#1: In Depth with Mikaela Shiffrin: The Challenges of Training and Competing Internationally During a Global Pandemic:
Great news readers! This week we get to kick things off with an excellent piece from Ski Racing Magazine that bring us up to date with the latest from Mikaela Shiffrin. To be perfectly honest, the first half of the piece is mostly a recap of information that a majority of our readers are likely familiar with. If you already know the trials and tribulations of Mikaela’s 2019-2020 season, you can pretty much scroll down and start reading just after the image of Mikaela hugging her late father, Jeff. If you’re unfamiliar with her story over the past ~10 months, the first half of the article does a great job bringing the reader up to speed.
What caught our attention and excited us most about this article though, is the detailed discussion regarding Mikaela’s Covid-19 training experience, as well as her concerns and considerations for the season ahead. Starting with the present, we’re treated to a look at Mikaela’s individual training situation, including where she’s been able to ski (Mount Hood, Mt. Bachelor, and Copper Mountain), and the adjustments she’s had to make regarding her team (neither her ski technician nor her strength and conditioning coach have been able to enter the U.S.). Compared to her European counterparts, Shiffrin confirms what we’ve been suspecting all summer long: the U.S. team on the whole is at a training disadvantage as access to snow-covered terrain is limited. Looking ahead, the outlook for the FIS season is also incredibly blurry. In recent weeks we’ve discussed how the FIS is working on establishing a plan to host an international ski racing circuit. In those discussions, we’ve touched on how hosting races in both the U.S. and Europe may prove to be difficult or impossible. In this article, we’re given a slightly different angle on the subject as Mikaela discusses the challenge of being a U.S. racer at a time when borders are closed. While USST athletes are hopeful that they can gain a travel exemption, the question of whether or not they’ll be required to remain in Europe for the length of the FIS Ski Racing season remains unanswered. In other words, while the FIS faces scheduling and logistical challenges, U.S. ski team members are also facing similar issues that they’ll have to figure out individually.
Finally, we’re also given a glimpse into the personal mentality of Shiffrin. One of our favorite aspects of Mikaela is her ability to balance her world class athleticism with being a genuinely great, introspective human. While this dynamic is something her fans love about her, it’s also likely an incredible challenge as her personality isn’t a natural match with a career that demands endless interviews and media attention. Taking stock of her previous year, ongoing emotional weight (stemming from the loss of both her Nana and father within the last 12 months), and upcoming challenges of competing amongst the best ski racers in the world, Mikaela admits that next year’s circuit isn’t necessarily about maintaining her winning pace. Rather, "What’s at stake is being able to ski and enjoy it.” Ultimately, this phrase is what sums up the entire message behind this article. In the 2020-2021 FIS World Cup season, Mikaela’s goal is to simply ski, race, and continue to enjoy the experience. Of course the spectator in us is left with the lingering question of how intrinsically Mikaela’s competitive nature is tied to her enjoyment of the sport. To answer that question, we’ll just have to wait and let the drama that is life continue to play out. To read up on the latest with Mikaela, we highly recommend checking out this article from Ski Racing Magazine.
#2: The Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute Chimes in on What the 2020-2021 Ski Season Might Look Like:
Keeping in the theme of “what lies ahead,” we have another article this week that discusses the topic in depth. To be fair, it’s a subject we’ve covered multiple times over the last couple of months, and one that you might be getting tired of reading about. But, we also feel compelled to share any new information we come across as an air of uncertainty hovers above the ski community. So, with that perspective in mind, we’re excited to share with you this week an article from NY Mag’s Intelligencer column which, while recapping a fair amount of information we’re already aware of, also provides additional insights into the considerations being made for the upcoming season. Amongst those, maybe the most insightful quotes come from Harvard professor and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha. When asked for his take on whether or not it’s safe to ride on chairlifts with strangers, Jha said, “It’s probably fine — you share someone’s space for five minutes, but it’s outside, it’s usually windy, I think you can probably get away with it… If you want to put family members together, or have people go up by themselves, that’s probably marginally safer but I don’t think it’s a huge deal.” In regards to gondolas, Jha expressed slightly more concern, but also seemed generally optimistic, saying, “You probably want to open them up a little bit and ventilate them, have some amount of fresh air going in, and get people to wear face masks, and that might be okay. But that starts getting a little bit riskier, if it’s a long gondola ride.” In other words, according to an expert from outside the ski community, there’s likely a way to operate both chairlifts and gondolas in a safe way this upcoming season. This is great news for anyone with concerns about whether lifts will be operating next winter, and gondolas in particular.
Unfortunately though, as you might expect, the column isn’t entirely positive news. After discussing the likelihood of chairlifts operating as usual, the article turns to the more challenging aspect of running a ski resort (and ski town) during a global pandemic: the ancillary amenities such as lodging, cafeterias, shops, and even simply crowded lodges where skiers seek shelter from the winter weather throughout their day. In these crowded indoor spaces, Jha sees greater challenges as winter weather necessitates indoor access. That said, one idea does pop up in the article that caught our attention: as part of their summer offering, Alterra resorts have been creating outdoor dining areas in parking lots using event tents. While that idea can’t translate directly into winter, it does make us wonder if outdoor tents combined with the use of space heaters could provide something of an indoor/outdoor hybrid environment that would be measurably better than crowding lodges. Of course, that plan would also bring up the logistical challenge of reducing parking which has been a quickly growing issue at many resorts in recent years.
So, what did we ultimately learn from this article? Well, if you’re the type of skier who boots up at the car, rides the lifts all day, then heads back to the car without ever setting foot in a lodge, this report indicates that your season may be only minimally impacted. On the other hand, if you’re someone who finds themselves taking one or more breaks throughout the day, you may want to start thinking about packing some extra gear and turning your vehicle into your own personal lodge, at least for this year. As per usual, there’s plenty more great information in this article that we don’t have the capacity to recap here, but that you should definitely check out. If you’re interested in learning more, you can read the article from NY Mag in full, right here.
#3: Red Bull Media Shares Andrzej Bargiel’s K2 Descent Story:
Well, now that we’ve previewed next season from both a world class athlete and an absolute amateur perspective, let’s shift gears and talk about one of the coolest stories so far this year. Way back in July of 2018, we shared with you the news that Polish skier Andrzej Bargiel had successfully summited and skied K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, without oxygen. This week, new life was breathed into that story as Red Bull Media has released a treasure trove of new content that shares the story of the journey in great detail. Typically when we write a recap like this that takes a deep dive into an incredible story, we’re working with an article or a video. What makes this week’s content-dump especially exciting though, is that Red Bull treated us too three videos (the above trailer, a 12-minute edit we feature below, and a full hour long film which you can watch here), as well as a great interactive website that takes us through the stages of Bargiel’s mission. Because Red Bull has done such an incredible job of packaging this content into multiple options that ensure there’s a digestible form for just about anyone, we won’t bother diving too deeply into the details here. Instead, we’d highly recommend checking out the Red Bull website which provides excellent perspective and anecdotes, before checking out either the 12-minute or full length film, depending on what you have time for. As for Bargiel’s post-K2 plans? Well, it’s worth noting that our 2018 coverage isn’t the most recent time we’ve mentioned his name. Back in October of last year we shared the news that he was forced to abandon his attempt to summit and ski Everest, also without oxygen. While that mission was ultimately unsuccessful, the intent behind it all but guarantees that this won’t be the last time we write about Bargiel. For more on this, check out Red Bull’s website.
#4: There’s a New Wax in Town, and Mother Earth is Quite Pleased:
Finally, we end this week by sharing an exciting new product line from Swix, who has just announced a new line of eco-friendly ski waxes that have been in development since 2013, at a research cost of $2.2 million. Before we get into the details of this exciting new product line, we feel compelled to backtrack a bit to put Swix’s effort into perspective. Over the last decade or so, skiers and environmentalists alike have been aware of the environmental damage of fluorinated ski waxes. Put succinctly, while these types of waxes have been considered by far the fastest, particularly amongst cross country skiers, they also result in chemical pollution as the substance breaks down, is absorbed by the snow, and ultimately finds its way into local waterways. Despite being aware of the environmental damage being caused by these waxes and the ski community’s propensity for being climate change activists, the sheer performance of fluorinated waxes kept them on the market for several years. Starting this upcoming season though, Europe will officially ban the sale and use of the wax (joining an existing policy in the U.S.), ultimately meaning the FIS has been forced to ban these waxes as well. Of course a number of eco-friendly waxes and base solutions have become available in recent years (our favorite being DPS Phantom Base Treatment), but the differentiating factor here is that Swix has developed a line of waxes that they expect to offer world-class performance, on par with previously used fluorinated waxes. In their new lineup, Swix is offering three waxes: the Pro Performance Speed, Pro High Speed, and Pro Top Speed. While these eco-waxes are likely to be priced according to their high-end performance, we fully expect the technology used in these waxes to trickle down to consumer level products, meaning that in the years ahead we’ll likely see affordable, high performance, eco-friendly ski waxes hit the market. For more on this, check out the writeup from Powder Magazine.