downhill ski racer

This year’s World Cup tour may have skidded to an impromptu halt, but Graham Bell believes there’s hope for 2021’s racers

It was a massively disappointing end to the World Cup tour of 2020, which shut down two weeks early due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the cancellations of the Women’s races in Åre, Sweden, the Men’s races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, as well as the mixed World Cup finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. With no World Championships or Olympic Games, the big prize in 2020 was the overall World Cup title, as well as the discipline Crystal globes. 

For ski racing fans, 2020 was shaping up into a dramatic finale.

On the Men’s tour, only the Downhill title had been secured, by Swiss star Beat Feuz, helped in part to the injury of Dominik Paris in January.

In the race for the overall, Aleksander Kilde was only 54 points ahead of Alexis Pinturault, while Henrik Kristoffersen sat just six points ahead of Pinturault in GS and just two points ahead of Clement Noel in Slalom.

In Super-G, a matter of three points separated Mauro Caviezel from Vincent Kriechmayer.   

The Women’s tour was equally well poised, with USA’s queen of speed Mikaela Shiffrin due to return to action after a six-week break due to the tragic and sudden death of her father. In Shiffrin’s absence, Federica Brignone had moved 153 points ahead of the American in the overall, and 93 points ahead in GS.

In Slalom Petra Vlhova led Shiffrin by just 20 points, in what had been a close-run contest all season. Corinne Suter, like her Swiss teammate Feuz, had wrapped up the Downhill title and led Brignone in Super-G by just 19 points.

The season ended with many racers feeling hard done by, particularly Pinturault who was on a roll. The winners may also have been left feeling hollow, their victories uncelebrated. As the pandemic spread around the World and countries locked down, it soon became apparent that there were far more important things in life than ski racing.

As the world struggled towards a new normal, questions remained about the 2021 World Championships in Cortina, how the World Cup schedule would look, and which ski racers would be the best prepared for action if, and when, racing resumed. The Austrian ski team were the first back on snow in early May on the Kaunertal glacier, with the Italian team following suit shortly afterwards on their home glacier of Passo Stelvio. 

By mid-summer most teams had found their way onto snow again, although the US ski team were confined to training within their own borders, utilising the small glacier at Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood. Great Britain’s Dave Ryding announced a change of ski manufacturer from the Dynastars of the last two seasons, back to the Fischers that won him the 2nd place in Kitzbühel in 2017, and he got to test them out again in mid-July on the glacier at Saas Fee. 

Alice Robinson of New Zealand may well have had the best training conditions on home snow at Mount Hutt, but must prepare herself for a long season ahead without returning home, or face a two-week strict quarantine. Robinson was 17 when she won the opening World Cup in Sölden last season, and could be favourite to win again, if she decides to travel to Europe that early in the season.

After initially asking the International Ski Federation (FIS) for a one-year postponement, the Cortina d’Ampezzo organising committee announced in August that the 2021 World Championships would take place as scheduled. FIS are currently looking at ways of making their competitions run this season, and have appointed Rasmus Damsgaard as their expert for Covid-19 testing and hygiene. One proposal that has been muted, would be to separate the speed and technical races on the Men’s and Women’s World Cup tours to effectively create four separate bubbles.

The tour will also be restricted to Europe, with the North American races of Killington, and Beaver Creek in the USA and the double mens’s and women’s speed weekend in Lake Louise already cancelled.

On the plus side, the opening World Cup in Sölden has been confirmed, although it has been moved a week earlier in the schedule to the 17/18 October. This will avoid one of the busiest weekends for tourists and allow the organisers to shut the whole of the Rettenbach side of the ski area for the racers. Covid-19 restrictions will be in place at the hotels housing the national ski teams, however what they will entail remains to be seen. Hats off to the Austrians, they were the first to step up and host F1 races, and are now leading the way with ski racing.

Fingers crossed it all goes to plan.

corinne suter downhill ski training
ZAUCHENSEE, AUSTRIA – JANUARY 10 : Corinne Suter of Switzerland in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women’s Downhill Training on January 10, 2020 in Zauchensee Austria. (Photo by Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom)