Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays
Top Five Fridays: March 17, 2023
Lead Image: It’s official. Whether she wants to acknowledge it or not, Mikaela Shiffrin is the G.O.A.T. alpine ski racer. The numbers speak for themselves. Image: Mikaela Shiffrin on Facebook
#1: FIS Update: It Happened: Mikeala Shiffrin Has Been Queened the G.O.A.T.:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the March 17, 2023 edition! This week, we take you through a pair of competitive highlights, before sharing a couple of articles that are just downright cool. We think you’ll really enjoy them. Before getting into those however, we have to start with this week’s undeniable highlight: the slalom race heard ‘round the world.
Even if you’re not a skier, even if you somehow found your way to this post by accident, and even if you actually are living under a rock, it’s likely you’ve still heard the news: Mikaela Shiffrin has won her 87th World Cup Gold medal, the most of any FIS Alpine ski racer ever. When we left off last week, Shiffrin had just won her 86th gold medal, tying Ingemar Stenmark’s record. At that time, we mentioned that the following day was a slalom race, presenting the perfect opportunity for Shiffrin to take home her 87th victory ahead of the World Championships in Soldeu, Andorra. As it turns out, that’s exactly what she did. Much like her 86th victory, Shiffrin’s slalom win came as the result of a strong first run. After the first of the two races, Mikaela held a .94 second advantage. That result set up a dramatic finish as her lead resulted in her having the final say in the race, being the last athlete to go in the second round. As was the case with her 86th victory, Shiffrin’s advantage dwindled throughout her run before a strong final sector solidified her victory. At the end of the day, Shiffrin had made history, becoming the winningest alpine ski racer of all time, at the same mountain in which she earned her first ever FIS gold medal. Talk about coming full circle. For the world of ski racing, as well as the world of sports on the whole, last Saturday, March 11, 2023 was a historic day.
Of course, as you might expect, Shiffrin has since taken the day in stride, refusing to let it get to her head and downplaying any “G.O.A.T.” talk, saying the mental images of baby goats simply makes her laugh. As for what’s next, it very much sounds like Shiffrin’s not finished. While it would be easy for an athlete to achieve a monumental goal like this and begin easing up, it comes as little surprise that Shiffrin seems to still be focused on enjoying racing and having continued success. Having just announced the hiring of a new coach for next season, the final round of records are a number of upper echelon goals centered around FIS crystal globes. Starting next season, Shiffrin, who seems uninterested in chasing records, will begin her pursuit of capturing claims such as “Most Crystal Globes in a Single Discipline,” and “Most Overall Crystal Globes.” We’ll be sure to cover these records in more detail over the course of the next few years, but for now, we’d recommend checking out the celebratory coverage from SkiRacing.com.
In addition to the huge Shiffrin news this week, we also have a number of race results to recap. To get that underway, let’s continue with the aforementioned slalom race in Are. In addition to Mikaela’s huge win, Paula Moltzan finished in an impressive 4th place. On the men’s side, the final races of the regular season were held in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, where three U.S. athletes scattered themselves amongst the results across a pair of giant slalom races. In the first of the two events, River Radamus took home 15th. In the second race, River Radamus again led the way for Team America with his 17th place finish, followed by Tommy Ford in 21st, and George Steffey in 26th. With those races wrapped up, both the men’s and women’s circuits traveled to Soldeu, Andorra for the 2023 FIS Alpine World Championships.
So far this week, both the men and women have competed in downhill and super g races. Noting that speed events are the strength of the men’s team, but not the women’s team, it’s with great pleasure that we share the news that Breezy Johnson took home 6th place in the women’s downhill, while Isabella Wright took home 7th. Unfortunately the next day’s super g wasn’t quite as fruitful as only Shiffrin earned points, finishing in 14th place. On the men’s side, the highlight of the World Championships so far has been Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s 4th place finish in the super g. While a podium result would’ve been an amazing way to end the year for RCS, finishing just .15 seconds behind Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (more or less the Mikeala Shiffrin of the men’s side of the sport, and who also happens to be dating Mikaela Shiffrin), should provide ample motivation this off season. In the downhill race, RCS again led the way for the American men, with a 17th place finish. Directly behind him was Jared Goldberg in 18th, as well as Travis Ganong in 20th. With those races settled, only two events remain for both divisions this season: a giant slalom and slalom race. We’ll report back with full results next week, as well as full coverage of overall standings. Until then, you can check out the results and upcoming schedule from Soldeu, right here.
#2: Freeride World Tour Stop #4: Fieberbrunn, Austria Event Recap:
In other competitive news this week, we also have coverage of the latest stop of the Freeride World Tour. It’s been a few weeks since the last event, so allow us to provide a quick refresher: this week’s stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria, was the 4th stop of the 5 stop tour, and the first stop of the finals. As such, only the athletes who made the cut after the first three qualifying stops competed. Initially, this was intended to enable the venue to host a best of two runs competition, a unique scenario for the tour. Unfortunately, due to a confluence of weather issues, the event had to be scaled back to the traditional one run format in order to allow a Freeride qualifying event to take place on the same venue directly after. As such, an abbreviated field took on some challenging snow conditions, resulting in an event in which the podium was made up of the athletes who survived their run the cleanest.
On the women’s side of things, a number of competitors were putting together impressive runs before one simple mistake put an end to everything. A perfect example of this was Molly Armanino who was putting down a quality run, right up until she front punched the snow on the landing of her last air, causing her to fall. Ultimately, at the end of the day, only two athletes made it down the face without incident: Arianna Tricomi who claimed first, and Justine Dufour-Lapointe who earned second. Because Tricomi was a wildcard addition for the event, she didn’t earn points (yes, this is weird to us too), meaning the top three athletes heading into next week’s finals at Verbier are Justine Dufour-Lapointe in first, Molly Armanino in second, and Megane Betend in third.
On the men’s side, the survival storyline continued through as a number of athletes who typically threaten the podium fell on their runs, making it another case where the top spot was claimed by the athlete who held it together the best. That feat was accomplished by U.S. athlete Andrew Pollard who, despite being bucked off his line by a dense windlip, managed to improvise well enough to ski his way to victory. Behind him in second place was Maxime Chabloz, who many would argue could have won first. While Pollard’s run was highlighted by a large cross court 360 into a massive drop at the top of his run, followed by smooth skiing, speed, and control, Chabloz’s run was a white knuckled, trick laden run that had everyone at the edge of their seats. In his run, Chabloz packed in two massive backflips, a cork 7, a 360, and multiple airs and slashes. Unfortunately, in addition to these feats, Chabloz also hip checked his 360 and got caught up in some shrubbery, reducing his control score just enough to relegate him to second place. Rounding out the podium in third place was Oscar Mandin, who took a similar approach to Andrew Pollard, and landed a massive flatspin 360, but who was a bit too conservative on his smaller hits to claim the top spot. With the Fieberbrunn stop officially in the books, the top three men heading into the finals at Verbier are Valentin Rainer in first, Maxime Chabloz in second, and Andrew Pollard in third. To preview the Verbier event, click here. To see a full list of rankings, click here.
#3: You Might Not Know the Name, But You’ve Definitely Seen His Work. Meet Joel Gratz, the Most Under the Radar Influencer in Skiing:
Now that we’ve got competitive news out of the way, we want to share a couple of stories that are just purely interesting. First up on that mini list is an article from the Colorado Sun highlighting Joel Gratz. While you may not recognize the name, you’ve likely benefited from his work: Gratz is the co-founder and CEO of OpenSnow, arguably the foremost snow forecasting app. A meteorologist by trade and a skier by passion, Gratz first came to the realization that there was a need for detailed snow forecasting targeted to skiers after he opted out of a trip to Steamboat because the weather had called for just a few inches of snow. His friend, who didn’t opt out, ended up skiing waist deep powder. Since that experience in 2005, Gratz has slowly been building OpenSnow’s influence on the industry one snow report at a time. Now, after years of hard work, OpenSnow has become one of the de facto experts in snow forecasting, and is a tool that’s used by resorts, patrollers, and vacationers alike.
In the report from the Colorado Sun, we’re treated to plenty of nerdy details about what goes into snow forecasting, and what makes it such an inexact science. Far beyond the simple concept of moisture meeting cold air, Gratz’s prediction process involves combining atmospheric conditions such as high and low pressure systems, moisture content, storm tracks, the rotation of a storm, wind speed, and plenty more to get an understanding of what the atmosphere looks like at any given moment at any given location. From there, he digs into what forecasting models are saying and combines his experience, instincts, and research with these models to make his prediction. Then, he disperses this knowledge to skiers across the world who are eager to find out when and where the next storm is going to hit. As a result of his efforts, Gratz has become a major player in the industry, whether he or anyone else truly recognizes it. With forecasts read by millions that influence decisions about which mountains to travel to and when, Gratz has carved out a role in which he’s more or less the voice of the weather. As you might guess, his forecasts can result in the exchange of incredible sums of money at resorts across the world. While the Colorado Sun article doesn’t exactly dive into this dynamic, it does an excellent job of telling Gratz’s story, as well as the story of his business, OpenSnow. To learn more, we highly recommend giving the report a read.
#4: A Ski Themed Time Machine: The Vail Daily Shares Headlines From This Week in Skiing in Each of the Last Five Decades:
Finally, we’re rounding out this week with an article that’s not exactly new news, but is a really cool piece published by the Vail Daily. In an article titled, “Time Machine: 50 years ago, double backflip gone wrong leads to Vail Mountain ban on inverted aerials,” author John LaConte has compiled headlines from this week in ski news from 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years ago. We’ll spare you the full breakdown, but we think you’ll find the articles highlighted from 10, 20, and 50 years ago particularly interesting.
Let’s start with the news from 10 years ago, on March 16, 2013. Mikaela Shiffrin has just clinched the slalom crystal globe in her first full season of racing. Re-reading news clippings of the event, and knowing what we now know about her career as well as this week’s massive news, is enough to give us chills.
If we picked up a copy of the Vail Daily 20 years ago, on March 13, 2003, we would’ve read about how Vail is struggling financially. Six years after their IPO, in which their stock price was set at $22/share, stock had plummeted to a historic low of just $11.65. The cause of the decrease was cited as concerns over travel in the wake of the events of September 2001 and the subsequent war. Looking back, that version of Vail couldn’t seem further from our current reality, as the current stock price is $219.32/share. To put it in perspective, if you’d invested $1,000 in Vail stock on March 13, 2003, you would have $18,740 today. If you invested $100,000, you’d have $1,874,000. While it might feel like a missed opportunity, the upside here is that if someone were to ever ask you what you’d do if you could time travel, a new potential answer could be “go back to March 13, 2003 and invest in Vail stock.”
Finally, going back 50 years, we’re treated to an awesome bit of nostalgia as the Vail Daily and the New York Times covered the 1973 Rocky Mountain Freestyle circuit’s Western Championships. This was peak hot dog culture. At the Championships, athletes competed in trick and ballet, aerial acrobatic, and freestyle/mogul skiing. The overall winner of the event went home in a 1973 Vega Hatchback, while a $7,200 cash purse was also up for grabs. Scott Brooksbank won the car, while the duo of Mike Glazier and Roger Evans won the aerials event, completing a synchronized backflip. Unfortunately, the news also covered the fact that athlete Scott Magrino failed to complete a double backflip attempt, ultimately severing his spine. While we don’t know what happened next for Magrino, we do know that it resulted in flips being banned at Vail, as well as at other resorts- a decision that trickled down to countless ski areas across America for many years, some of which still have similar bans on inverts in place. All told, we simply found this piece purely fascinating, especially with the relevance to today’s news. You can read it in full here.