In July, U.S. Ski & Snowboard formed the Alpine COVID-19 Strategic Planning Commission, which was given the difficult — if not, impossible — task of trying to imagine what the alpine race season will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic and to plan accordingly.
The group, which is co-chaired by USSS Development Director Chip Knight and Darryl Landstrom, who also chairs the Alpine Sport Committee, includes experts from around the industry who are tasked with confronting the challenge, taking into consideration legal, resort, club, collegiate, and rules perspectives.
For U.S. Ski & Snowboard President & CEO Tiger Shaw, who has been working closely with the alpine task force and others to formulate a plan, it’s been a busy summer, unlike any other in the history of the sport. There is still quite a bit of uncertainty, but various elements are becoming more clear. For one, COVID isn’t going away, and the industry is starting to plan accordingly.
It starts with the resort, says Shaw, which must be open and willing to host a race. Fortunately, alpine races contribute to the overall ticket sales and do not significantly impact the resorts from a capacity standpoint, as compared to the general public.
“You can tell us not to ride the lift from 9:45 to 11 am — we can deal with that,” Shaw told Ski Racing Media in a recent interview. “Whereas the public, you can’t sell them a day ticket and tell them you can’t get on the lift during this peak time.”
For racers, the schedule and routine may be different, certainly less flexible. You can imagine arriving at the race hill fully dressed and booting up at the car before heading straight to the lift for inspection. Team captains meetings will likely move virtually the night before a race, and coaches will be the only people to make contact with bibs before distributing to the athletes. In any event, U.S. Ski & Snowboard knows it will need to be flexible, and so will the athletes, parents and coaches.
“If the first run has to be at 8:30 a.m. and inspection is at 7 a.m., and nothing happens until 1 p.m., we can do it that way. Most ski areas lift capacity drops at 1 p.m.,” said Shaw. “Or maybe we have both runs in the afternoon, who knows, but we can shift as a cohort easily.”
Smaller gatherings, less travel
Another goal is to reduce the amount of racing, travel, and exposure. There will be no need to cluster around a scoreboard, and awards ceremonies will likely be hosted virtually to reduce touch points. Athletes may turn to Zoom award ceremonies after returning home from a race, which could feature interviews with the winners before heading off to sleep in their own bed.
“As you move up through the age group with FIS points, there is much more demand and reason to have a national level race,” said Shaw. “At younger ages, to take a year off from doing the national championship or even regional (championships), depending on the age bracket, makes sense. These are just some of the things being kicked around, but nothing has been decided yet.”
For Shaw and his team, it’s important to look on the bright side and perhaps even capitalize on these challenges to create a more efficient system.
“Our sport may be changed permanently because things are done better now that we are forced to think outside the box,” said Shaw. “Ask what we are doing in two weeks, and I’ll tell you, ‘anything.’ Ask me what we’re doing in two months, and I will tell you in a month-and-a-half. Anything can change between now and then.”
The preliminary domestic schedule will be announced mid-September.