With no World Championships or Olympics scheduled for the winter of 2011-2012, some ski fans may be planning on going into hibernation for the year. But they better not buy their sleeping pills just yet.
During its meetings in Turkey last week, the International Ski Federation (FIS) approved a proposal for a new kind of World Championships: one modeled on the Tour de Ski—the bicycle-style stage race that has taken hold and garnered big TV ratings in Europe since its inception in 2007.
The championships will inject some excitement into the one “dead” season that comes every four years, in which neither an Olympics or World Championships is scheduled.
The next dead winter is in 2012, and there’s a chance that FIS could sort out the logistics in time to hold the event then, although U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Nordic Director John Farra said that it’s unlikely. But fans should expect to see a tour championship on the calendar by 2016.
The details of the format haven’t been settled on yet, but according to Farra, the proposed event will be separate from the existing Tour de Ski—meaning two big stage races in a single season.
It’s clear that tours are the future: in Turkey, FIS also approved a trial run of another short stage race to open this coming season in Kuusamo, Finland—and that’s on top of the mini-tour that’s taken place at the World Cup finals for the last two years.
“In the grand scheme of things, this is the direction that we’re going to go,” Farra said.
Whether it happens in 2012 or 2016, the new tour event will be a boon for the Americans, Farra said, since USSA places a premium on successes at major races like World Championships and the Olympics. A tour championship would be another opportunity for Farra’s skiers to shine.
While the U.S. team would be hard pressed to find contenders for an overall tour title, Farra said that he plans to push FIS to recognize athletes “that do something impressive in particular events,” when the federation sorts out the details of the tour championships in subsequent meetings. That could mean awarding world titles to winners of individual stages, like Andy Newell or Kikkan Randall in a sprint, or Kris Freeman in a distance race. That concept, Farra said, should appeal to everyone.
“I can’t imagine one nation arguing against that, given that they’ll all have more opportunities,” he said.
According to Canadian officials, the Tour of the Rockies—a North American stage race proposed by FIS for the spring of 2012—was being considered as a test run of the tour championships. However, citing financial risks, Cross Country Canada announced last month that it had declined to host the event.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.