#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: Shiffrin Remains Steady, Several World Championship Races Cancelled:
First up this week, in what could be the last FIS update of the year, we eagerly bring you a recap of last week’s World Cup Ski Racing action. Last week, both the men’s and women’s circuits kicked off in traditional fashion, with the women competing in two Slalom races in Are, Sweden, while the men competed in a Giant Slalom and Slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovakia. In the women’s races, the U.S. team showed up in a big way, with Shiffrin continuing her streak of recent podium finishes, earning a third place finish in last Friday’s race, as well as a second place finish in last Saturday’s race. While we certainly don’t want to downplay Shiffrin’s latest accomplishments and return to competitive form, we’re also compelled to take a moment to specifically salute Paula Moltzan, who had an incredible weekend between the two races. In Friday’s race, Moltzan came in 9th place, tieing her best World Cup finish ever. Then, just a day later, she four-upped herself, earning a 5th place finish in the second slalom race of the weekend, thereby establishing a new career best. As you can see in the attached image, Moltzan was through the roof with excitement over her accomplishment, understandably so. In addition to Shiffrin and Moltzan, Nina O’Brien also earned points over the weekend, finishing in 22nd in both races. Unfortunately on the men’s side of things, the U.S. Team’s results were less favorable as no American athlete earned points in either race.
After last weekend’s action, the expectation was that both the men’s and women’s circuits would convene in Lenzerheide, Switzerland for a number of season-ending races as the resorts hosted the FIS Championships. Unfortunately, mother nature had significantly different plans for the week, instead putting forth an incredible amount of snow, leading to the cancellation of a number of races. Since Monday, a total of eight races have been cancelled, including both men’s and women’s Downhill and Super G events. While it’s a bummer that we won’t be able to discuss these final race results here on Top 5 Fridays, the real disappointment is amongst the athletes who hoped to use the final races as a chance to move up the overall standings, potentially winning or earning a podium finish for these events. Of course, for every loser in a situation, there’s also a winner, as the cancelled races have resulted in the conclusion of the Downhill and Super G seasons, solidifying the overall podiums for these events. Rather than break down each and every finish so far, we’ll send you over to the FIS website to review these results.
Finally, before we wrap up our FIS Ski Racing coverage this week, we want to quickly share the announcement that U.S. Ski Team President and CEO Tiger Shaw has announced that he’ll be resigning from his role at the conclusion of the 2022 Winter Olympics. From what we can tell, it sounds as if this decision was made largely due to the 4-year cyclical nature of Olympic sports. With the ongoing 4 year goal of representing the U.S. as best as possible at the Olympic games, Shaw recognized that the event provides a natural decision point to either continue serving the team, or to turn it over to someone new. After first stepping into the role of CEO after the Olympic games in 2014, Shaw has led the U.S. Team through the 2018 events, and plans to do the same through 2022. In addition to being a well timed exit, this week’s announcement also gives the U.S. Ski Team plenty of time to find an adequate replacement. While we’ll surely follow up with a proper send off in about a year’s time, it also seems necessary to acknowledge Shaw’s contributions to the U.S. Ski Team over the course of his tenure. To learn more about this, check out this writeup from Ski Racing Media.
#2: FIS Freeski World Championships Results & Recap:
Also happening in FIS competition this week, was the Freestyle Skiing World Championships. Taking place in Aspen, at the same venue as this year’s X Games competition, the FIS Freestyle Skiing Championships consisted of three events for both men’s and women’s divisions: Superpipe, Slopestyle, and Big Air. Before we look at some of the results from this year’s events, we want to take a second to shout out the team who designed this year’s slopestyle course. If you caught any of the X Games, you might’ve found yourself thinking that, while the course design was particularly creative, there’s a chance that it didn’t enable athletes to truly highlight their skills as unique features resulted in athletes restricting their bag of tricks in order to only put down runs that they could confidently land on the features. The FIS World Championship course on the other hand, may have felt a bit more “stock”, but also enabled athletes to not only perform their best tricks, but also to mix in a bit of their own personality, particularly in the rail section. While you may find some disagreement about whether or not the approachable course layout was the right move, the results are definite and can be seen in Birk Rudd’s backflip onto the rainbow rail, or James Wood’s massive cross-court 270 disaster onto the down portion of the up-gap-down rail. While neither of these athletes podiumed, it wasn’t due to a lack of creative effort. Rather, it was the result of even more impressive feats being landed by the top three athletes, a list that included Andri Ragettli in first, followed by Americans Colby Stevenson and Alex Hall in second and third places respectively. Also earning a podium finish for the U.S. Men’s team over the course of the championships was Birk Irving who finished in third in the Superpipe event.
On the women’s side of the competition, the storyline continues to be dominated by Eileen Gu, a relative newcomer to the competitive scene who’s been absolutely dominating events this year. After having something of a breakout at this year’s X Games, Gu came back to Aspen and made her presence known once again, winning both the Slopestyle and Halfpipe events, while finishing third in Big Air. Unfortunately for Team America, despite being born and raised in California, Gu is representing her mother’s birth country in international competition as she plans to represent China in the upcoming Olympics. While it’s a personal decision that has to be respected, it’s unfortunate for the U.S. team as her inclusion would have taken the team from missing podiums in all three events, to winners of two events and podium finishers of all three. Of course, that’s not to say the U.S. Team lacks talent. In the Superpipe competition for example, 4th, 5th, and 6th places were all claimed by U.S. athletes. In addition to these results, both the U.S. men’s and women’s teams put up a number of finishes that earned points. To review the results in full, we’ll defer you to the official FIS website.
#3: Freeride World Tour Stop #3 - Fieberbrunn, Austria Results & Recap:
Finally, for our third piece of competitive ski news, we’re excited to bring you a recap of last week’s Freeride World Tour stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria. If you’re someone who’s always been intrigued by the Freeride World Tour but hasn’t actually watched any of the competitions, we’d highly encourage you to give the competition broadcast from this stop a watch (which, you can conveniently do in our edits of the week below). Amongst the FWT venues, the Fieberbrunn stop offers arguably the most diverse terrain options, truly enabling athletes to find a line down that mountain that best highlights their talents. As such, the competition is a thrill to watch as each and every run has something amazing to see. Of course, due to the send-factor that’s inherent within this venue, not all athletes are able to complete their runs on their feet, but even those who fall still put on a ridiculous show regardless. A prime example of that would be Aymar Navarro, who was in the middle of an absolutely insane run that combined steep, fast, technical skiing with gutsy airs, before ultimately slamming into a wind-drift after airing over a channel gap. For those wondering, yes, it was as insane to watch as it sounds.
The good news is, despite nearly half the men’s field crashing, just over half the competitors survived their runs without falling. Not only that, but the top 5 finishers all put down absolutely insane runs. Part of that might be due to the fact that the first competitor of the day, Reine Barkered, kicked things off with a ridiculous run that featured high speeds and massive airs. While it’s difficult for the first athlete to drop to ever win a competition, due to judges needing to provide space on the scoreboard for better runs, Barkered’s score of 89.00 ultimately held up quite well, earning him a second place finish. The only athlete to score higher was American Ross Tester whose run earned him a 90.00. Notably, Tester has won two out of three FWT events this season, with his only non-gold medal finish coming as a result of a crashed run, which earned him a DNF.
If the men’s side of this stop of the FWT could be summed up in a word, it would be, “rowdy.” On the other hand, if we had to choose a word to describe the women’s competition, it would be, “strategic.” Being the third division to drop into the mountain, the women’s field had to battle chopped up terrain, variable snow, and inconsistent lighting. That, combined with a relatively small field size, resulted in a number of women opting for a strategic approach down the mountain rather than the all-out approach which was more prevalent in stops one and two of the tour. Evidence of this statement can be found in Zuzanna Witych’s run, which was moderately paced, calculated, and chock full of small airs and features. As a result of her quantity oriented approach, Witych was ultimately crowned the champion of this week’s event.
Now, with the first three stops finished up, qualified athletes from the Men and Women’s fields have traveled to Verbier, Switzerland for the final stop on this year’s tour. That event is scheduled to happen on Monday, so barring any unexpected changes, we’ll be back next week to recap that stop as well as the FWT season in its entirety. Until then, you can get yourself excited for that stop by checking out the details on the Freeride World Tour website. For more results from this week’s stop, click here.
#4: Arapahoe Basin Announces Decision to Reduce Ticket Sales Next Season:
Finally, let’s conclude this week by stepping away from the competitive side of the sport. As we all know, the rise in multi-passes in recent years has caused scenes of congestion at some of the sport’s most popular resorts. As a result, many ski areas began implementing paid parking policies last winter, while other areas, such as Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, are looking at implementing costly plans to improve transportation to and from the mountains. One resort that’s shown signs of wanting to buck that trend, is Arapahoe Basin, where resort management made the decision after the 2018-2019 season to leave their agreement with the Epic Pass. Under that agreement, pass holders had access to unlimited skiing at the resort. After ending that agreement, Arapahoe Basin joined the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes, both of which limit the number of days guests can ski at the resort. At the time, the move was cited as a way to better control crowd sizes at the resort as the Epic Pass experiment had resulted in both unreasonably long lift lines and significant parking issues around the resort.
Consider this information the backdrop for this week’s news, as Arapahoe Basin has just announced that they’ll be limiting season pass and daily ticket sales by 10% next season. Their goal with this move is obvious: to further control crowd sizes at the resort. Citing both their experience with changing the multi-pass agreements, as well as new knowledge about mountain capacity that they’ve learned due to Covid restrictions, the management team at Arapahoe Basin cited this reduction in pass sales as a way to preserve the “culture and vibe” of the resort. For most skiers, it goes without saying that hearing a phrase like that coming from a resort that was once overrun by multi-pass holders is a breath of fresh air. While it’s likely that the resort will see a slight decrease in revenue as a result of the decision, it’ll also likely be offset by an increase in customer loyalty and satisfaction, two metrics which are key to a resort’s long term financial health. To learn more about this decision, you can read about the initial announcement here, as well as some of the further thoughts and reflections on the decision in this article from Summit Daily.