Is Ski Racing Irrelevant?

A Lycra fan and a big-mountain snob go head-to-head.
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POINT: Racers Are Rad

(By Vanessa Pierce)

Ski racers can’t shake the stereotype of being wound-up tight-asses who ski in tight-ass suits. So let’s shake that up a bit.

Not long ago, U.S. Ski Teamer Resi Stiegler and Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso finished a World Cup slalom race in Germany, then drove six hours to Zürich, Switzerland, to go to The Sounds concert at the Abart Club. The girls danced until 3 a.m., then drove another couple hours to Lenzerheide to make their training run that morning at the World Cup finals.

My point? Julia and Resi represent a new class of ski racers: the type who aren’t wound-up tight-asses. They’re the ones who sneak in powder turns before races. Last season, Julia and Resi threw on fat skis to charge Aspen Mountain’s Silver Rush just minutes before a World Cup race. Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety sneaks away to freeski every chance he gets. The new-school ski racers care just as much about ski culture—traveling, partying, freeskiing—as they do about bashing gates.

And besides, there would be no freestyle or big-mountain skiing without ski racing. The best skiers in the world were racers first. Daron Rahlves won the world’s most prestigious downhill race at Kitzbühel, Austria, and now he’s a big-mountain film star; Grete Eliassen got her start in Norway racing on the Europa Cup circuit before coming to America and nabbing three X Games medals in superpipe; Casey Puckett is an X Games skiercross champion, but first he was a four-time Olympian in alpine racing.

We’d still be skiing on straight skinny skis if it weren’t for racing, where the original shaped ski was born. Park-and-pipe groms are basically skiing on stepchildren of race skis.

These days, skiing has become overrun with maniacs hucking huge cliffs or sending it to record-breaking heights in the pipe. Never mind that a lot of these so-called athletes barely know how to carve a turn. I’m sorry, but wearing the coolest 59Fifty hat to one side and pants below your ass has zero correlation with skiing ability.
You want to see athletic prowess? Check out the U.S. Ski Team racers as they train six days a week, often with the country’s best sports scientists, to fine-tune their skiing. Meanwhile, all cocky freestylers are doing is biceps curls with cans of PBR. If you think ski racing is lame, you’re lame.

Vanessa Pierce is the features editor at

Ski Racing

magazine. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

COUNTERPOINT: Dear Racing: Please Die

(By Jake Bogoch)

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s back up a sec. I never said racing was lame. Not at all. And I never doubted ski racers’ ability to attend faux-indie concerts in Switzerland or ski powder on race days.

I never said that racing is a waste of time. Or that young racers spend roughly $15,000 per season feeding World Cup racing dreams that are never going to happen. Or that this exclusivity essentially makes racing winter’s answer to yachting.

Nor would I argue that freeskiers are superior athletes to racers. But if you feel the need to compare the great eugenics experiment that is the Austrian downhill team to regular kids who want to travel and get their shred on, go for it. Spandex and steroids: together at last!

I’m not really sure what to say about racing because it barely exists in North America. I know more about the Iranian nuclear program.

But I

do

know that K2, the biggest seller of skis in North America, makes exactly zero pairs of race skis. It sponsors exactly zero racers. It organizes exactly zero races. Not that the market leader would know what the market actually wants.

I also know that many other ski manufacturers, who are getting the financial shit kicked out of them, still feel the need to support ski racing in Europe at great expense. This support comes at the cost of promoting skiing where it’s needed most: among the masses. Skiing, as a sport, has posted flattish numbers for the last 10 years, yet these ski manufacturers are so horny for racing that they can’t afford to sponsor freeski events and big-mountain or park-and-pipe athletes.

And the reason they’re too poor to convince kids to put down the PlayStation for five minutes and go skiing is because the Austrian racers have to charter a separate plane because they carry 60,000 pounds of equipment with them, along with technicians who follow them across the world. I learned this from a woman at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, where the Austrian team uses a private lift to train before the 2010 Olympics.
So no, I’m not saying professional ski racing is lame. I’m saying that it’s an irrelevant anachronism that should do our sport a favor and just die already. Other than that, we’re good.

Skiing

Magazine editor Jake Bogoch has never worn a tight suit or bashed a gate in his life. He’s also from Canada.

- SKIING MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2008

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