Countdown to season start with Atle Skaardal and Markus Waldner

On the eve of the start of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup season 2017/18 in Sölden (AUT), Chief Race Directors Atle Skaardal and Markus Waldner shared their thoughts about the upcoming season.

Next week in Sölden, the season gets underway with ladies’ and men’s giant slalom races. How are conditions on the Rettenbach Glacier?

Atle Skaardal: The official snow control in Sölden will be conducted by Markus Mayr, FIS Assistant Race Director for the ladies’ technical events, on 19th October. So far, conditions look great on the Rettenbach Glacier. The ski area opened on 9th September and some teams have been training on the race course in the past weeks. Their feedback was very positive.

Every year, the World Cup aims to offer the best possible product to athletes and fans. What’s new on the tour this season?

Atle Skaardal: On the ladies’ tour, we will hold the first ever parallel slalom in Courchevel (FRA) on 20th December. The day will start with a qualification run and the 32 best ladies will participate in the final runs in an exciting dual format in the evening.

Markus Waldner: The men’s World Cup will return to Bormio (ITA), with a downhill and an alpine combined on the famous Stelvio. The athletes are looking forward to this and we are happy that this important race course is back on the circuit, thanks to important investments in the snow-making system.

Atle Skaardal: On 1st January, a City Event will be held in Oslo (NOR). The Holmenkollen Ski Jumping venue will be transformed into an alpine ski course to host this parallel event, uniting the 16 best ladies and men. A very professional team which has vast and valuable experience in organising FIS Nordic World Cup events is managing the Alpine City Event. We have no doubt that they will deliver a great show in front of an amazing crowd.

Markus Waldner: Furthermore, from this year on, in giant slalom, the men will be skiing with a 30m radius. The athletes were able to test these new skis this summer, and the majority of feedback is positive. An important aspect of this change is that more speed athletes should be able to race giant slalom competitively, as those skis require less discipline specific training. It’s also important for us to follow the evolution of the giant slalom course setting, but it looks like there should be no major change. We will see in Sölden who can adapt best to the new conditions.

Another change for this season is that the course setters of the men’s World Cup Tour will be drawn five days before each event. This should add a little excitement and improve fairness, as teams won’t be able to train specific combinations on similar slopes anymore.

Who do you consider the favourite athletes?

Atle Skaardal: This is a very difficult question. Some of our top stars, who suffered severe injuries and were side-lined for longer periods of time, will be back this season. I think it will be an intense and exciting fight between five or six athletes on the ladies’ side.

With less than 120 days until the Olympic Winter Games 2018, what are the latest updates from PyeongChang?

Atle Skaardal: The Organising Committee made a very good impression at the final inspection in September and also during the autumn meetings in Zurich two weeks ago. If we are lucky with the weather and the snow conditions, I am confident that we will experience great Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Meanwhile, anticipation for the debut of the Alpine Team Event is high. A stadium has been built specifically for this event and I think it will be one of the highlights of the Olympics, concluding the two competition weeks in a fantastic way.

Markus Waldner: Indeed, the Alpine Team Event is now well established and has proven to be a thrilling event with the outcome being wide open. Smaller nations are able to grab medals as seen at the recent FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in St. Moritz (SUI), when Slovakia won silver.

Furthermore, both test events in PyeongChang were very successful. The men raced a downhill and super-G there in the 2015/16 season and the ladies were in action with downhill and super-G races last winter. The speed venue in Jeongseon and the tech slopes in Yongpyong are ready for the big showdown and together with a very dedicated Organising Committee, we are looking forward to truly exciting Games there in February.