We’ve hit the mid-point of the 2016 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships, switching from the speed events to tech. The ladies Giant Slalom events were held in the continuing warm spring-like conditions, but the race committee worked hard to keep the track in good shape for the larger fields that now participate.
It was a memorable day for the Swiss, taking gold, bronze, 4th and 10th and a narrow 2-point lead over Austria in the Marc Hodler Cup which recognizes the leading nation in the junior ranks. Canada sits 4th, the US 6th.
While the Marc Hodler Cup offers a glimpse of what to expect in future years on the World Cup as the talented athletes of the junior work through the transition to the World Cup, it also decides ranking in the Nations Team Event and team size at the Youth Olympics. So it is important to not only pay attention to results within the top 10 (points are only awarded to top 10) and keep an eye to team size. (Marc Hodler Cup standings: http://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/marc-hodler-trophy.html?seasoncode=2016§orcode=AL)
But let’s talk about legacy.
General media commentary about Sochi has created the impression there is no legacy from 2014. From the alpine ski perspective, this could not be further from the truth.
Rosa Khutor is one of Russia’s largest ski resorts. According to our hosts, they operate pretty much at 100% occupancy. And we are seeing enormous crowds on the slopes. Daily visitation runs 7,000+ and after 10:00am every day the runs are so busy it is just not fun to go out for a ski. (fortunately, we get lift access at 7:00am, with empty slopes, so we are a little spoiled).
There are plans to expand the ski terrain of Rosa Khutor with lifts already in the final stages of construction.
The free-fall of the Ruble makes most purchases here pretty cheap. The Canadian dollar goes a lot further here than central Europe. We are told this is one of the main reasons for such robust skier visit numbers. The exchange rate has made the “staycation” a necessity within Russia. Canadians can commiserate.
The infrastructure remains in-place for all events. The extensive snowmaking system ensured we have ample coverage which has been needed with the warm temperatures.
Organizational capacity remains strong – these are not the Olympics, so the people power is reduced, but ample. It would be great if the ski skill of course workers matched those of the Russian Ski Team, but the old champions of their team are in senior roles with the Federation – so it will just take a little time before the investment into their athletes starts to well-up within the system.
We’ve faced some pretty challenging weather conditions here in the Caucuses and the organizers are meeting every test. The FIS Race Directors asked for applause from the coaches at this evenings Team Captains meeting to recognize the hard work done to marshal the program through the speed events.
Russia has seen some reduction in the general financial support to their ski teams post-2014, but according to Urban Planinsek, Alpine Director for their alpine ski team, the core investment remains in-place and the goal to keep building within the alpine ski program is there. “The sport authorities in Russia understand it is a long-term investment in a sport like alpine skiing. We are fortunate to have an athlete like Alexander Khoroshilov, but it will take time to build new champions.”
The purpose of bidding for the 2016 World Juniors was to keep the expertise and capacity built from the Games alive. But Russia would also like to be considered a candidate for future World Cup events and running major events is the best way to gain attention of the FIS professional staff.
So from a commercial perspective, alpine skiing is alive and well. From the competition perspective, the Russian Alpine and Snowboard Ski Association is making all the right steps to present their capability to the ski racing world.