We enter 2016 with our season well underway. At the World Cup level, the slalom circuits have passed the mid-point. Hope you were hanging on tight — it’s been an unusual ride already, even by ski racing standards.
Climate change has become very real to the organizers of World Cup ski racing. One has to wonder how much longer before some money plugs are pulled. The costs of conducting a major ski race are big. The financial payback is not enough to warrant gambling against Mother Nature. Many of the classic sites are relatively small towns. Their races ARE their identity, so they may persevere beyond logic, but the wonder remains.
The average number of World Cup races relocated each season has been a little under 10 percent since the turn of the century. We went past that mark when Adelboden’s GS got shifted by fog. Out of the 89 originally scheduled, 11 races have been moved or canned outright.
That shouldn’t be a big surprise. Running an outdoor sport in winter, in the mountains, is a ludicrous concept.
Among those races we have gotten in was a decidedly non-normal parallel GS. It was dominated by super G skiers. Should we have seen that coming?
Then the schedulers took a page from baseball and staged five men’s races in five days. Really?
And in the middle of all that came — drumroll, please — “The Drone Incident.”
Fortunately no one was physically injured, though I’m sure some folks had nightmares. It was way too close to a major disaster for the entire nation of Austria for comfort.
Now fast forward to another little bit of modern technology, the airbag of Matthias Mayer. He crashed. It inflated. He still sustained a debilitating injury. These devices, new to ski racing, have been employed with some success in motorcycle racing. Now perhaps Mayer’s injuries would have been even more severe than the fracturing of two thoracic vertebrae he sustained. Ted Ligety pointed out a bit caustically on social media that he believed the bag itself formed a fulcrum around which Mayer’s back bent, enhancing the injury.
There was, of course, plenty of concern on the subject, as well as plenty of investigation and debate. Mayer’s doctors and the athlete himself maintain that his injuries were not the fault of the airbag which does not inflate along the back or spine. ”We can rule out any causation between the fractures and the airbag,” Mayer’s surgeon told the Associated Press. “It’s possible the system has limited injury to the chest.”
After intensive discussion, the International Ski Federation as well as the Austrian Ski Federation agreed to keep the airbag systems for speed disciplines and to further foster the technical development of what has been heralded as an innovative protective system.
Our best wishes for Matthias for a speedy and complete recovery. Such a dangerous little sport, this ski racing.
There were also a couple of big-time losses to the sport, particularly in the U.S.
It is amazing how many people Stein Eriksen had an impact on. We’ve read many a tribute over the past few weeks.
Eriksen was the personification of the public ambassador of skiing. In the heyday of skiing, getting a toehold in the U.S., Stein Eriksen was the charismatic pied piper. The terminally handsome, blue-eyed, wavy blond-haired, sweater-wearing, reverse-shoulder, smooth skiing, perfect-form gentleman of the slopes. He personified the guy every young skier in the 50s and 60s wanted to be. I showed my mother a picture of Stein so she could knit me a duplicate sweater. It didn’t improve my skiing, but I sure looked good.
But as it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a world of sportsmen to build a sport. A couple of weeks before Stein passed on, we lost an equally big, but more quiet player, George Macomber, a charismatic gentleman in his own right. Macomber was there at the beginning of skiing in the U.S., spearheading construction of ski hills (Wildcat among others) and snowmaking across New Hampshire and the East. He contributed heavily to his sport, donating money and time as a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation and paying for the first program to study cardiac care for competitive athletes. Recently, he contributed a healthy chunk of change for the Mittersill training facility at Franconia Notch, which significantly enhances the opportunities American ski racers in the East will have to train.
Both these guys lived to make their 88th birthdays. These were long, delicious and fulfilled lives. Take a look around the race office at your next competition. My bet is the rooms will be filled with people the age of your grandparents. It’s normal that folks well past the age of competing become officials, but dang man, these guys have earned a rest. Just sayin’. It might be time to change the normal and get some younger enthusiastic ski people involved. The clock is ticking. Happy New Year. Safe speed.