With Kuusamo’s sudden cancellation of the season-opening Ruka Triple in November, FIS formally announced a schedule change for the start of the 2017/2018 World Cup season. The season’s first event will be a mini tour in Thailand.
Yup, Thailand. A dedicated committee of ski enthusiasts recently committed to organizing a three-stage mini tour on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, in late November 2017.
“I bought a Snow Factory in 2015. At first, we thought people would be interested in snowboarding,” said Roman E. Conti, an expatriate American entrepreneur based in Bangkok. “That was fine, we made a lot of money with people snowboarding in a lame halfpipe. Then we heard that Kuusamo pulled out, and we thought, ‘Hey, why not bring nordic skiing to southeast Asia?’ ”
The race format follows the footsteps of earlier mini tours, but with a twist. The opening 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint and 5/10 k classic races will be on manmade snow, courtesy of the Snow Factory. But the pursuit will be a 10/15 k, point-to-point freestyle beach ski from Chonburi to Bang Phra.
“We have 100-percent confidence that we can provide a good ski surface,” Conti said.
According to the manufacturer, the Snow Factory can blow snow in temperatures up to 80 degrees. The Mount Van Hoevenberg Nordic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., is currently leasing one of these snowmaking contraptions and has been blowing snow most days since last November. (More details on that in another story.)
According to Peter Masonry, race director for International Ski Federation (FIS) Cross-Country, “FIS is building on the enthusiasm behind new Winter Olympics venues like Sochi and PyeongChang. This is a historic move to expand nordic skiing into the Southern Hemisphere.”
He added that FIS would suspend regulations governing minimum climb for this event.
Reactions in the ski community varied depending on the location. FasterSkier’s Editor-at-Large, Chelsea Little, road-tripped to Scandinavia on a special fact-finding mission.
“I don’t want to go there,” moaned Martin Johnsrud Sundby. “Thailand is even farther away than Quebec! Why can’t all the World Cup races be in Scandinavia and central Europe?”
“Do they even know what blueberry soup is over there?” asked Finnish world champion Iivo Niskanen. “And what is beach skiing?”
Unnamed sources indicated that major ski manufacturers were scrambling to develop skate skis with a camber specifically suited for moist sand. Swix and Rode are developing klisters that will work at temperatures up to 95 degrees.
FS caught up with Andy Newell as he wrapped up a pre-Spring Series workout at Prospect Mountain in Woodford, Vt. “Thailand? I’m stoked!” he said. “The surfing is really sweet!”
Further north in Vermont, FS found Sophie Caldwell working at great uncle John Caldwell’s maple sugaring operation.
“I love winter, but it’d be nice to have a break from cold weather,” Caldwell said as she heaved logs in to sugarhouse the wood stove. “I’m all for a trip to Thailand, sounds great!”
In Alaska, the FS web of
spies [sic] journalists found Rosie Brennan doing laps on Eagle Glacier. “Thailand? That’s sweet.” Asked about the beach race, she showed a writer her ski bases. “Look at this,” she said. They were streaked with a runny mix of klister, dirt and oxidation. “I have to hassle with klister in Alaska for six weeks every summer. And I mean, it’s really not about the klister or beach skiing, I can’t wait to see what Thailand is all about.”
According to Swedish Olympian Marcus Hellner, an athlete caucus will push to replace the beach skiing stage with a swamp run. But Masonry said that FIS would stand firm on the race format. Tacitly acknowledging that fact, the national teams of Norway, Finland and Switzerland have already planned two-week summer training camps at the Jersey shore.