Words & photos by Tom Winter
If you’ve paid any attention to the sports pages lately, you’ve probably
noticed that a golfing event called the Ryder Cup is getting a lot of
attention. As a skier, you’ve probably not bothered to read the copy, so
let us paraphrase it for you. Golf’s Ryder Cup pits the USA against
Europe in a team versus team format. This year, the Americans seemed to
be comfortably ahead, holding a 10 to 6 lead going into the final day.
In an amazing comeback, the Euros stormed back to win by 1 point, 14.5
to America’s 13.5. As skiers we don’t need to understand or know about
the nuances of how they score points or the behind the scenes politics
of how the team captains choose their teams in the Ryder Cup. That’s not
important. What is important is the fact that the Ryder Cup provided
the inspiration for a little event called the Swatch Skiers Cup.
Skiing, like golf, is an intensely individual sport. Even events like
the Olympics, which paint athletes in their country’s colors, remain
individual affairs. The Swatch Skiers Cup, like the Ryder Cup, changes
this equation. Rather than competing as individuals, skiers compete as a
team (Americas versus Europe). Each team captain selects the team, and
then determines which athlete will go against a skier from the opposing
team. The head to head heats give one point to the victor. But even a
loss won’t put your team out of contention. It’s like getting beat one
on one in a basketball game. Sure, you may give up a dunk, but your
teammates may rack up two dunks on the other end of the court. It’s an
exciting format that, like this year’s European comeback in the Ryder
Cup, makes for compelling watching until the last turn of the last day.
Held for the second year in a row in Valle Nevado, Chile, the Swatch
Skiers Cup was won by a mere single point by Team Americas. As skiers
you may already know this. But what you may not have heard about is the
fact that with the support of Swatch, the event is now taking a big leap
and hosting the next installment of the Skiers Cup in Zermatt,
Switzerland this February.
According to event organizer Nicolas Hale-Woods, the September event in
Chile was good for a variety of reasons. “The athlete’s schedules are
open at that time and there aren’t a other events to compete with,” says
Hale-Woods. But the problem with Chile is, quite frankly, visibility.
Sure, it was neat to watch a recap of the Swatch Skiers Cup on the prime
time Chilean TV news programs while chilling out in a Santiago hotel
room, but the endemic skiing population in Chile, while passionate,
remains small. Hence, the move to Europe.
Swatch Skiers Cup organizer Nicolas Hale-Woods
Anyone who has ever been to Europe understands that skiing, like golf,
is huge. And that’s Huge with a capital H. The Ryder Cup got a fair
amount of attention in the USA, but it battled with the return of the
NFL refs and the start of college football for media “face time.” That
wasn’t the case in Europe, where the Ryder Cup received big-time media
coverage. The relocation of the Swatch Skiers Cup to Europe has the
potential to change the game when it comes to visibility, and it’s
highly likely that the team format will be fully embraced by not only
the endemic ski media in Europe, but the general interest and news media
Hale-Woods admits that he doesn’t think that the Swatch Skiers Cup will
replace other events in skiing, like Winter X Games, and he’s right. But
what he’s not saying (but certainly hoping) is that the move to Europe
will cement the Swatch Skiers Cup’s team versus team type of competition
into the fabric of skiing. Given the success of the Ryder Cup, worse
things could happen. So why you maybe don’t care one bit about golf, the
chances are that you’ll end up caring quite a bit about skiing’s next
big thing: the Swatch Skiers Cup.