From Zermatt-Cervinia to Beaver Creek: Navigating nature's challenges in Men's Alpine Skiing World Cup

1.24.2024//Opinion, Climate change

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Elian Lehto

Finnish World Cup downhill skier

My first races of the season were canceled in Zermatt-Cervinia, a devastating blow not only to me but also to the entire World Cup tour and the Swiss people. Now, we shift our focus across the Atlantic to Beaver Creek, Colorado, where the unpredictability of weather, along with our resilient spirit, takes center stage.

Zermatt-Cervinia was not kind to the ski world, with its heavy snowfall and gusty winds. I felt that the outcome was quite predictable. It's no secret that the weather tends to act up in November at that altitude. The morning snowfall, arriving exactly as forecasted, triggered deliberations by FIS Chief Race Director Markus Waldner on the possibility of completing the race. The subsequent arrival of gusts of wind sealed the fate of the event, just as it did the previous year. They have now attempted the double race twice, and both times, everything has been canceled. We all wonder: Is the early season the optimal time for unveiling the Gran Becca slope amidst the unpredictable European Glacier weather?

I feel that the entire Zermatt-Cervinia Downhill World Cup project was too ambitious. Certainly, the climate has been changing in the last decade, and not for the better. More races are being canceled and postponed all the time. For example, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, one of the Downhill Classics, has been removed from the World Cup program due to the lack of snow and consistently high temperatures. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that the weather conditions in Zermatt have always been unstable, considering the Gran Becca slope is located at 4000 meters.

As the World Cup tour approaches the Beaver Creek phase (December 1st to 3rd), the lessons learned from Zermatt-Cervinia are fresh in the athletes' memory. The resilience and adaptability required to navigate nature's whims are a testament to the powerful spirit of the skiing community. The anticipation for the season ahead is palpable, as I and all my colleagues are eager to leave our mark on the slopes of Beaver Creek and tackle the legendary Birds of Prey World Cup track.

Swiss team in the Rocky Mountains during sunrise.

Beaver Creek: A glimpse into Colorado's climate

It was my first time in Beaver Creek, nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, where the weather is known to be extremely challenging. December in Colorado looks like a textbook example of winter weather, promising a blend of crisp mountain air and the potential for huge snow showers. Here, we were hoping for a more favorable climate that allows the World Cup to unfold without the disruptions experienced in the European Alps.

Beaver Creek race hill inspection. The hill reaches 45% pitch.

The journey from Zermatt-Cervinia to Beaver Creek is more than a shift in geographical location; in Zermatt, I was possibly in better shape than ever before. The cancellation was a shame for the Downhill World Cup as a whole, but it really was a unique chance for me. So naturally, the outcome was not ideal, but luckily and hopefully, I get another chance in America, and I can deliver the best possible performance on the mythical Birds of Prey track. As we, the skiing community, brace for the challenges and triumphs that await in the Colorado Rockies, there's an acknowledgment that, in this sport, the unpredictability of weather is as integral to the narrative as the breathtaking descents down the pristine slopes. The World Cup tour continues, embracing both the majesty of nature and the unwavering passion of those who dare to conquer its snowy heights. Let's race!

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Elian Lehto

Finnish World Cup downhill skier

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