(ATR) It has been a challenging few months for ski racers and event organizers with numerous races cancelled or postponed as the International Ski Federation (FIS) celebrates its 50th Anniversary World Cup season.
However, abundant new snow, frigid temperatures and sunny skies should provide ideal conditions for the 77th edition Hahnenkamm races in Kitzbuhel, Austria this weekend. Held since 1931, the Hahnenkamm downhill on the treacherous Streif course is typically the most well-attended race on tour with more than 30,000 spectators expected on Saturday.
The Hahnenkamm races, Jan. 20-22, should provide welcomed stability for organizers and FIS officials, given this season's schedule challenges. Seven men’s races – including four downhill races – have either been postponed or cancelled due to poor weather.
Events in Lake Louise, Canada and Beaver Creek, Colorado were cancelled due to insufficient snow. A downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy was victim to gusty winds over the holidays. The venerable Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland could not be contested last Saturday due to heavy snowfall and poor visibility.
"This year has been really tough – we always try our best to have safe conditions and a fair race for all, but everybody knows it’s an outdoor sport," FIS assistant race director and former Austrian downhill skier Hannes Trinkl tells Around the Rings in Kitzbuhel.
"If we don’t have sunshine and it is windy, then it is tough to have a really fair race," Trinkl added.
"Coming here to Kitzbuhel, we’ve only had two downhills, normally we have four, so it has been hard to find the flow and rhythm," said Austrian veteran Hannes Reichelt, the 2014 Hahnenkamm champion. "But now it looks good, especially for the weekend with good snow conditions and also good weather so we hope it continues through world championships."
Rising temperatures, lack of sufficient snowfall at resorts and numerous race postponements have caused some to surmise that the sport of ski racing may be in trouble.
Scientists reported in the New York Times on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, for the third year running. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have surpassed the previous record three years in a row.
The data is further proof the Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling.
Canadian racer Benjamin Thomsen remains optimistic for the future of the sport.
"Over a long period of time there are always warm years, but the snowmaking is getting better and now you don’t need it to be that cold to make a ton of snow," Thomsen tells ATR. "You look at North America right now and they’re getting tons of snow and Europe is a little bit drier and it’s one of those years.
"I don’t think we’re being threatened just yet, but I’m not a scientist," he said. "Time will tell."
Trinkl said the unpredictable weather patterns have led to brainstorming and new ideas discussed among FIS officials.
"We think about a lot of solutions – maybe in some places we maybe have sprint downhill (races) in the future which will help avoid some of these weather issues," Trinkl said referring to shorter downhill races, likely with two runs similar to giant slalom and slalom.
"A two race downhill is interesting, but I don’t think you can ever replace a two-minute Kitzbuhel downhill," Thomsen said.
Austrian ORF television will provide the worldwide broadcast of the Kitzbuhel races, while the European Broadcasting Union is handling distribution rights.
The three-day race program – opening with a super-G on Friday – will be seen in 160 countries on four continents. Twenty-five stations are onsite in Kitzbuhel.
Written by Brian Pinelli in Kitzbuhel.
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