Friday, December 16, 2016

My favorite Alpine Skiing World Cup venues

The men's Alpine Skiing World Cup continues this weekend with its traditional pre-Christmas races of Val Gardena and Alta Badia in South Tyrol, Italy. As those belong to my favorite races in the schedule, I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite World Cup race venues.

10. Levi, Finland

Being the only Finnish venue surely helped Levi to get into my list, yet wasn't the only reason. The opening weekend in Sölden in late October feels a bit like a false start, in mid-November when the Levi races take place I'm already looking forward to the winter sports season. And although the early calendar slot has caused some cancellations due to lack of snow, the races have usually taken place in perfect conditions even for the late start numbers.

9. Kvitfjell, Norway

The calendar slot as the last men's speed races before the World Cup Finals is a big reason for my inclusion of Kvitfjell. When titles are still open, the last races are the best part of the season. Usually in Kvitfjell races there are not only race wins but also World Cup titles at stake.

8. Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

While I like Kvitfjell because of its late-season date, I like Lake Louise for hosting the first speed races of the season for men and women on consecutive weeks. Besides, what I particularly like about North American races (also in other sports) is their evening time slot for the European viewers. That leaves morning and afternoon free for other activities, and watching ski racing is a great way to spend the evening.

7. Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

The women's World Cup lacks such classics as the men's World Cup has. Cortina is one of the most traditional women's venues and its speed races are a fixture in January's schedule, just like the Adelboden, Wengen, and Kitzbühel races are on the men's tour.

6. Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

Just like Kvitjfell, Kranjska Gora is another traditional late-season venue, hosting the last men's technical races before the World Cup Finals. Besides that, the challenging Podkoren slope is one of the classics of ski racing.

5. Kitzbühel, Austria

The Hahnenkamm races in Kitzbühel are arguably the biggest event of the World Cup tour and the downhill on the Streif is the most challenging ski race on the planet. But there are things I don't like about the Hahnenkamm races.

Adverse weather conditions have quite often hurt the downhill, yet the organizers have been too stubborn to swap the date with the slalom as the most VIPs are coming there for the downhill on Saturday. Besides it's a pity the most prestigious ski race no longer has alpine combined. That being said, the combined formats of the past years have been too tech-favoring, be it the last format of a super-G and a slalom run or the previous format of a downhill run and two slalom runs.

4. Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA

Just like Lake Louise, Beaver Creek is another North American venue with a nice time zone for European viewers. In case of Beaver Creek, it's nice there are three races there, meaning ski racing action already in Friday evening.

Besides, I enjoyed the previous World Championships in Beaver Creek; the evening time slot was great especially on weekdays when there wouldn't have been time to watch the races in afternoon. For that reason it will also be nice to have this season's World Cup Finals in Aspen, another Colorado resort.

3. Adelboden, Switzerland

Adelboden is one of the biggest classics in ski racing, especially in giant slalom. The Chuenisbärgli slope ends with an extremely steep final section where the skiers come in front of the big crowd at the finish area.

If I traveled to a World Cup event, I'd probably prefer going to Adelboden. It's not as extravagant as Kitzbühel nor as distant as Wengen, yet from TV you can see the crowd is big and the atmosphere great in Adelboden.

2. Val Gardena / Gröden and Alta Badia, Italy

I bundled these two as they share the same weekend and are located in the same region. Also starting from this year these two venues' races will form the Südtirol Ski Trophy with an overall winner of the four races.

I like especially Alta Badia. Gran Risa is possibly the most challenging giant slalom slope on the World Cup tour. And as a Finn I have great memories of the Alta Badia races as Kalle Palander achieved three GS victories there.

The picturesque Saslong course in Val Gardena is one of the most traditional downhills in ski racing, even if not quite as famous as those in Kitzbühel and Wengen. Val Gardena and Alta Badia form together a big weekend of men's World Cup action before Christmas, starting on Friday and nowadays extending to Monday with a parallel giant slalom.

1. Wengen, Switzerland

The Lauberhorn races of Wengen may be considered to be less prestigious than the Hahnenkamm races of Kitzbühel; yet Wengen is still my favorite World Cup venue.

The Hahnenkamm downhill is the greatest challenge in ski racing, yet the Lauberhorn downhill is the longest on the World Cup tour and a different challenge. The Hahnenkamm downhill is technically more challenging whereas the Lauberhorn downhill is more about gliding skills and has the highest top speed. Personally I think Lauberhorn is the ultimate downhill race whereas the Hahnenkamm downhill is the ultimate ski race. Besides, the Lauberhorn downhill offers probably the most breathtaking views of the season with the mountains around and the Hundschopf jump between rocks on both sides of the course.

I also prefer the weekend format of Wengen over that of Kitzbühel. I like that alpine combined is still alive in Wengen. Wengen was the first to introduce the super combined format, shortening the downhill leg into the duration of a regular downhill run and combining it with only one run of slalom. That has proved to be a good combined format, being neutral between speed and tech specialists. Also, the Lauberhorn organizers have shown the common sense to swap downhill and slalom races if weather conditions threat the downhill.

Close but no cigar: Val-d'Isère, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Schladming, Madonna di Campiglio

Val-d'Isère and Garmisch-Partenkirchen are both some of the most traditional World Cup venues, hosting both men's and women's races. They both have also hosted the World Championships and Olympic races. Yet still for me, those venues don't stand out from the schedule like Adelboden, Wengen, and Kitzbühel do, and the title battles aren't most intense during those races.

Schladming traditionally hosts the night slalom the week after Kitzbühel in front of a huge crowd. Madonna di Campiglio is like an Italian version of it, hosting a night slalom in the Christmas week. Still both are only one-day events as opposed to entire weekends of ski racing. Besides I am more into speed disciplines, explaining the high number of speed venues in my top 10.

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