The International Ski Federation (FIS), renowned for its glacial approach to change, awoke from its slumber at its congress in June to adopt new race formats designed to attract spectators and TV viewers. The FIS approved a version of the "flip 30" start system to downhill and super G. The top 30 racers will start in reverse order of their rankings, which should help build suspense.
In the past, virtually every super G and most downhills were decided by the first 10 competitors to tuck under the finish banner, quickly thinning race crowds down to coaches, relatives and cowbell-ringing patriots. The FIS will also hold a "KO slalom" at Sestriere, Italy, in which 30 racers are basically paired off to start the four-round race. Win your heat or go home. Around the SKI water cooler, the format is called the "KO Bode" event: It's hard enough for the on-the-edge American ace to finish two runs, much less four.
Perhaps the most significant development involves the new events of skier halfpipe and skiercross, which were surprisingly added to the World Cup Freestyle circuit this winter and the World Freestyle Ski Championships in 2005. The move evokes the stodgy FIS's controversial sanctioning of snowboarding a half-dozen years ago, when many of the world's top riders initially boycotted the events. Will halfpipe skiers and skiercross debut at the next five-ring circus in Torino, Italy? Or will the FIS suck all the life out of events? Stay tuned.
When 10-year-old skier Patrick Finnegan rocketed by a "Slow" sign and was stopped by a patrolman at Grand Targhee, Wyo., last season, he turned his scolding into inspiration. His "Signs Aren't Just For Show" poster was a co-winner in the National Ski Areas Association's annual kids poster contest. Co-winner Reid Honeywell forms "The Ski Pass Pie Company" each October to bake and sell $10 pies to finance his Mt. Ashland, Ore., season pass. Not this year. Honeywell's "You Don't Have To Be A Clown To Have Fun" poster is the contest winner for Most Creative Design, which earned the sixth-grader a free Mt. Ashland season pass. For information on the contest, go to www.nsaa.org.
High in the Alps
Skiers have always flocked to Swiss resorts for cold snow and warm raclette. Now they may get high on more than the skiing. While marijuana is not officially decriminalized in Switzerland, there is a law under debate to do just that. In the meantime, authorities largely ignore the growing purple haze as several hundred cannabis cafes and markets openly sell their wares. Word is out, with Swiss resorts reporting an uptick in young skiers and boarders. Who knows? Verbier could become skiing's Amsterdam.
The Last Run
For your final schuss, why not surround yourself with snow-capped peaks? ArtCaskets sells more than 40 designs, including "Mountain Vista." It costs about $3,000 for skiers to head to eternal powder. "We send a lot up to the mountains," says spokeswoman Becky Mayad. "People look at it and think, 'Home.'"