"It's an impossible situation. Manufacturers are spending way too much money supporting a dysfunctional format. The FIS is completely unrealistic about the matter."
- Christian Frison-Roche, Salomon race director
As I sit here in bed recovering from my knee surgery, I can't help but reflect back on the season we've just lived through. What a party we put on in February. What a party we put on in March. What a party we put on in April. Oooh! What a hangover. Still...
From the Olympics to the Paralympics and then straight into the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistlerites showed the world in 2010 what having a good time in the mountains is all about. Great racing, great hosting - inclusive ambiance - it all came together beautifully. Is there a lesson here for the ski industry? I certainly think so.
Remember the 1960s? In those days new mountain resorts were popping out of the ground like mushrooms on a cow pie. And skiing was the sexy winter activity of the young and plugged in. The future of the sport had never looked so promising. Ski manufacturers were flush with cash. Clothing designers were setting new standards in whimsy. And television (still a relatively new medium for consuming sports) couldn't wait to get a piece of the on-snow action.
Inspired by soccer's successful World Cup format, skiing's newly formulated global circuit fulfilled the needs of the market perfectly. Exciting (and sexy) young skiers like Jean Claude Killy, Karl Schranz and our own Nancy Greene were about to be unleashed on a public clamouring for hot new stars. For destination resorts, it made total sense to get involved - for them the World Cup provided an ideal showcase for their new slopes and infrastructure. As for the hard-goods side of the equation, the fledgling circuit was everything manufacturers could have hoped for. Suddenly they had a series of TV-friendly events where they could brand their products in combination with the athletes they chose to promote.
It was a marriage made in marketing heaven. And it worked beautifully.
But that was back in 1966. Alas, today's clunky World Cup format needs a serious overhaul. It's out of touch with the times. The circuit's environmental footprint is way too big, the schedule is a dizzying mishmash of globe-crossing events, sponsors are unhappy, the press is indifferent and ski racing is far from the only snowsport game in town anymore. As we saw this past winter.
Indeed, unless something is done soon to rectify the situation, chances are that alpine ski racing's creaky World Cup - once the gold standard by which every other individual sport was judged - will struggle to make it to its 50 th birthday party...