Not enough snow last year, too much this year: the second men's downhill scheduled for Sunday between Zermatt (Switzerland) and Cervinia (Italy) was canceled, like the first the day before, pushing back the start of the men's snow season until early December. alpine skiing and compromising the future of this new stage.
This white weekend comes at a time when questions and comments are multiplying regarding the necessary adaptation of the world circuit to climate change, including for races on glaciers like that of Zermatt-Cervinia.
“Unfortunately, the reasons for the cancellation of the day are the same as yesterday: the constant and heavy snowfall as well as the wind prevent the race from taking place,” summarized Sunday on the social network X (formerly Twitter) the International Ski Federation (FIS), after announcing the decision early in the morning to avoid a long and unnecessary transfer of competitors to the starting area.
As the wind had already interrupted the men's giant in Sölden (Austria) at the end of October, world No. 1 Marco Odermatt and his rivals will have to wait for the American stage of Beaver Creek, with two descents and a super-G planned from 1st to 3rd December, to start their World Cup.
The women had experienced the same setbacks last year but have so far escaped the bad weather of autumn: they were able to finish the giant of Sölden at the end of October, then the first slalom of Levi (Finland) on Saturday, while waiting for the second this Sunday. They will then win Zermatt next weekend.
This new setback in Zermatt-Cervinia will fuel doubts about the viability of the Swiss-Italian stage, which has never yet been able to be held, after having been announced at the start of 2022 to create an “opening of the speed season” during that Sölden starts the winter of technical specialists.
The descent of the “Gran Becca”, which starts from a Swiss glacier at an altitude of almost 3,800 m to end in the Italian Val d'Aosta, at 2,865 m, has seen six abandonments for as many attempts : both the men's and women's downhills had already been canceled last year due to the lack of snow at the bottom of the route.
To adapt to increasingly warm autumns, the first cross-border stage of the world circuit was postponed by two weeks this year, and already wintery conditions allowed the first practice to take place on Wednesday.
But the return of the flakes forced the cancellation of the two other sessions on Thursday and Friday, before the even heavier snow prevented the track from being smoothed to allow the competitors to set off at more than 100 km/h this weekend, especially in high winds and on a track that they continue to discover.
Questioned on Saturday by the Swiss daily Le Temps, FIS boss John Eliasch assured that he believed in the “beautiful future” of Zermatt-Cervinia, which “will give rise to memorable races” with a view of the legendary Matterhorn.
But he conceded that it would be necessary to "push back further into the future" the start of the World Cup, to "start when the conditions are suitable, when there is a sufficient probability of having snow and that we can continue the season without a break.
For years, some skiers have suggested shifting the competition to spring, when there is often a solid coat of snow on European slopes. The FIS and the equipment manufacturers, for their part, believe that the public is more interested in skiing in the fall, an audience which therefore stimulates sales before Christmas.
Furthermore, both Sölden and Zermatt-Cervinia raise the question of glacier races: exposed to the wind and the harsh conditions of high altitude, they also require work to plug the crevasses, which are increasingly poorly received in the midst of the climate crisis.
In October, the Swiss newspaper 20 Minutes revealed images of excavators digging the Théodule glacier to prepare the Gran Becca - partly outside the authorized ski area, the Valais justice system investigated by several associations has since confirmed.