Lead Image: What does the longest rail slide in the world look like? Exactly like this. Photo shot by Judith Bergström for Red Bull.
#1: Big Decisions Were Made at the 2022 FIS Annual Congress:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the May 27, 2022 edition! Full disclosure: it was a bit of a slower week than usual in the world of skiing, although there were a couple of highly notable events that happened. We’ll fill you in on both of those, as well as a couple of stories of interest from the worlds of ski racing and freeskiing before ultimately rounding things out with something of a retrospective version of our Edits of the Week. To kick things off, let’s check in with the FIS, who just hosted their annual congress.
As we’ve mentioned in recent weeks, current FIS president Johan Eliasch’s one year interim position was set to expire at the end of May. The reason for that is because that’s when the International Ski Federation (FIS) hosts their annual congress, a meeting in which representatives from all member nations convene to vote on any number of items pertaining to the direction and regulations of the organization. This week, the 2022 FIS congress was held, the centerpiece of which was a vote on Johan Eliasch’s election for another four years of presidency. Now, if you have been reading along in recent weeks, you might also know that we’re fans of Eliasch here on SkiEssentials as he’s already put forth some bold moves that would seem to broaden the FIS’s audience. With that in mind, we’re quite happy to share the news that he was in fact elected once again. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way, and the reason isn’t even really Eliasch’s fault: he ran unopposed. Due in principle to that fact, Eliasch was elected to become the next president of the FIS, having received 70 votes. With 117 eligible voters, that also means that 47 member nations withheld their votes; not an insignificant number. At this moment, while some nations might not be pleased with the way the election was held, the outcome is as it stands: Johan Eliasch is the FIS president for another four years. That said, some of those abstaining voters could pursue legal action, should they choose to. If that happens, rest assured we’ll let you know. For more on this controversy, check out the report from SkiRacing.com.
In addition to the big election, there were a number of other decisions made at the 2022 FIS Annual Congress. While we won’t cover every detail here, we will go over a few of the highlights, including the fact that the International Ski Federation has officially changed its name to the International Ski and Snowboard Federation. While the formal name of the organization has been updated, they were gracious enough to decide to continue using “FIS” as the acronym, saving us a good amount of additional explanation over the course of the next 12 months or so. Additionally, four nations had their membership status updates approved, with the Saudi Winter Sports Federation and the Uruguayan Ski and Snowboard Association becoming associate members, and The Ski and Snowboard Association of Thailand and the United Arab Emirates Snow and Ice Sports Federation becoming full members. Finally, the last update we’ll mention is that the FIS has agreed to take over governance from the Para Snowsports International Paralympic Committee (IPC), meaning the FIS will now be coordinating the inclusion of FIS type para sports in upcoming Olympic games. Details for how that transition will occur are yet to be finalized, but the plan in general has been approved. To learn more details about the decisions made in this year’s annual congress, click here.
#2: Vail Daily Just Launched the First Installment of a Seven Part Series Examining the U.S. Ski Team’s Talent Pipeline:
In other ski racing news this week, we were excited to see that the Vail Daily has just launched a new seven part series called “Inside the Skiing Pipeline.” This series, which kicked off yesterday and we expect to roll out on a daily basis, takes an exceptionally close look at the problems plaguing the talent pipeline for the U.S. Ski Team. In the first piece, and the only one that was published at the time of this writing, the Vail Daily starts by reflecting back on the most successful U.S. Ski Team ever - the 1982 Women’s Team, which won the U.S.’s first and only Nation’s Cup. That title, which is given to the nation whose team accumulated the most points across the entirety of the FIS season, ultimately denotes the overall best team each year. To earn that prize, a country can’t have just one or two championship caliber athletes. Instead, they have to be loaded with depth. It’s with that premise set that Vail Daily launches into an examination of some of the problems plaguing the USST pipeline as it currently stands.
In their coverage of the issue, the Vail Daily identifies two key issues with the way we introduce the sport of skiing to athletes at a young age: motivations for participation and for profits. First, participation. Here in the U.S., it’s argued that sports culture in general has created an environment in which we’re always looking for the next greatest athlete. The NFL is looking for the next Tom Brady, the NBA wants the next Lebron, and the USST is already searching for the next Mikaela Shiffrin. That approach has many negative repercussions, one of which is the disillusionment of young athletes who quickly come to the conclusion that they’re not cut out for greatness in their sport. Following the logic presented by the original motivations, if a kid isn’t destined to be great, then why bother? Building on this unhealthy concept is the mindset of those athletes who realize they could be great. For them, participation in the sport becomes less about enjoying the sport for what it is, and more of a means to an end as they look to hone their skills in order to become great at it, with the ultimate goal of acquiring wealth and fame. As a result of this perspective, young athletes in the U.S. across a variety of sports become either discouraged or burnt out, neither of which result in a vast pool of talent at the highest levels.
The other issue with the U.S.’s approach to ski racing is that those involved in organizing events, be it races, camps, or other programs, tend to be incentivized by profit. One example provided by the article in the Vail Daily is in regards to the actual cost of registering for races as the U.S.’s entry fees are far higher than those in Europe. As a result, the U.S.’s FIS races are more about accumulating profits for organizers and less about developing talent. Of course the issue of cost goes well beyond the individual races themselves, and has actually been an ongoing topic of discussion for years now. In addition to race fees, athletes have the cost of their skis, boots, race uniforms, helmets, and other equipment- all of which are higher end items as they fall firmly into the “performance” category. And then there’s the cost of joining a racing team, the season pass, and travel costs for each event- not to mention the additional travel, training camps, and even ski academies for athletes performing at the highest level. All of these factors combined create a sport in which the wealthier you are, the more opportunities you have to develop your talent. This financial dynamic, combined with the above perspective on how we view young athletes, creates a scenario in which the USST’s talent pipeline is optimized more in favor of capitalism than in actually developing athletes. While yesterday’s post from the Vail Daily was just the first in a seven part series, we’ve already gained an exceptional amount of information and insights into some of the problems plaguing the ski team’s talent development effort. Over the course of the next six stories within the series, we expect to learn much, much more. To check out the first post in this series, click here.
#3: Jesper Tjader Sets New World Record for Longest Rail Slide on Skis:
Next up this week we have some very rare, and very exciting news: Jesper Tjader is officially a world record holder! Back in the beginning of May, Jeseper Tjader teamed up with Red Bull and the builders at Stendalen in Åre, Sweden to construct a monstrous, roughly 530’ long rail. It’s truly difficult to convey just how long that is, so we certainly recommend watching the attached video to see it for yourself. Anyways, after getting this ridiculously long rail perfectly setup, the attempts began. Before his first hit, Tjader was asked how many attempts he thought it might take, to which he said 525. With that, Tjader was off. Over the course of the first two days, he faced both rain and wind, making the challenge even more difficult. Then, on the third day, the weather cleared and on his 127th attempt, Jesper succeeded in sliding the entire rail. Well, almost anyways. After accounting for the portion of the rail that Jesper cleared when getting onto the rail, it was confirmed that he had set a new record for the world’s longest rail slide on skis, measuring in at 506’ 10.28”. Just to be clear, that means Jesper cleared nearly 24’ of rail between the takeoff and landing on it. Apparently that’s what happens when you need to be traveling 47.85 MPH to complete a rail. In accomplishing this feat, Tjader dethroned skiing legend Tom Wallisch who previously held the record, having slid a 424’ rail back in 2016. Noting that Tjader’s effort was about 100’ longer than Wallisch’s, it really makes us wonder what the limit actually is. Given the need for perfect conditions, a perfect slope, and an incredible amount of material to slide, it’ll likely be some time before we see another record breaking attempt. When we do, we hope to see the bar raised by another 100’ or so. Until then, check out the accompanying video to watch a recap of this insane accomplishment, or check out the written coverage from Red Bull.
#4: Freeskiing History 101: Newschoolers.com Nominates the Best Ski Edits of All Time:
Finally, rounding out this offseason week of ski news, we wanted to share something fun that’s going on over on Newschoolers.com. We’ve cited that website a number of times here on Chairlift Chat, and anyone who’s involved in the freeski scene is undoubtedly aware of it, but for those who aren’t, Newschoolers.com is the original freeskiing community. Established in the early 2000’s a number of those who grew up alongside the sport, including countless professional athletes, have spent considerable time posting in their forums and uploading edits of themselves. Given that history and the site’s ongoing pulse on the sport, they’ve just launched a for-fun poll asking the question, “What’s the Greatest Edit of All Time?” Based on a list of 18 edits which were selected by both editors from the site as well as a previously held wild card vote, Newschoolers has embedded every video on one page, followed by a poll. Amongst the 18 edits are true classics, like Tom Wallisch’s SuperUnknown entry, the first episode of Line’s Traveling Circus, and a particularly expletive laden edit from Clown School, whose presence dominated Park City in its heyday. But, the poll is for best edits of all time, which means there are also recent classics, such as Candide’s “One of Those Days,” and Markus Eder’s “Ultimate Run.” All in all, this isn’t really news as much as it is just a fun trip down memory lane for freeskiers. If you’d like to reminisce or view some pieces of freeskiing history, check out the post over on Newschoolers.