Is giant slalom becoming less suited to speed skiers?
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Kjetil Jansrud was the only one of the world’s top speed skiers to so much as qualify for the second run in the 2018 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup giant-slalom race on Sunday, Dec. 2.
In spite of their success in downhill and super-G, racers such as Jansrud are having an increasingly tough time competing in GS.
“I think through all time it’s been possible to mix three disciplines, but as you can see, it gets harder every year,” said Jansrud, who, in spite of his Olympic silver medal in GS and two GS podiums here at Beaver Creek, barely hung on for points on Saturday, starting with bib No. 31 and ending up 28th. “I’ve been on the podium 10 times in GS, so I’m still clinging to the dream.”
The dream hasn’t come to fruition in a while. The most recent GS podium for the 33-year-old Norwegian veteran was here at Beaver Creek back in 2011.
Many World Cup racers with three-discipline backgrounds have cut GS out of their programs altogether. Even those who historically have had success in the discipline such as Aksel Lund Svindal, are now focused exclusively on downhill and super G.
Specialization and course sets
There are a variety of reasons giant slalom is getting harder for speed skiers, one of which is that it has become like slalom, a specialty discipline for which most top racers dedicate all of their training time.
“It’s a matter of simple math,” Jansrud said. “The amount of hours you have training, now you see people where GS is all they do.”
Austrian Matthias Mayer, who has notched numerous podiums in downhill and super G, didn’t get anywhere close to making the top 30 cut after the first run on Sunday. He hasn’t earned points in GS since 2014, when he finished 24th at Beaver Creek.
“I can say today that my last time when I had GS skis on was three weeks ago,” Mayer said. “We need so much training for that and we don’t have the time for it. It’s a little bit sad because I love GS, but there’s no chance for us to qualify for a second run.”
The Austrian also added that GS courses have changed dramatically in recent years.
“The course set thing is the factor why so many speed guys don’t ski GS anymore,” he said. “The gates are getting tighter. The speed is so much slower.”
For the few World Cup racers left still crossing over between technical and speed disciplines, there are certain styles that work in their favor to make the transition more seamless.
“Position-wise, how you stack up in GS is pretty similar to downhill and super G. One of the reasons I am able to cross over so easily is my body position on the apex (of the turn) is the same,” said American Ryan Cochran-Siegle.
But with tighter gates, GS means enlisting exclusive skills that some speed skiers simply don’t have … at least not to the degree to be competitive.
“I think really being able to hammer the top of the turn is important,” Cochran-Siegle said. “With speed you have to be more subtle and build the turn smoothly, whereas with GS, to build powerful turns, it’s pretty quick. That’s the biggest thing.”
In addition to requiring hammering turns, giant slalom hammer’s one’s joints more than other disciplines, according to American Tommy Ford, who ended up 19th on Sunday.
“GS is just very demanding on the body,” Ford said. “You really have to bend the skis and make a lot of forces on your body. You’re at awkward angles, angles you’re not really meant to go into. We’re really pushing those limits turn to turn. In the speed events, you get a lot of forces, but in GS you get a lot of angles. You really have to angulate. It compromises your joints all around. Sometimes I get a stiff neck from skiing GS. I’m also getting old.”
There’s also the argument that giant slalom racers have a shorter shelf life than speed skiers.
When asked if there is an age limit to success in giant slalom, Jansrud said, “younger than me.” Still, Jansrud continues to compete in GS because he finds it valuable for maintaining success in downhill and super-G.
“It’s important to keep on training GS; the technical things we get from that are important,” Jansrud said. “You can’t train GS just to train, you have to go in the races. You have to have a goal. That’s why we’re here even though we’re sucking.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.