is warming twice as fast as the global average.” “Capping the hottest year on record for France, New Year’s Eve saw overnight lows of 11C.” “Nearly half the 169 ski resorts that were forced to shut down since 1951 did so for a lack of snow.” “In St. Moritz… the season opened in mid-October and ran till the end of May less than a decade ago. This year, it opened in late November and is tentatively scheduled to close April 10.”
We typically try not to copy and paste too many direct quotes from the articles we cite here, but in this case, it’s the rapid succession of daunting facts and statistics that really hit home for us. In another article, this time from Reuters, we further learn that the problem isn’t isolated to the Alps. To the east, the Balkans region is facing similar struggles, where numerous resorts are also unable to open due to a lack of snow. Similarly to their European counterparts, resorts in this region that would typically open in December have been either unable to open, or have been forced to close due to a warm spell.
So where does this all leave us? Honestly, we don’t really know. A bit sad, a bit angry, and a bit motivated to be sure, but the problems we’re facing extend well beyond the world of skiing. In order for there to be any measurable progress in curtailing this issue and saving our snowfall, change has to be made by people and industries that, to be frank, probably would prefer it if there wasn’t any snow to worry about. Noting how difficult the challenge that faces us is, our best recommendation for those feeling motivated to do something about this problem is to check out an organization such as Protect Our Winters (POW) to see how you can help. Of course if any of our readers know of any other ways to help, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.
#4: Copper Mountain Donates Uphill Access to High Country Veterans Adventures:
Finally, rounding out this week’s highlights is a cool story coming out of Colorado, where Copper Mountain has donated uphill access to veterans who sign up through High Country Veterans Adventures. This organization is a non-profit that exists to support the mental health of U.S. veterans by providing opportunities, specifically focused on adventures in the mountains. One of the ways they do this is by offering backcountry therapy sessions, in which members head out in a group for a day of skiing, exercise, and therapy in the solitude of the backcountry. For anyone who’s ever spent a day wandering unexplored remote areas on skis, you can immediately recognize how powerful this activity could be for those struggling with mental health, even without a therapist on hand. While the concept of backcountry therapy is an incredible idea, there has always been one particular problem plaguing the concept: the high barriers to entry.
Enter, this week’s news. In partnership with Copper Mountain, members of High Country Veterans Adventures now have free uphill access to the resort. In providing this access, the hope is that veterans with downhill ski experience, but not uphill, will have an easy point of entry for human powered backcountry skiing. Additionally, the mountain and the organization will also team up to offer four introductory backcountry sessions at the resort in avalanche controlled areas. At these sessions, High Country Veterans Adventures will provide necessary backcountry tools such as transceivers, probes, shovels, skinning equipment while trip leaders provide avalanche and backcountry education. The hope is that the combination of these two programs will allow an easy pathway for veterans to first experience uphill skiing, then learn essential backcountry and avalanche awareness skills, before finally being able to be ready to join the group on full fledged backcountry therapy sessions.
Taking this article one step further, it occurs to us that this is an exciting expansion on the idea of who can enjoy backcountry skiing. As skiers, we have this fictitious idea that backcountry skiing means wandering out into the wilderness in search of big lines and steep powder. The fact of the matter though, is that backcountry skiing has the potential to attract a crowd similar to that of hiking, in that it’s entirely possible for a wide swath of the population to use a touring setup to simply get out into the backcountry, explore, and get in some low angle skiing while they’re at it. As the segment of uphill skiing continues to grow, it excites us to see its appeal spread beyond just the thrill seekers amongst us. For more on this, check out the writeup from Summit Daily, or visit the High Country Veterans Adventures website.
#4.5: Action Sports Legend Ken Block Has Passed Away:
Finally, before we round out this week’s news, we have to share a heartbreaking update with you. By now you probably already know, action sports legend Ken Block has passed away following a snowmobiling accident in Utah this past week. While not a member of the ski community, Block’s presence and influence in the action sports world was immense, and we feel compelled to acknowledge his passing and pay tribute to the man. As athletes, there’s one concept we all share, regardless of our medium: pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. For athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin, that means shaving tenths of seconds off race times, setting records along the way. For freeskiing athletes, that might mean accomplishing the longest railslide in the world, landing double flat spins off natural backcountry hits, or being the first ever female to land a double cork 1440 in competition. Regardless of the athlete, the one common goal that drives elite talent in any sport is pushing the limits and accomplishing things that have never been done before. For Ken Block, motor vehicles were his primary medium, and while he had a diverse and prolific career, his incredible Gymkhana series is maybe the best example of pushing the limits as his videos featured a level of automotive precision that we never dreamed was possible. For athletes of all walks of life, Ken Block served as a true example that the only limits that exist are the ones that have yet to be broken. Rest in Peace Mr. Block, and thank you for using your time here to expand our idea of what’s possible.
One thought on “Top Five Fridays: January 6, 2023”
What a wonderful site you have put together. As a guy who has been skiing 70 years I can relate to many of the way the sport has grown over the years.
The equipment is just great from one who started out with square toed lace up boot and bear trap bindings. Today it's skis that ski themselves just by shifting your weight from one ski to the other and boots that take that little hint of pressure forward and to the ski you want to turn and it just does it.
Keep it up and am looking forward to seeing much more.