White peaks framed the final approach to Sochi International airport, as the Swiss charter flight made the final approach into the 2014 Olympic city. For the next ten days, the alpine ski venue of Rosa Khutor, nestled in the western Caucasus Mountains that surround the Black Sea city, will be our home.
180 of the worlds best junior athletes have gathered for the 2016 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships, using most of the competition slopes from the recent Olympic Winter Games.
There is always a lot of chatter about legacy following the Olympics. Well let’s set the record straight: the legacy is alive and well in Sochi. We’ve dropped into high season, with more than 7,000 skiers and boarders per day on the slopes mid-week and an expected 12,000 per day on the weekend. Those are numbers that resorts like Whistler or Vail post.
There is no shortage of snow. The region has managed the erratic temperatures that have swept across Europe this winter through mobilizing their extensive snowmaking system, which coupled with Mother Natures bounty means they boast a snow depth of 3.5 metres on the trails.
But we are here to race and are hoping for clear skies.
This edition of the World Juniors is the first to use 10 days to complete all events. Last year, the Organizers in Hafjell, Norway miraculously jammed five events per gender plus the Nations Team Event into seven days. The Sochi organizers delivered a program that permits breathing space for the necessary training on the downhill – which is a good idea when working with juniors – and each day dedicated to a different event.
While the top junior athletes often make a mark on the World Cup Tour, such as last year’s double gold-medalist Henrik Kristoffersen, most athletes have focused their competitive efforts to the five Continental Cup Tours, which are the training ground to prepare for the senior circuit: Europa Cup, Nor-Am Cup, Far East, Australia-New Zealand Cup and South America Cup. A few athletes have moved over from the just completed Youth Olympic Games. And for some, this is their first exposure to a major international competition.
Experience. Too often overlooked. This is one of the main goals for any National Ski Association or Team: to provide invaluable experience and development at a World Championship. All the pageantry is here, but without the media glare and crushing crowds. Recent World Junior venues were proving grounds to return a resort to the World Cup (Crans Montana), upgrade a World Cup venue (Chamonix), train future World Championship organizers (Garmisch) or Youth Olympic organizers (Hajfell).
Next year, the Junior Championship moves to Aare, Sweden as part of their preparation for the 2019 World Championship (and they also organize annual ladies World Cup events). So an exceptional opportunity for any junior who may well qualify for the senior championships to get invaluable experience on the tracks – that otherwise can only be earned through the 2018 World Cup Finals (only top 25 in World Cup) or a World Cup race.
But starting Saturday through March 5 the focus is Sochi/Rosa Khutor. A return to an Olympic venue. A possible preview for a future World Cup bid. A chance for Russia to showcase their newest ski venue to the world.
FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championship Programme
Saturday, February 27 – Men’s and ladies’ Downhill
Sunday, February 28 – Men’s Super G
Monday, February 29 – Ladies’ Super G
Tuesday, March 1 – Men’s and ladies’ Alpine Combined
Wednesday, March 2 – Nations Team Event
Thursday, March 3 – Men’s and ladies’ Slalom
Friday, March 4 – Ladies’ Giant Slalom
Saturday, March 5 – Men’s Giant Slalom
Link to the World Juniors web site: http://www.rassfevents.ru/en/events/fis-alpine-worldjunior-championships-2016.html