Alpine skiers to start World Cup season unlike any other

Ted Ligety
Getty Images

The Alpine skiing World Cup is set for its usual start in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday, but it will be far from a traditional fall and winter for the world’s best racers aiming to bounce around Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Markus Waldner, the International Ski Federation’s men’s World Cup director, said the season schedule is a matter of survival and hanging by a thread, according to Austrian media this week.

“The chance is high that we cancel some events this season,” Waldner told officials, according to The Associated Press on Oct. 1.

Races through March in 13 different countries, including world championships in Italy and 2022 Olympic test events in China in February, may be pending a host area’s rules on gatherings and quarantines. Then there are the potential travel restrictions for individual skiers’ home nations and training bases.

“The only safe thing you can do is travel as little as possible, stay put, do your racing and keep it simple,” NBC Sports Alpine skiing analyst Steve Porino said.

After the first two stops in Austria, the men and women have scheduled races in France in December, with the men then heading to four different venues in Italy before the New Year. France and Italy are among the European nations to reimpose restrictions amid a recent surge in cases.

In January between both tours, races are scheduled in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland.

There will be no races in North America due to pandemic-related travel concerns. In past seasons, the men’s and women’s tours combined to visit Vermont, Colorado and Alberta in late November and early December.

At least seven of the top 10 ski racing nations must be allowed to enter athletes five weeks before a race for it to count as a World Cup, barring exceptions.

There will not be the typical masses of fans at the opening races on the Rettenbach glacier on Saturday (women’s giant slalom) and Sunday (men’s giant slalom).

U.S. skiers took detours en route to Soelden. U.S. women’s head coach Paul Kristofic said they can usually start offseason training in April or May, but the pandemic pushed it to June and kept it domestic to Copper Mountain, Colo., and Mount Hood, Ore., rather than a normal trip to South America. They flew to Europe earlier than usual and spent the last six weeks on the glaciers.

Kristofic said that, since Sept. 1, it has been “a level playing field” for training versus the top European nations. Pandemic protocols this fall have been complicated, down to the amount of time a group can spend in a meeting to which people can load into certain cars.

At what confidence the season can be completed in full, or close to it, is a shared consideration inside the circuit.

“The challenge is the numbers are going the wrong way in Europe right now,” Kristofic said. “I think it’ll sort of be a week-by-week thing [for races happening] where it’s difficult to say which way it could go.”

Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin announced last week that she will miss Soelden after tweaking her back in training. Shiffrin planned to return to the U.S., according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard last week.

Another double Olympic gold medalist, Ted Ligety, is slated to start Sunday. He plans to fly back and forth between the U.S., where his wife and three young boys will stay, and Europe for giant slalom races this season, according to Ligety, a 36-year-old bidding for a fifth and final Olympics in 2022, pared his racing schedule in recent years to focus on his trademark discipline.

The first Americans to race Saturday will be Nina O’BrienPaula Moltzan, Keely Cashman and AJ Hurt.

“The target out of the four girls is to get two in the second run [top 30] and solid performances out of AJ Hurt and Keely Cashman, who haven’t had quite as much training as the others,” Kristofic said.

American technical-event skiers will fly back to the U.S. between Soelden and the next stop, four weeks later in Austria, Kristofic said.

The European skiers who are focused on a World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing for accumulating points in all races, can’t look at this weekend as a soft opening.

“Dosing your effort is probably a bad idea because we could be pulling the pin early on the season,” Porino said. “Soelden matters more than it has ever mattered.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NFL star Jared Allen’s team beats Olympic champions at curling nationals

Jared Allen

Retired NFL star Jared Allen was part of a curling team that beat 2018 Olympic champion John Shuster to open the U.S. Championships in Denver on Sunday night.

Allen, who retired from the NFL in 2016 and picked up curling in 2018, is on 2010 Olympian Jason Smith‘s team, which beat Shuster’s team 10-6 in the first game of round-robin play.

After all eight teams play each other, the top four advance to Friday’s playoffs. The winner of Saturday’s final is national champion and is expected to be the U.S. team for the world championship in Ottawa in April.

Allen, 40, said before nationals that he is eyeing the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I thought curling was going to be a lot easier than it was,” Allen, who was on a different team at the last nationals in 2021 that went 0-9, told the newspaper. “But I’m one of those guys who, once I start something, I’m going to see it through. Our goal at nationals is to beat as many teams as we possibly can and see where we land.”

How big of an upset was Sunday’s result? Ken Pomeroy rated Smith’s team fifth in the eight-team field before the tournament, while he had Shuster’s team second behind Korey Dropkin.

Shuster’s team won the last three nationals that they entered, plus the last two Olympic Trials since the bulk of the team formed for the 2015 season. Shuster went 11-0 at his last nationals in 2020, then 11-2 at the 2022 Olympic Trials, where the younger Dropkin beat him twice but ultimately lost in the finals series.

Allen was first linked to serious curling in February 2018 via U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Lou Nanne on a Minnesota ESPN radio show. Nanne said Allen told him at a dinner.

“[Allen] says, ‘I’m giving myself four years to make the Olympic curling team,’” said Nanne, a 1968 U.S. Olympian.

Allen, along with retired quarterback Marc Bulger, first played on a team with 2010 Olympian John Benton and fellow veteran curler Hunter Clawson.

Allen’s new team includes Smith, who played on the 2010 Olympic team skipped by Shuster, Clawson and Dominik Maerki.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. Alpine skiers wear climate change-themed race suits at world championships

U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit
Images via Kappa

Looking cool is just the tip of the iceberg for Mikaela Shiffrin, Travis Ganong and the rest of the U.S. ski team when they debut new race suits at the world championships.

Even more, they want everyone thinking about climate change.

The team’s predominantly blue-and-white suits depict an image of ice chunks floating in the ocean. It’s a concept based on a satellite photo of icebergs breaking due to high temperatures. The suit was designed in collaboration with Kappa, the team’s technical apparel sponsor, and the nonprofit organization Protect Our Winters (POW).

The Americans will wear the suits throughout the world championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, which started Monday with a women’s Alpine combined race and end Feb. 19.

“Although a race suit is not solving climate change, it is a move to continue the conversation and show that U.S Ski & Snowboard and its athletes are committed to being a part of the future,” said Sophie Goldschmidt, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

ALPINE WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

Global warming has become a cold, hard reality in ski racing, with mild temperatures and a lack of snow leading to the postponement of several World Cup events this winter.

“I’m just worried about a future where there’s no more snow. And without snow, there’s no more skiing,” said Ganong, who grew up skiing at Lake Tahoe in California. “So this is very near and dear to me.”

What alarms Ganong is seeing the stark year-to-year changes to some of the World Cup circuit’s most storied venues.

“I mean, it’s just kind of scary, looking at how on the limit (these events) are even to being possible anymore,” said Ganong, who’s been on the U.S. team since 2006. “Places like Kitzbuehel (Austria), there’s so much history and there’s so much money involved with that event that they do whatever they can to host the event.

“But that brings up a whole other question about sustainability as well: Is that what we should be doing? … What kind of message do we need show to the public, to the world, about how our sport is adapting to this new world we live in?”

The suits feature a POW patch on the neck and the organization’s snowflake logo on the leg.

“By coming together, we can educate and mobilize our snowsports community to push for the clean energy technologies and policies that will most swiftly reduce emissions and protect the places we live and the lifestyles we love,” according to a statement from executive director Mario Molina, whose organization includes athletes, business leaders and scientists who are trying to protect places from climate change.

Ganong said a group of ski racers are releasing a letter to the International Ski Federation (FIS), with the hope the governing body will take a stronger stance on sustainability and climate change.

“They should be at the forefront of trying to adapt to this new world, and try to make it better, too,” Ganong said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit