Jeret “Speedy” soars to the silver medal.
Will the Olympic push give ski cross enough momentum to keep growing?
Though excitement for the discipline’s Olympic debut has been growing over
the last few seasons, ski cross has seen its share of setbacks as well.
The Jeep 48 Straight tour, an important financial source for some racers,
was cancelled in 2008. Racers have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the
courses of the World Cup. And the U.S. failed to produce a female Olympian
to inspire future generations of women. With these and a list of other growing pains, athletes and officials turned to the excitement of the Olympic Winter Games to generate fuel for the budding discipline to reach new levels.
The image and direction the sport should take to reach out to young, potential participants has been hotly debated. Discussion of what the racers
should wear erupted last season when several European teams showed up
to World Cup races in tighter, alpine-style suits. ESPN’s Winter X Games,
which adopted the sport five years before it made its World Cup debut, has
strived to keep the sport on the extreme side of the spectrum with the largest and most diverse course the racers see all year.
“If it’s going to survive, this is the way the sport needs to be, on a course
like [Cypress],” said Curtis Bacca, a member of the X Games selection committee and ski technician who has been involved with the sport since its
inception. “And the Olympics really needs to deal with the clothing issues.
What they’re wearing now isn’t acceptable. It looks horrible; you wouldn’t buy
it in a shop. At least what the snowboard cross guys are wearing is loose
fitting and you can wear it skiing.”
“Hopefully after these Games we can form a union or alliance and really
fight the way it’s going,” said Bacca, who tuned two-time gold medalist Seth
Wescott’s board in Vancouver. “I was involved with the sport for a lot of years
and I can’t even watch it. I can’t stand the clothes and the courses they built
in Europe were horrible. And those are my friends out there racing.”
After failing to produce even one female American ski cross racer for the
Vancouver Games, the USSA now has four years to decide how best to grow
“Alpine racing is the backbone of ski cross,” said Daron Rahlves. “You
don’t have a chance if you just grew up on twin tips in the park, or skiing
powder. If someone says they want to be a ski cross competitor at a young
age, they have to go in there with the race team and train a lot of GS and
super G; that’s what I’d recommend.”
“The hardest thing is getting ski resorts to embrace the sport and build
tracks,” continued Rahlves, who retired from ski cross after the Vancouver
Games. “They can be done right without being a liability. Even if they build a
mellow course with low consequences, it’s still fun and you are going to see
a train of people going through there.”
Another factor racers have keyed on for the growth of the sport is the type
of TV coverage it receives. Ski racing fans were disappointed with NBC’s
delayed and sparse coverage of the Games across the board. Jamaican
racer Errol Kerr believes the TV exposure will make or break the future of
“I think it all comes down to if it’s televised properly,” said Kerr. “If networks pick up the feed and people can see it live and they’re not just watching highlights of one or two heats, people can capture that suspense that
happens here in between each run. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be
super stoked on this.” — E. W.