Is alpine facing a battle post Sochi?

At the recent Listex Spring meeting held at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempsted, the afternoon forum looked at the legacy of Sochi. What became very apparent sitting in listening to the panel discussing this, was that Alpine, the traditional basis of skiing and all its offshoots, is now facing an uphill battle to … stay in the publics eye and also to get access to the limited time on the slopes. It has long been known that the Freestyle side of winter sport has been dominating the time on the slope and the constant building of parks means that the snow is soft  – and this does not help the racers who need hard snow. Is Alpine falling victim on the indoor snow to its demands for harder snow or is it the post Sochi appeal that is seeing more focus by the likes of Hemel for freestyle?

The panel for the Listex Meeting comprised Dan Charlish from Snow-Camp, Ian Brown from The Snow Centre, Tim Fawke from Snowsport England,Patrick Taylor from Skiplex and was moderated by Iain Martin from Skipedia.

With the undeniable excitement caused by Jenny Jones winning her medal in the Snowboarding Slopestyle, both Ian Brown and Patrick Taylor both explained how this had had a hugely positive effect on the hits to their websites, enquiring phone calls and the subsequent upturn in business. This was all positive news for the winter sports industry as a whole.

While the immediate effect has been very positive the challenge now, and this was recognised by Tim Fawke from Snowsport England, is to keep people interested and coming back. The travel industry has not yet recorded an upsurge in the number of people going on holiday as a result of the Olympics. Indeed time was spent discussing whether people saw going on skiing / winter sports holidays as sport or a holiday. It is clear that winter sport, in all its guises but most notably with alpine, has an image problem at the moment.

With the Go Ski Go Board initiative being run by Snowsport England, the mission now has to keep the numbers trying the sport out coming back and hopefully increase. While the profile of Go Ski Go Board has diminished since the Olympics, with four years (just under) to the next Olympics, winter sport is waking up to the fact that with the number of indoor slopes around the country and the dry slopes available, keeping costs down is possible. The trouble for alpine is that, especially at The Snow Centre in Hemel, there does seem to be more focus on the freestyle element than alpine. While both disciplines get two nights a week to have access to the slope, Freestyle seems to be a little more organised and forward thinking, both locally and nationally. All the centres around the country are commercial organisations it must be said and are businesses.

The Snow Centre now have a dedicated Freestyle Manager and while Freestyle does not have the same political baggage that alpine has built up, they do seem to be harnessing the wave of excitement and enthusiasm much better than alpine is. Until alpine becomes a little more forward thinking and working together, it stands little chance of arresting the slide it is in.

So what can be done?

It is important as to how the sport markets itself. It is not just in the UK that alpine is struggling. FIS are constantly looking to see how they can develop the historical discipline: Super Combined is being tinkered with and events like the City Events and Nations Cup have been brought in. In the UK we had the opportunity in 2010 to completely rebuild the sport and as things have shown leading up to Sochi, not all of the new ideas have worked. Do we waste more time trying to make outdated ideas and programmes work or be bold and look to new ideas?

Events like the Landgraaf race recently are a start. Why not combine the usage of the facilities at Landgraaf with a fitness test for both aspiring racers and selected team members. This may shame a few athletes who thought they were ‘fit’ into raising their game as well as showing those not on the teams how far they have to go.

There really does need to be a progression from the grass roots up through the various levels of racing; from the summer calendar all the way up to getting the best racers to the top of the sport: The Olympics. At the moment there is friction between the regions and the national calendar in the summer as well as little thought in how much time the racers should be training rather than racing. If we burn the athletes out too soon, we have nothing! We all need to work together for Great Britain rather than fight for our little piece of the pie.

Alpine can learn from how Freestyle and Snowboarding have adapted to the new era. There is no shame in what alpine achieved in history but the world has moved on. Alpine needs to move on as well. It was interesting to hear that post Sochi people visiting The Snow Centre and the Skiplex venues were just talking about Freestyle, Alpine needs to do something to arrest this drifting away from the core discipline.

With the influx of new blood onto the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee, Tony Willis and Marc Telling have got involved in the last few months, new blood will hopefully bring new ideas. The vote for the new Chair of the Alpine Committee takes place soon. (If you wish to have a vote, become a member – click here).

It is not all doom and gloom but unless those interested in the long term future of the sport raise their heads above the parapet, the future will be grim. We have some incredibly talented athletes coming through the system, they do need support from all angles! We need to keep our athletes racing and support them not hinder them from reaching the highest echelons.

Picture: Recently retired British Alpine Team racer TJ Baldwin, credit RACER READY