29 November 2022

Jo Gunston blog: The whys & the hows of the alpine skiing World Cup

November 30, 2015

The whys, the hows, the really are you sures from the crazy world of bombing down icy slopes as fast as your skis will carry you. By sports blogger, Jo Gunston.

Photo: Lindsey Vonn via Red Bull

You have to be of a certain character to bomb down a slope at 65mph; if you crash, you stay crashed. It’s no wonder so many skiers’ bodies are held together by various bits of metal; these women are hardcore.

One skier dislocated her shoulder after a fall, put it back in herself then skied away. Another raced with her hand taped to her ski pole after slicing it open… on a Champagne bottle.

The latter incident was courtesy of never-a-dull-moment ski superstar Lindsey Vonn. The best female skier ever could be in line to win a quite frankly ridiculous fifth overall World Cup title this season – if she can hold her body together that is.

The American’s career has been decimated by horrendous and hokey injuries – the latest a bitten hand after trying to separate her two beloved dogs fighting over a Frisbee – so her quota of the iconic Crystal Globes could be oh so much higher.

Photo: Lindsey Vonn via Red Bull

If Vonn should falter, however, the door could be open for new stars to emerge as injuries and retirements of some of the sports biggest names leaves the field wide open. Of the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup champions across all five disciplines, only two skiers are active this year, Vonn and team-mate Mikaela Shiffrin.

Upcoming super, super star Shiffrin is just dominant in the slalom events and is going for her fourth overall World Cup slalom title in a row despite being only 20-years-old but, like many skiers, is unlikely to have the ability in all five disciplines to challenge Vonn for the overall title.

A marketer’s dream, it’s Shiffrin’s talent and off-piste down-to-earth nature you’ll come to adore. Her succinct Twitter bio aged 18, read ‘Searching for the fastest way down the mountain,’ the initials on her helmet ‘ABFTTB’ spell out ‘Always Be Faster Than The Boys’ and she invited an 11-year-old cancer sufferer in Sweden onto the podium with her after the girl approached her and said, ‘Can I have a picture? I have cancer’. She’s a good’un is that Shiffrin.

Photo: Mikaela Shiffrin via Red Bull

Last year’s overall winner, Austria’s Anna Fenninger, who won the title literally during the final minutes of the season, injured herself during training for the first race of this season and is out for the year, and cartwheeling popstar (see below) and 2013 champ Tina Maze has taken a year out from the sport to ponder her future.

So the first race of the season in happened in October in Soelden, Austria and could very well show what is to come. The surprise winner was an emotional Federica Brignone who earned her maiden World Cup win, the first Italian triumph in giant slalom for nearly eight years. I suspect the story of the season will be the patched-up old guard versus the fearless opportunists – it’ll be a humdinger alright.

What is the World Cup series?

The World Cup series takes place from October through to March around various snowy parts of the world… hopefully… there’s often weather issues, missing snow, commentators reporting on skiers invisible through murky fog, strong mountain winds too dangerous to tackle all leading to delays, postponements or cancellation of races but hey, us Brits love a weather watch, non?

Five events make up the overall title – slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and super combined, basically courses are set at varying lengths with widely or closely interspersed flags, with some races combining two events on the same day.

Skiers win overall titles in each discipline from points gained during the season and with no Winter Olympics or World Championships all the focus will be on the World Cup series. For skiers, the World Cup is often seen as more important than the two global events due to its season-long approach.

The downhill is the blue riband event, and despite her patched up body Vonn is a sight to behold with her go hard or go home approach. So dominant has she been in the women’s race that she fought a legal battle to be allowed to race the men in one event in the 2012-13 season. She was refused but the woman who opts to race on men’s skis continues to be the one to watch.

10 things you didn’t know about alpine skiing

You know how you like the snow all fluffy and powdery when heading on a ski holiday? Not these guys. They need it icy, seriously noisy-scraping-ice-off-the-car-windshield icy.

Now retired Austrian Kathrin Zettel carried a lucky horseshoe with her (but it’s unlikely she tucked it down her skin-tight ski suit). On finishing a race one Valentine’s day, her boyfriend, Austrian heartthrob Kurt Gaubinger was pictured waiting at the bottom of the run with flowers and a cuddly toy.

Sadly, 2013 World Cup champ Tina Maze is not competing this year as she takes some time out from the sport but that’s no reason not to play the Slovenian’s hit single, which got to number one… in her own country.

Groups of bare-chested male fans of Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener and Austria’s Carmen Thalmann are particularly partial to going topless to support their countrywomen.

Excuses for losses can be creative. The now retired Maria Hoefl Reisch put in a protest after a slalom run, accusing an errant Walkie Talkie noise of putting her off. The ski bigwigs at the FIS threw out the unusual complaint.

Skiers often rub themselves or pack their limbs with snow prior to a race to… er… to… ah… well, I’m not entirely sure why but there you go.

When you hear commentators describing skiers mid-flight over a jump on the downhill as ‘winding down the windows’, for that read skier-out-of-control-and-may-come-a-cropper-on-landing-as-they-wildly-flap-their-arms-to-retain-their-balance.

On completing a run, the first thing a skier must do is radio the coach at the start gate, to report back on the state of the slope for any team-mates still to compete. Hard to swallow, you’d imagine, in such a competitive environment. Wouldn’t you just make up, ‘Oh, and there’s an additional bump near flag four…’ No? Just me then.

Coaches from each country take it in turns to set the course for each race.

Bra-pad gate involved one skier being accused of gaining an advantage by wearing a padded bra, apparently to gain an aerodynamic advantage. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Brit watch

Alex Tilley (@skitilley3) is in her first season and sadly may be one of those out of the top 30 shown live on the telly box. However, keep an eye on the Scot during the Giant Slalom event as she has hopes of getting in the top 15 in her favoured event.

Long-retired from the races Brit fave Chemmy Alcott (@chemmyski) will be back in the British Eurosport commentary box with her insightful knowledge about the races and, as important, giving us the juice on what’s going on behind the scenes on the soap-opera circuit.


Recommended websites, blogs and tweets

International Ski Federation
Worldwide governing body

British Ski and Snowboard
National governing body

FIS Alpine Ski World Cup
Official site

Next races

Fri Nov 27
19:00 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s Giant Slalom (GS) 1st Run
20:15 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s GS 2nd Run

Sat Nov 28
16:45 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s GS 1st Run
22:15 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s GS 2nd Run

Sun Nov 29
16:45 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s SL (Slalom) 1st Run
19:45 Alpine Skiing World Cup
Aspen – Women’s SL 2nd Run

Where to watch:
Eurosport www.tv.eurosport.co.uk
BBC Ski Sunday www.BBC.co.uk/sport/winter-sports

Official Twitter hashtag #FISAlpine

Jo Gunston, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Roving sports blogger Jo Gunston can be found tweeting at @jogunston and blogging and tweeting from www.sportsliberated.com and @sportsliberated

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