Winter Sports

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Warmer Winter Playing Havoc with Snow Sports Events

13 Jan, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
In the U.S. and Abroad, in Top-Tier Competitions and Small Resorts Close to Home, Winter Sports Industry is Suffering

A Facebook meme famously showed a person sitting sadly on a motionless ski lift and wearing flip-flops, with the headline, “Go home, weather, you’re drunk.”

Unfortunately, warmer temperatures fail to provoke laughs when it comes to scheduling winter sports events. After all, a venue that has been booked years in advance, and which suddenly finds itself bereft of the snow and ice it needs, isn’t going to be much good to anyone. Not to athletes, not to event organizers, not to spectators and certainly not to the hospitality industry that depends on all of the above.

Case in point: 2016. According to an article in Inside the Games, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has cancelled or amended a number of upcoming World Cup events across its various disciplines due to unseasonably warm weather around the globe.

The Ski Cross World Cup competition in Watles, Italy, due to take place on January 9 and 10 was cancelled due to persistent high temperatures and a complete lack of a snow base. (This is especially disappointing since it would have been the first time the Italian resort had ever staged a Ski Cross World Cup event and was scheduled to host the opening competition in the discipline for 2016.)

And the problems are hardly confined to Europe. The warm weather and lack of snow also caused the cancellation of the Freestyle Skiing World Cup moguls and aerials competitions in Lake Placid, New York, scheduled to be held from January 14 to 16.

Let that sink in for a moment. A two-time Winter Olympic host city doesn’t have the snow it needs to host an event that brings prestige, coverage and an incredible amount of economic impact.

While some sports events – road races and bicycling events, for example – can be held in a variety of conditions, winter events have no margin for error. Specific courses are planned months ahead of time and even while the event is underway, the surface is constantly under scrutiny. Venues are in high demand in this incredibly compressed period of months, which is popularly used by the vacation trade as well as for competitive events. Athletes have tight schedules and changing the date of an event can rule out their participation. Relocating events is difficult, if not impossible, given the extensive arrangements that need to be in place for venues to host top-tier competitions and the types of facilities that are needed.

Problem is, Mother Nature doesn’t much care about planning, facilities, infrastructure or economic impact. And as organizers know, if the temperatures are too warm, the event simply can’t be held.

Resort owners, as well as ski and snowboard rental shops, are all hurting from the effects of the ‘blowtorch winter,’ according to CNN. Meteorologists say that El Niño, a periodic warming of ocean waters in the Pacific Ocean that alters weather patterns around the globe, is partly responsible for higher-than-average temperatures. And if those last all winter, expect to see a lot of shake-ups in ski and snowboard events.

Often, organizers simply throw up their hands in defeat. After cancelling in Lake Placid, the FIS announced that it had no plans to relocate the Freestyle Skiing World Cup. The next scheduled mogul competition will be January 23 in Val Saint-Come, Canada, while aerials is set for February 5 in Deer Valley.

With any luck, both areas will have the snow they need by then. (At least Colorado, in a recent study, reported its winter traffic is 10 percent ahead of last year.)

But not everyone is so lucky. The FIS Nordic Combined World Cup in Schonach, Germany, due to take place on January 9 and 10, was called off; this followed the earlier cancellation of the event in the same discipline in Klingenthal, Germany, scheduled for January 2 and 3.

Other affected events include the men’s and ladies’ slalom races, part of the Alpine Skiing World Cup, which were moved from Zagreb, Croatia, (originally scheduled for January 3 for the men and January 6 for the women) to Santa Caterina, Italy, on January 5 and 6.

The Alpine Skiing World Cup ladies downhill and super-G races on January 9 and 10 in St Anton, Austria, were switched to Zauchensee, also in Austria. The downhill event on January 9 also showed the effects of course limitations; it was altered to a sprint format and featured a shorter course over two runs.

Flachau in Austria has stepped in to replace Ofterschwang as hosts of the upcoming women’s FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup on January 16 and 17. Competition had been due to take place in the German ski resort on the same dates but warm weather and a lack of snow had forced the FIS to cancel the scheduled races. The event had been due to include women’s giant slalom and slalom races which will now be moved to neighboring country Austria.

FIS also noted its Tour de Ski stage in Oberstdorf in Germany was changed to accommodate the difficult weather. The International Biathlon Union (IBU) moved its fourth World Cup event of the season to Ruhpolding, Germany (it had been scheduled for Oberhof, according to Inside the Games.)

The International Paralympic Committee has also been forced to move back events in its Alpine Skiing Europa Cup circuit in the hope that weather conditions would improve.

The winter season is still young. But it’s short, and venues rely on their ability to pack a lot of visitors into those few months of snow and ice in order to survive throughout other parts of the year.

Brian Czarnecki, vice president of sales and marketing at Camelback Resort in the Pocono Mountains, told CNN that delays in opening this year – with business not getting underway until after the New Year – would cost the resort up to 20 percent of what it typically brings in during their winter season.

"Mother Nature has been quite a battle this year," Czarnecki said. "It's been the most challenging year I've had in the ski business."

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