2015/16 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup recap

15 April 2016 07:51
Crystal globe winner JF Chapuis in Idre (SWE)
Crystal globe winner JF Chapuis in Idre (SWE) -
GEPA Pictures

The 2015/16 Audi Ski Cross World Cup season may come to be looked back upon as a true pivot point for the sport of ski cross. With several new venues stepping onto the World Cup stage and hosting top-notch competitions and a whole new level in creative, forward thinking, and entertaining course design on display from beginning to end of the season, ski cross looks to be entering a new and exciting era as we head towards the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. 

In late February ski cross became one of the first sports to test out the new Olympic facilities in Korea, with a highly successful World Cup at Bokwang Phoenix Park. That event, along with electrifying first-time competitions at Montafon (AUT), Watles (ITA), and Idre (SWE) had the World Cup buzzing, while repeat crystal globe performances by Anna Holmlund (SWE) and Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) solidified those two athletes as the stars of the show and the favourites heading into next season’s world championships in Sierra Nevada (SPA). 

 

SX "Behind the Scenes" - The Crystal Globe

 

Ski Cross - Ladies Top Three

  1. Anna Holmlund (SWE) - 975 pts
  2. Marielle Thompson (CAN) - 737 pts
  3. Alizee Baron (FRA) - 612 pts

Rookie of the Year: Daniella Maier (GER) - 200 pts

 

For the second-straight season, and for the third time in her career, 28-year-old Anna Holmlund of Sweden stood at the top of the ski cross world by winter’s end, taking the 2015/16 crystal globe in a dominant campaign that saw her claim five victories and 10 podiums in 12 events, while only missing out on the big finals once all season. 

And, as with last season, Holmlund had things essentially wrapped up well before the final event of the season in Arosa (SUI), when a fifth-place performance on home soil in Idre (amazingly, her worst finish of the season) put her more than 200 points ahead of Marielle Thompson (CAN) with two events to go. 

While Thompson finished the season well back of claiming the second globe of her career, nearly 240 points shy of Holmlund, there’s no doubt that the reigning Olympic champion would have made things much more stressful for Holmlund had she not crashed in qualifications for the first of back-to-back competitions in Innichen/San Candido (ITA) and been forced to sit out both those events. 

 

SX "Behind the Scenes" - What is ski cross?

 

Upon her return from injury Thompson was able to score three wins and five podiums in the final seven events of the season, while Holmlund had three victories and six podiums during the same stretch - all of which adds up to this one being the rivalry to watch during next year’s world championship season. 

However, throwing a wrench into the gears of that storyline is the anticipated 2016/17 return of Voss 2013 world champion and 2012/13 crystal globe winner Fanny Smith from a shoulder injury suffered at the season-opener in Montafon. One of the fiercest competitors on tour, there's no doubt that Smith will be hungry to reassert herself as one of top athletes in SX come next December.

Third overall in 2015/16 went to Alizee Baron (FRA), who, with five podiums on the season (including a highlight second-place result on home soil at the ultra-tough Val Thorens competition) and a top-10 finish in all but one event, may have taken the reigns as the leader of the French squad from her legendary teammate Ophelie David.

Other standouts on the season included fourth-overall finisher Sandra Naeslund (SWE) who, at just 19 years of age, claimed four podiums and 11 top-10s on the season. With Holmlund and Naeslund on there side the Swedes may have the best one-two punch on the ladies’ Audi ski cross World Cup, and those two look poised to be at or near the top for years to come. 

Andrea Limbacher (AUT), with her win at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang (KOR), continues to impress as one of the best big-event skiers on the tour. However, a devastating knee injury suffered at the season’s final event in Arosa looks like it may have her sidelined for the foreseeable future. Further down the leaderboard a pair of young Germans - Rookie of the Year Daniella Maier and her slightly elder teammate Margarethe Aschauer - showed loads of promise heading into next season, as they follow in the footsteps of team leader and sixth-overall finisher Heidi Zacher. All-in-all, things are looking good and getting better as competition tightens up on the ladies’ Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup.

 

 

Ski Cross - Men Top Three

  1. Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) - 694 pts
  2. Christopher Delbosco (CAN) - 554 pts
  3. Brady Leman (CAN) - 523 pts

Rookie of the Year: Daniel Traxler (AUT) - 121 pts

 

The start of the men’s 2015/16 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season was all about Chris Delbosco (CAN), who was able to put three years of struggle behind him by claiming victory in both the season-opener in Montafon and the following competition in Val Thorens, and then following those wins up with a third-place finish at the second Val Thorens race to open the season with three podiums in three events and a firm hold of the red World Cup leader’s bib.

Delbosco was joined on both of those first two podiums of the season by the same two athletes, his teammate Brady Leman and Kreischberg 2015 world champion Filip Flisar (SLO), making it seem early on as if those three SX bad boys were getting set to run rampant on the 2015/16 season. 

However, while that suggestion would turn out to be true to an extent, the second Val Thorens race saw a breakthrough for a certain Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) that would start a run by the charismatic Frenchman that would prove impossible to top.

Chapuis, who famously took gold at the Voss 2013 world championships before he even had a World Cup win to his name and then followed that up the next season by leading a French sweep of the Olympic podium in Sochi, claimed his first victory of 2015/16 at his home resort in Val Thorens on the course that was named in his honour following his Olympic win. It was the first time he had won at the resort he calls home, and it served as a springboard to a second-straight crystal globe season and an unassailable claim to the title of best ski cross athlete in the world.

 

SX "Behind the Scenes" - Starts and Finishes 

 

Chapuis would go on to take three more victories and five podiums in total after his Val Thorens win, locking up the 2015/16 title before the final race in Arosa despite a DNF at the second of the two Idre races. Though the French team failed to repeat as Nations Cup winners this season, with Chapuis at the helm they remain a formidable threat, a point highlighted by the Chapuis-lead French sweep of the podium in Watles in early January.

To illustrate just how ferocious the battle was this past season on the men’s side, Delbosco would follow Chapuis up by finishing second overall, scoring a third-place result in Arosa to leapfrog his teammate Leman on the final day of the season. Leman was forced to sit out the final event due to an injury suffered in Idre, and Delbosco himself wasn’t sure if he would be able to compete in Arosa after jarring his back his back in the same race. However, the opportunity to score the fourth World Cup overall silver medal of his career was too much for Delbosco to pass up, and his fifth podium of the season there in Switzerland gave him just that.

Leman finished in third-place overall behind Delbosco and played a critical role in helping Canada earn their first ski cross Nations Cup since 2011. However, with only two finishes outside the top-six in 11 competitions on the season, Leman was easily the most consistent performer of the year, and should be hungrier than ever to top the standings in 2016/17.

 

Arosa World Cup highlights


 

While the chess match for the top three spots on the overall podium was the obvious choice for most talked-about story, there were many compelling plot lines lower down the rankings, as well. 

Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE), the 2013/14 crystal globe winner and Kreischberg 2015 bronze medallist, badly tweaked his back at the season-opener in Montafon and was forced to sit out the next two races in Val Thorens. When he did return to competition in Innichen/San Candido, he did so in considerable pain, wearing a back brace cinched so tight that he could barely breathe during runs. However, Oehling Norberg would go on to score two victories and a runner-up despite his injury and finish the season fourth overall. 

World champion Flisar had his best season since his 2011/12 crystal globe-winning campaign, with three podiums and his first victory in over three years. Thomas Harasser (AUT), Jonas Lenherr (SUI), and Semen Denshchikov (RUS) all scored the first World Cup podiums of their career. Daniel Traxler (AUT) and Kevin Drury (CAN) battled it out in a closely-fought Rookie of the Year campaign, with Traxler eventually winning the vote. And, as mentioned early, the Canadians eventually triumphed as the Nations Cup winner over the French by just a handful of points. 

Even with this many words spent on the 2015/16 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season we have only really scratched the surface of the highs, lows, and “Whoa!”’s that occurred. With another big World Cup calendar and the Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle World Ski Championships coming up in 2016/17, as well as the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games looming just over the horizon, our best advice is to get some rest over the summer, because the future of ski cross is coming up fast and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.