Does Ski Racing Need to Change for the Better of the Sport?

Just the other day I was checking out some things online and reading some other blogs, reading up on the changes that FIS is making to the radius and length of racing skis. I was reading through Ted Ligety’s Blog and came across an article he wrote about an non-FIS event called V Pay Rockfest. This was the second race of it kinds. The first event was in 2009 and the latter in Paganella, Italy on December, 23, 2012. The event format is a Giant Slalom ‘sprint’ race that consists of four timed elimination rounds, starting with a round of sixteen competitors, twelve, eight and the finals ending with four and the winner taking home 60,000 euros. The event ends with an Après-ski party and Rock concert in the finishing area. The event is specifically designed to bring more attention from the viewers to the sport of alpine ski racing, “The number one goal was to attract people from outside alpine life and snow sport to the mountains and their TV’s for an exciting evening of musical & sport entertainment.” (http://www.vpayalpinerockfest.com/worldalpinerockfest.com/Event_Summary.html)The event this year gave away free lift tickets to registers FIS card holders and 10.00 euro lift tickets to the public in hope of getting more people out there watching the sport.

V PAY ALPINE ROCKFEST 2011 INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS from Phil McNichol on Vimeo.

In 2009 the winner of V Pay Rockfest, Cyprien Richard took home the largest single prize money in skiing history. On the World Cup circuit hosted by FIS, athletes do not make near as much money compared to other world-class athletes, especially considering that this how they make their living. This is partially because of how the sport is watched by viewers and the attention that it draws. Ted Ligety elaborates furthermore on that aspect that would make the sport more engaging to watch,

“I’ve always believed ski racing is presented and formatted poorly. I can’t think of any successful sports that have a 3-hour half time and fans only see their favorite athlete twice for a max of 4 minutes. I can’t imagine going to a basketball game to watch Lebron James play for 1 minute then wait 3-hours to see him play for another minute. It would not make sense for TV or the fans. Yet this is how a ski race is run. I race at 9am for 1 minute 20 then wait until 1:30pm to do my second run. How is a fan supposed to get into that, live or on TV?”

“Along with formatting changes, every GS and SL should be held at night. That way most tourists near the area of the race (significant number in most winter resort areas) would come to the race for evening entertainment, instead of now most skiers prefer to ski during the day, so the race misses a huge number of spectators at the venue and on TV because people are skiing. (As they should be). This would also create a party atmosphere since there could be a band playing (like Rockfest) which would draw more than just hardcore ski fans, which should be the goal.”

This is a harsh but true fact and International Ski Federation (FIS) is not making many amends to develop ski racing for the better. This season I have seen a few improvements of visuals of television broad cast such as a ghost cam replay of the first and second place in the Kitzbuhel Slalom, and new filming techniques and better camera angles that really show the pitches and terrain that these skiers send themselves down, “Camera angles are also a problem; coaches on the side of the hill often shoot better footage…then the TV crews. Most TV angles don’t show our speed and the difficulty of the hill well, there are many creative ways (Rockfest had a cable cam last time) to shoot us in a more appealing fashion.”, Ted Ligety elaborates furthermore on that aspect that would make the sport more engage to watch. In the past two seasons we have also seen team events and parallel slalom which have been held close to large cities, and result in more viewers coming out to watch the sport. The alpine racing events are being run in the same format as they were when ski racing was fist developed, and a lot has changed I can assure you as can any one who has been around on the slopes for over a decade.

Often such changes can be hard to accepted, sometimes risky and do not often go into place with ease and without controversy but I believe that to keep this sport alive that some changes are going to have to be made, “Instead of investing in making our sport better they are slowly breeding it dry by creating stifling rules and running a monopoly on ski racing.” A lot of the time change is beneficial and keeps things alive, “It’s events like Rockfest that can breath new life into ski racing.” Personally I fear large changes to the sport because I love it now for what it is but I also believe that more events like V Pay Rockfest be just what the sport needs to breed new excitement and spirit into the sport. If there were more people who were drawn int the sport then there would also be more money to be made for these athletes, like any other professional who is trying to make a living doing what they do. I would really like to see them do an event like this for women!

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