V Pay Alpine Rockfest.

On December 23, I will be racing in the V Pay Alpine Rockfest in Paganella, Italy. It will be the second race of its kind; the first was in 2009 in which I was 4th. I’m very excited for this race since it’s the best-run race; it has a great format to compete in and to watch and it’s nice to have races outside the monotony and monopoly of FIS.

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? Suppose ski racing had to keep the two run format and had to have 70 racers in the field; make the second run 15 minutes after the last racer first run. Instead of setting a whole new course for second run just redress the course and do a little course work then race without an inspection. (That goes for GS, in slalom have both courses set in the morning and we have to inspect both before the first run). If number 70 qualifies they would have to hustle but that’s similar to what we do in training. Though this still doesn’t solve the problem of TV presentation and lag time for fans at the venue since most people only pay attention to the first 30 racers.

If I had my druthers’ I would cut the field to 35-40 racers have a 30-40 second course, have 5 runs all on the same course and after each run the field gets cut in half (30, 16, 8, 4, 2=winner). (The top 30 get to start every race but the next 5-10 qualifies through Europa Cups). When you get to the finish you jump on a snowmobile to the start and go again, (If you qualify). This would create constant action and if you are say an Aksel Lund Svindal fan you can see him race several runs. This is similar to how the Alpine Rockfest is done which is more enjoyable to race and watch.

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 then just hardcore ski fans, which should be the goal.

Downhill and SuperG would unfortunately not benefit from these changes but something needs to be done to make the speed events more exciting. Outside Beaver Creek, Kitzbuhel and Wengen, most downhills are pretty boring to watch unless you’re somehow intimately involved. Downhill used to be far more exciting when the jumps were huge, racers were going straight and the tracks were bumpy and icy. Now they have no real jumps, just sweeping turns and are mostly smooth which has made them far easier and in many cases more dangerous. (Counter intuitive I know, but smoother courses are generally faster. Jumps and bumps slow racers down more then the current use of chicanes and wider turns. Grugger’s crash was because of the turns above the Mausefalle, not the jump). What they should do is on courses like Lake Louise, Garmisch or Val Gardena etc is build artificial terrain, more jumps perhaps bank turns, whatever get creative since most of those courses have 60 seconds or more of boring gliding. Downhill is hardcore and dangerous. Yet most downhills don’t look it or feel it, until a racer’s in the hospital.

Aside from formatting changes and such ski racing needs to utilize the technology out there. There is no reason that racers’ current speed should not be on the Jumbo-tron and on TV as the racer is competing. Camera angles are also a problem; coaches on the side of the hill often shoot better footage (not in quality but in show casing skiing) 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.

There are ways (far more then the one’s I’ve mentioned) to make this sport more popular and cool again. Unfortunately the one’s running World Cup and FIS are stubborn, controlling and clueless. 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. It’s events like Rockfest that can breath new life into ski racing. If only there were more like them.

More info at www.vpayalpinerockfest.com