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Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain are already wreaking havoc on the 2022-’23 World Cup schedule, and we’re only two weeks into the season.
Last weekend, race officials canceled the women’s opening giant slalom in Sölden, Austria, after rain and wet snow made the snow surface on the Rettenbach glacier too soft for safe racing. In the same breath, FIS announced the cancellation of the highly anticipated Zermatt-Cervino men’s downhill races, set to take place Oct. 29-30.
The new course, dubbed the Gran Becca, was such an exciting prospect because it would have racers launching out of the start gate on the Matterhorn glacier in Switzerland and crossing the finish line in neighboring Italy.
Watch: Matterhorn Cervino Downhill Course
After a final snow check for that event on Oct. 22, race officials determined that days of rain had washed away too much snow on the lower part of the Gran Becca course for the men’s downhill races to take place. Still, race organizers remained hopeful that they’d be able to get the course in good enough shape for the women’s downhill event, scheduled for Nov. 5-6.
But today FIS announced that that event would also be a no-go.
“If the temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees colder in the last 7 days, we would have had heavy snowfall all the way to the finish area and we could have produced technical snow,” said OC President Franz Julen in a press release.
Instead, Cervinia saw a continued stretch of unseasonably warm temperatures and rain up to 3,000 meters (9,000 feet).
The new Zermatt-Cervino event, added to the Tour for the first time this season, seemed a safe bet even if held in late October thanks to its high start elevation at 3,800 meters or 12,205 feet (making it the highest start on the World Cup circuit). A large section of the course also winds its way down a glacier that’s skiable even in the summer. (Though this summer, Zermatt was forced to shutter its summer skiing operation due to lack of snow.)
Still, the 3.7-kilometer course (2.3 miles) finishes at an elevation of 2,840 meters (8,520 feet), and with rain falling up to 3,000 meters in the weeks leading up to the event, the snow conditions on the lower section of the course were compromised. According to a statement from FIS, the glacier is still in perfect race condition, but the lower part is so soft that the safety of the racers cannot be guaranteed.
“Nature must be respected and accepted,” said Julen. “The FIS were left with no choice but to cancel the women’s races.”
This year was meant to be a proof of concept for this unique cross-border race. However, based on this year’s weather events, and the overall climate trends leading to milder winters, especially in Europe, one could reasonably wonder if conditions will ever be reliable enough to host this event in late October. Yet race organizers are hopeful and already looking ahead to fall 2023.
“We continue to believe in this unique cross-border downhill project,” said FIS General Secretary Michel Vion.
“We have been able to learn a great deal in the past few weeks and months and are still convinced of our idea and our strategy,” added Julen. “The innovative and unique Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening is an added value for everyone—for the sport, for the athletes, for both regions, for tourism, for the winter industry. That is why we will continue to work hard so that we can experience spectacular downhills at the foot of the Matterhorn next year.”
Meanwhile, the opening speed races of the ‘22-’23 World Cup will now once again take place in Lake Louise, Canada—traditionally the first stop on the speed circuit—from Nov. 25-27 for the men and from Nov. 29-Dec. 4 for the women.