Lead Image: The world’s winningest freeskiing team has been invited back next year, with names like Maggie Voisin, Mac Forehand, Colby Stevenson and Alex Hall all (unsurprisingly) making the cut for next year’s nominations. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Website
#1: The 2022-2023 U.S. Alpine and Freeski Team Nominations Have Just Been Announced:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the May 13, 2022 edition! This week we’ve got ourselves a real grab bag of topics, but honestly, each highlight is pretty interesting in its own right. To kick things off we’ll start with some news from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team before shifting our focus to a topic that’s technically a mountain biking story, but has potential ramifications for the world of skiing as well. From there, we’ll tell you about a proposal for a backcountry ski area located in the heart of British Columbia, as well as ski mountaineer Adrian Ballinger’s latest incredible feat which involves a world’s first descent. To start, let’s check in with the USST.
As our annual subscribers know, it’s at about this time every year that the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team announces their nominations for each team in the season ahead. This year is no different as this week the organization announced the athletes they’ve decided to nominate to the team for next year, at which point it will be up to each individual athlete to accept or deny the nomination. While some athletes do decline for a variety of reasons, the vast majority accept the nomination, meaning this news is essentially a look at which athletes will be competing for Team America at the international level next year. Additionally, the yearly nominations are a chance for us to see who the USST is putting in the pipeline for developing talent. While there are a number of teams for which the USST announces nominations, we’re going to focus on just the Alpine and Freeskiing teams as those are the two circuits we cover most regularly here on Top Five Fridays. Now, with the stage set, let’s take a closer look at this year’s Alpine team nominations.
Before diving into names, we’d like to quickly cover the structure of the Alpine team. Within this team, there are four subteams: the A team, B team, C team, and D team. What these designations mean is pretty intuitive: the A team consists of the top performers and athletes who we expect to compete for podiums regularly next year, while the B team consists of athletes who will likely earn points and occasionally podium. On the other end of the spectrum, the D team, or development team, consists of athletes who will be joining the team largely for training and experience purposes, but might not actually compete in a World Cup event. As such, this year’s A team consists of numerous familiar names, such as Mikaeal Shiffrin, Breezy Johnson, Nina O’Brien, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Bryce Bennett, Tommy Ford, and more. One of the highlights of this round of nominations is that River Radamus has been promoted to the A team following a career year in which he finished in the top 15 overall in the World Cup Giant Slalom standings, and took home 4th in the GS race at this year’s Olympics. Other highlights worth noting include Ava Sunshine Jemison, Lauren Macuga, and Allie Resnick all making the leap from the D team to the B team for the women, and Camden Palmquist, Jay Poulter, and Cooper Puckett advancing to the C team from the D team for the men. Finally, in terms of newcomers, we’d like to welcome Elisabeth Bocock, Kaitlin Keane, and Kjersti Moritz to the D team. Huge congratulations to all the athletes who are continuing to make progress in their careers. To learn more about this and to see a complete list of nominations, head over to the USST’s official announcement.
For the Freeskiing side of the nomination announcement, we have to start by congratulating all of last year’s athletes who made up the winningest freeskiing team in the world; a fact that we hadn’t realized until the USST shared that fun fact in this week’s announcement. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that a number of familiar faces have received nominations once again, including Alex Hall, Nick Goepper, Colby Stevenson, David Wise, Alex Ferreira, Aaron Blunck, and more. While all of the divisions from last year’s team performed quite well on the world stage, the men’s Slopestyle / Big Air team anchored the team, with Alex Hall, Nick Goepper, and Colby Stevenson taking home a combined 5 Olympic medals. While he didn’t land an Olympic medal in his first effort, Mac Forehand, who finished in 3rd place overall in the World Cup slopestyle standings, is yet another U.S. athlete whose nomination strengthens the team. Those athletes, plus Cody Laplante and newcomer Hunter Henderson make up next year’s Slopestyle and Big Air team. On the other side of the sport, there are also a ton of veteran names, as well as new names, comprising the Halfpipe teams. There, David Wise, Alex Ferreira, Aaron Blunck, Birk Irving, and Brita Sigourney anchor their respective teams, while Dylan Ladd and Hanna Faulhaber have been promoted to the pro team after strong showings on the rookie level. One final note of interest is that Grace Henderson, sibling to Hunter Henderson, has been promoted to the Women’s Slopestyle / Big Air Pro team. While it’s far too soon to make any outrageous claims, it is cool to consider the thought that in another 4 years, this sibling duo could be making serious waves at the next iteration of the Olympics. Finally, on a closing note, we’d like to offer another round of sincere congratulations to all athletes nominated to the USST Freeskiing team. To check out a complete list of nominees, check out the USST’s official announcement.
#2: After “Unprecedented” Lawsuit, Mt. Hood Skibowl Announces the Indefinite End of its Mountain Biking Offering:
Next up this week is a headline that’s technically from the world of our sister sport of mountain biking, but that could have significant ramifications on ski resorts on the whole. Before we start connecting those dots, let’s review the story itself. Back in 2016, former pro cyclist Gabriel Owens was ripping his way down Mt. Hood Skibowl’s Cannonball trail, a doubleblack diamond, when he hit a bump, lost control, flipped over his handlebars, and smashed into a 4”x4” post that was holding a trail marker. As a result of that crash, Owens suffered significant injuries that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Also as a result of that crash, Owens sued the Mt. Hood Skibowl, a lawsuit that ultimately resulted in a $11.4m judgment in favor of Owens. Following that, Mt. Hood Skibowl threatened to appeal the verdict which would have resulted in a long legal process. Instead of allowing that to happen, Owens and the Mt. Hood Skibowl agreed to settle for $10.5m.
This all brings us to this week’s news as the resort has just announced the end of its mountain biking offering as a direct result of what they’ve referred to as an unprecedented verdict. Citing this case as well as recent precedents, the resort is rightfully concerned about their ability to protect themselves from lawsuits resulting from injuries sustained during inherently dangerous activities. One interesting aspect of this particular case is that the plaintiff argued that the trail sign should’ve been collapsible to prevent injury. Noting that the trail marker was made of wood, much like the thousands of trees lining the hillside, it’s hard to imagine a way for a ski resort to completely mitigate this type of injury or legal result. This point here is where the news overlaps with the world of skiing. If a ski or mountain bike area is unable to insulate themselves against massive lawsuits when their guests are injured while partaking in a sport that involves some level of risk, how can they be expected to operate a successful business with confidence? While we certainly sympathize with Owens and his injury, it’s hard to not feel like this is a significant threat to both ski resorts and their summertime offerings, just as many ski areas are beginning to include mountain biking as part of an effort to become a year round business. To learn more about this story, check out the report from KGW.com, or the press release from the Mt. Hood Skibowl.
#3: A Proposal for a New Backcountry Ski Resort in the Kootenays of British Columbia Creates a Heated Debate:
In other contentious news this week, we came across an impressively thorough article from Canada’s The Globe and Mail that describes the ongoing saga regarding the proposed Zincton backcountry ski area. For starters here’s some background information: just an hour North of Nelson lies an old mining town called New Denver. Within said town is a relatively popular backcountry ski area called Zincton. In recent years, area business man and avid skier David Harley has begun sharing his vision for turning this area into a mostly backcountry ski area, similar in concept to Bluebird Backcountry. Citing the gap in experience required for skiers to make the leap from resort skiing to true backcountry skiing in British Columbia, as well as the general explosion in interest in the sport, Harley is hoping to develop a ski area in which 80% is only accessible by touring, while the other 20% resembles a traditional ski area with chairlifts and a lodge. In taking this approach, he wants to create an environment in which it’s easy for experienced skiers to safely learn the ropes of backcountry skiing while additional services such as guides, snowpack information, and rescue services are readily available. From the perspective of safely growing interest in backcountry skiing, the plan sounds excellent.
There are, however, a number of groups expressing their disapproval of the plan. First and foremost, other skiers themselves are pushing back, largely due to the fact that the Zincton area is one of the last easily accessible, remote options for touring in the area. The locals who’ve been touring the area for years don’t want to see it turned into a resort of any kind, even one which remains free for them to use. Then, there are also those who have concerns with the expanded use of public lands under Canada’s tenure program. Under this system, private groups are able to apply for the right to use public land to operate their business on. In recent years, there’s been an explosion of tenured land grants awarded for recreational operations. Many in the area would like to at least see these policies reviewed before more grants are awarded, particularly with environmental considerations in mind. This, as it is, leads us to the final group pushing back on the plan: environmentalists and local Indigineous people, specifically those of the Okanagan Indian Band who lay claim to the land that’s being considered for Zincton. The push back from this group is obvious and warranted: establishment of a ski area on this plot of land could be disruptive to a number of animals, such as wolverines, grizzly bears, and caribou. While the team behind Zincton promises to mitigate disruptions and to be positive stewards of the land, these legitimate environmental concerns remain.
All in all, it’s a really interesting story, and one that we expect to see more of in the near future as demand for backcountry access continues to grow. Already we’ve seen a similar story regarding bighorn sheep in the Grand Tetons, and as more areas are considered for backcountry access, we’ll continue to hear about the environmental ramifications of doing so. Still, it’s hard to suggest that skiers don’t belong in the vast wilderness as exploring new terrain is something that’s simply in human nature. To do so safely, ski areas like Bluebird Backcountry or the proposed resort in Zincton are necessary parts of educating new skiers before they’re thrust into unsafe environments. As a result, we’re looking at a dicey situation that once again pits skiers against the vast wilderness that they love so much. To learn more about this particular case, we recommend giving the article over on The Globe and Mail a full read. You can also learn more about the proposed Zincton project on their official website.
#4: Adrian Ballinger Has Just Made the First Ski Descent on the World’s Fifth Tallest Mountain:
Finally, for our final highlight, we have a milestone to celebrate. On Monday of this week, prolific high altitude ski mountaineer Adrian Ballinger made the first successful ski descent down Himalayan mountain Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world. Prior to Ballinger’s descent, Makalu was one of only two peaks above 8,000 meters that hadn’t been skied. As you might expect, the story behind this mission is quite amazing.
After being the first team to successfully summit the mountain in the 2022 season, Ballinger rested for just 10 minutes before beginning his descent. As the top of the peak was exposed, Ballinger climbed down to just below the ridgeline before clicking into his skis. From there, he descended the notoriously dangerous French Couloir in whiteout conditions. Making matters more precarious, he was required to stop midway down in order to repel over a 180’ cliff. After successfully navigating this feature, Ballinger re-equipped himself and skied down to Camp 3 where he snuck in a cup of coffee. With that box checked, he continued on, skiing close to the climbing rope between Camps 2 and 3, resulting in mixed reactions from those climbing up who were either excited, confused, or concerned to see him descending on skis. Finally, as conditions allowed, Ballinger skied questionable conditions to the base of the glacier, ultimately descending over 8,000 vertical feet and marking the first successful ski descent down Makalu. Upon completing his journey, Ballinger was asked about what was next. While his response was that he’s simply enjoying the moment and not worrying about what’s next, he was sure to mention that Kanchenjunga is the last remaining unskied peak above 8,000 meters. As you might guess, there are plenty of additional, thoroughly interesting details in this story, and we’d highly recommend giving the coverage over on Outside Online a complete read.