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Returning to the Alps

3.25.2024//Opinion

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Elian Lehto

Finnish World Cup downhill skier

The journey to North America was eventful and filled with memorable moments, despite the disappointment caused by the cancellation of all three planned races due to adverse weather conditions. It was a reminder of the unpredictable nature of weather at high altitudes. Such challenges are inevitable in ski racing, and now it's time to reset as I prepare for the season opener in the heart of the Dolomites, Val Gardena, Italy. Since Zermatt and Beaver Creek were canceled, the next race marks the third attempt to start our Downhill World Cup season. They say the third time's the charm, right?


What to expect from the December climate in the Italian Alps?

Based on my recent experience in the Alps before Christmas, snowy conditions prevail, but temperatures remain mild and comfortable, promising warm sunshine on the skin. Compared to my hometown in Lapland, where sunshine is absent the entire winter and a “pleasant” average of -10°C, let’s just say the environment in the Italian Alps is very, very different. Current forecasts confirm these expectations, building my excitement. What's there not to like about Val Gardena with its mix of Tyrolean hospitality, delicious Italian cuisine, and breathtaking views of the famous Dolomite mountains? Also, not to forget my first top 30 result from there.

Val Gardena's track holds a special allure, offering both skiers and spectators a unique experience. Its scenic beauty and laid-back ambiance are truly unique. Personally, I live for the opportunity to hit the huge jumps that exceed over 60 meters multiple times and enjoy the time in the air, a feature unmatched by any other track. Moreover, local snow quality - firm yet forgiving - makes for “easy skiing”.

March 26th conditions surrounding Val Gardena, Italy. Recording created using MapsGL demos.

One of the most notable differences between the Rockies and the Alps lies in air temperature, which undergoes a significant shift. While temperatures in the Rockies consistently hover below freezing, the same cannot be said for the Alps, primarily due to their lower elevation. This variation affects the snow's texture under the skis, requiring us athletes to adapt to drastically different conditions upon our return. 

Coming back to European races, there is always one special thing: the culture for ski racing and downhill. It never fails to amaze me; all the fans and enthusiasts are really something special. The feeling that you get in Kitzbuhel is beyond words. It's one of the biggest events of the winter, not only in skiing but overall. The weekend gathered over 100,000 people. Everyone is there to see a champion, somebody to risk it all, making it my favorite race of the season. Then, to achieve the best downhill result in the history of Finnish downhill skiing there is really amazing to me. It makes me feel worthy of the sport.

Elian Lehto

Finnish World Cup downhill skier

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