Audi Ski Cross - how did it all pan put?

The Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup kicked off in Val Thorens in December for two races on the classic Stade du Ski Cross Jean Frederic Chapuis, a course named after the 2014 Olympic Champion. With the now familiar Cross Alps Tour taking place throughout the month of December, the racers were in for a busy period with 6 races in 15 days taking in France, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. The Cross Alps Tour puts a spotlight on ski cross during the month of December and although the sport is fighting against all the other winter sports for air time, ski cross often shines on the classic tracks such as Val Thorens and Innichen.

With three wins in the mens races, Kevin Drury jumped to the top of the mens standings after the cross alps tour. Coming into the season, the 31 year old Canadian had one career win and 3 podium finishes so whilst his pace was never in doubt, the question was could he do it week in week out on the world cup tour. The month of December answered that question! Solid qualifying performances followed up by smart tactics in heats was the order of the day. The only blip being 25th in the final race in Innichen. Other skiers to break through were Ryan Regez and Kris Mahler. Regez from Wengen but with family in England bagged his first win in Feldberg in 2019 after a few seasons jumping between the Europa Cup Tour and the World Tour. With improved consistency in 2019/20, Regez was 3rd in Val Thorens and took the win in Montafon. Mahler from Canada was the fairy tail story of the mens Cross Alps Tour. Mahler from Canmore, Alberta had close to two years away from the world cup tour and the emotion poured out of not just himself but the whole Canadian team when he took his first career win in Val Thorens.

Going into the womens season, it was widely expected to be a close fight between Sandra Naeslund (Swe), Fanny Smith (SUI) and Marielle Thompson (Can) and that is exactly how it played out. Round 1 went to Naeslund, round 2 Smith rounds 3 & 4 Thompson. Berger Sabbatel (Fra) took round 5 in a race based off qualifying times before Smith took round 6. The Cross Alps Tour went the way of Naeslund due to her ability to find the podium even on an off day. The Swede is still just 23 years old but is on course to break all sorts of records in ski cross. The battle lines were drawn for the rest of the season and going into every world cup race the question is “can anyone break the dominance of Smith, Thompson and Naeslund”. Whilst the womens field is extremely strong, these three athletes are a cut above the rest.

Into 2020 and the pace slows somewhat with nearly a month pacing before the next stop in Nakiska, Canada before the famous double header in Idre Fjall, Sweden. The Idre Fjall course tests all the skills of a ski cross athlete. It has the longest straight section on tour with the biggest jumps meaning the action goes right down to the finish line. One of the great things about the Idre Fjall course is that new athletes can race it on the FIS circuit as the Swedish Federation regularly schedule races at this venue and it provides the ultimate development experience! Regez grabbed his 2nd win of the season in Idre Fjall with Daniel Bohnacker (Ger) taking the 2nd race. The 30 year old German has been ever present at the upper echelons of mens ski cross for nearly 10 years but this was just his second career win, with the first coming over 9 years ago. Smith and Naeslund were the victors in the womens races with Naselund’s win going down exceptionally well with the home fans!

Five races were left to go in the race for the crystal globe but weather issues saw the Feldberg double header cancelled before COVID-19 removed the final race of the season in Veysonnaz. The last races of the season turned out to be in Sunny Valley, Russia. A long way to travel for just one race but one of the smoothest tracks on tour means it is a popular stop for the racers. Smith took the win with Naeslund in 5th but it wasn’t enough to stop Naeslund taking home her 2nd crystal globe. 2018 Olympic Silver medalist Marc Bischofberger took the win in Russia, his 4th in total, with Drury in 2nd and with it the crystal globe for 2019/20. A margin of 314 points over his nearest challenger, Regez, proved that Drury with 7 podiums (including 4 wins) in the 11 races was by far and away the standout skier of 2019/20.

It was a real breakthrough season for Ollie Davies (GBR) in 2019/20. The 23 year old had some spectacular performances in qualifying making finals 5 times during the season, the most of any British male ski cross athlete, including a superb 2nd in qualifying in Idre Fjall. The best result of the season came in Innichen where 12th in qualifying turned into 12th on the final results as finals were cancelled. Davies has proved he belongs at this level and by qualifying for finals regularly Davies will get the experience of head to head racing against the best in the world that he needs if he is to continue moving up the rankings to challenge for podium places.

Overall, a season of two halves. The Cross Alps Tour puts the sport front and centre during December and then ski cross struggles to find its place on the broadcast schedules for the rest of the season. The courses have improved dramatically over the years so whilst risk is still there, it is not the demolition derby some seem to claim. There are now less races won out of the start and you will see thrilling racing at every stop of the tour!

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