At first glance, they’re two sports that seem like they couldn’t be any more different. One is about pushing the limits of speed on snow, while the other is a test of precision and skill set against the lush tapestry of greens and fairways.
But having recently had the opportunity to witness professional golf tournaments from the behind the scenes after what feels like a lifetime of standing on the side of the ski hill, I think there’s a lot that ski racing could learn from golf.
One thing that stands out to me is the interaction between amateur golfers and pros. ProAm events are a key ingredient of professional golf tournaments. During these events amateur golfers and sponsors have a chance — for a significant price — to play a round of golf with a pro. Charity is one of the big winners thanks to this format. However, the biggest winner is golf. Having the chance to interact with a pro for five hours, getting tips on their golf game and learning about the pro’s story can create a lasting bond. Those amateurs will follow the pro golfer’s career for a long time. Sometimes these events can even lead to sponsorship opportunities for the players.
Contrast this with a World Cup ski race. There’s no chance for the recreational skier to spend a significant amount of time with the athletes, who are kept away from most interactions with recreational skiers and fans by their coaches so they can concentrate on racing. Granted, what the skiers are doing in downhill racing asks for total focus and carries significant risk of injury. However, well before the racing and the official training sessions start there is time to fit in an event that allows for an interaction similar to a ProAm.
Downhill racers require tremendous courage and skill to perform in the “original” extreme sport. They race down a mountain at over 120 kilometers an hour in a skin suit, their face hidden in a helmet. They race through the finish line, take off their skis and leave the finish area shortly thereafter. But they also have strong and interesting personalities, amazing stories of overcoming fear, injuries and other challenges. People need to get to know them — not only the very few top skiers that get some TV time, but all of them.
It’s about time World Cup ski racing looked in the mirror and came up with changes that could make the sport more attractive and showcase its stars in a much better way. The competition for sponsorship dollars is tight and even within snow sports the less regulated extreme sports that are gaining popularity are more inclusive, bursting onto the scene with GoPro footage and significant social media buzz.
Let’s get to work and spread the word about the fact that our ski racers are not just incredible athletes, but amazing people with compelling stories to tell. They deserve it!