When you combine smart and passionate people with a shared vision, an openness to change, a culture of innovation, and a spirit of collaboration, good things will happen.
– Dr. Jim Taylor
Ski racing is essentially a simple sport. There is a start, a finish and the best time between the two takes the laurels.
At the most fundamental level, ski racing is an individual sport. Competitor against the mountain, using their skill, bravado and tactics to negotiate the nuances and obstacles to find the elusive fastest line.
It has been a century since Sir Arnold Lunn of the Kandahar Ski Club codified the rules. From the earliest days, ski racing has been international. The best of your nation against the best from ours. Major international events, many now known as our “classic” events, have drawn the most talented from around the world to challenge their skill, their bravado and their tactics against legendary tracks.
An individual sport, set in a team environment. Team has two meanings.
There is the “team” of your fellow athletes. Very important, for building strong peer groups, for sharing information, for commiserating and celebrating. Life on the road by yourself is no fun.
And there is the Team that surrounds the athletes: coaches, service technicians, trainers, physios, medical – the support Team that guides, lifts, directs, shapes, mentors and support the athletes in their pursuit of excellence. This is the essential backbone of every Team.
Very few nations can muster a comprehensive program on their own. Even the power leaders look outside their ‘team’ for support. It may be no more than validation of the direction of training by inviting a partner to join a training session. Or a full collaboration between two smaller teams to replicate the human resources and reach of a larger power. It’s everything from eyes on the track, replacement of gates, the labour of course prep and setup – covering the infrastructure of our sport to ensure the track is safe and optimal; to enhancing the quality of the training group through more talent and shared experience.
Collaboration within alpine ski racing is everywhere. Nations have worked together. Teams work together. Coaches work together. It makes life easier. The workload is shared. Training is better. Athletes have a superior training environment. Competitiveness breeds excellence.
I’ve seen this in action at every level. Nations collaborating to optimize their resources. Groups within a country working closely together to provide better, more-cost effective support to lower level athletes who shoulder the responsibility of costs.
Working together is in our DNA. It’s what we do. This is our sport culture.
As our sport currently faces the greatest challenge we have ever encountered, I believe our culture and our character can see us through.
Next week the International Ski Federation launches our first-ever online meetings. We gather via the wonders of technology to map out plans for the coming winter.
There is a lot of work ahead of us. Finding solutions to ensure we have a ski racing season winter will require our community – the entire community – to work together. To get the green light from the health authorities to proceed with a season, we need to devise ways to operate our sport. We need to be creative to develop ways for our organizers to prepare slopes and build a race arena. We need to find solutions to accommodation, food, travel and training.
We also face an unevenness to access. Some ski nations are blessed with glaciers and resorts that offer easier access to snow and training venues. Many of these also enjoy tremendous support from resort and ski industry. Both are international in scope, which has prompted the underpinning of ski racing for decades – promoting destinations through the power of TV, with exciting action on classic competition slopes against a backdrop of magnificent panoramas. Skiing has become truly international in scope with a ski industry that spans cold and warm countries alike.
This fundamental element of our sport: the ski community and our international foundation, are what we are. A ski race, is not a true ski race, if all the worlds best are not there. This was the unique philosophy of the Alpine Ski World Cup proposed by founders Serge Lang, Bob Beattie, Sepp Sulzberger and Honoré Bonnet in 1966 as they gathered in the Seidlalm on the side of the Streif at Kitzbühel. An annual series of ski competitions, bringing together ALL the best competitors in the world: the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup has been the foundation of our sport for 54 seasons.
Ski racing is a family. We are all part of the ski community. I’ve seen it in action many times. It works because we know collaboration makes the enormous task of delivering the training or competition environment that is safe, fair and an athletic test works best when we work together.
We want the competitive arena to be where we find out who the best is. We prefer to see great races, decided by talent and tactics. We know this is a fundamental value of our World Cup that inspires our spectators, lifts TV audiences – both key drivers of the financial model: marketing and TV rights.
So in the coming weeks and months, some nations will be challenged to get to the snow. Some athletes may face restrictions to travel or to isolate. For a valid World Cup and World Championship season, protocols need to be developed to give every qualified competitor that is willing to compete the opportunity to do so, including proper pre-season training and preparation.
These are all tough challenges and we have no clear answers as yet. It is in times of crisis where character guides our actions and culture provides the foundation to guide our vision of what we want ski racing to be. And there is no doubt a helping hand will be needed.
I resolutely believe our ski family can come together, to see past our national objectives and look to the greater value, the greater good of finding ways to bring together our great ski community, to race. That we can look deep within ourselves to show our generosity, to offer help, to collaborate like we always do, to be innovative to seek answers, to work as a family.
Not just because we can, because we want to.
When our backs are against the wall, our character comes out. We respect our competition. We want all our best to be at the start. Our community expects us to be athlete focused and our culture of teamwork, collaboration and international excellence to prevail. It has served us well for 100 years. We have built a sport that continues to thrive, which brings chills and thrills to enormous world-wide audiences. That inspires hundreds of thousands of young ski racers in more than 100 nations.