SNIPPETS OF INTEREST/ADVERTORIALS
FINLAY NEESON - SEASON UPDATE - AS AT 01 MARCH
I have been based in the USA since November 20th with the Sugar Bowl Ski Team (Head coach Guenther Birgmann).
We started the season off with a month of training and preparation in Colorado, skiing between Loveland, Breckenridge and Copper and battling temperatures as low as -40 celcius. I then got invited to the USA National development system training camp, this was a good experience to train with the best in US, it was also good to show how Kiwi's do it by posting the fastest times throughout the camp.
I made a significant equipment change in the late year, by switching from the standard plastic Atomic race boot to the rare full carbon fibre DODGE ski boot, they are made in the US by Dave Dodge and Bill Doble, this saw significant improvements in my skiing. You can find more information about this sensational technology at www.dodgeskiboots.com.
DODGE ski boots - $US1500 approx
We then progressed through to late December where our schedule was packed with elite races.
Our first stop was Steamboat, CO. where we had the Christmas Classic slalom series. The results showed, as I scored a career best result of 43 FIS points, finished 1st for 1993 born athletes and 4th in the U20's.
Next stop was after new years at Jackson Hole, WY.
This again was a great success as I scored more career best in Giant Slalom by placing 3rd overall and 2nd U20 with a FIS point result of 40.14. Sugar Bowl Ski Team ended up taking the podium sweep with my teammates Derek Strand of Park City, UT and Adam Barwood of Queenstown, finishing a few hundreths in front of myself.
Winterpark Colorado made for some tough races as I started in the middle of the field with the top NCAA College (University) athletes from across the world.
I secured a top 25 finish from bib 60 in the giant slalom which was satisfying given the snow conditions and calibre of athletes. In the slalom I once again moved from bib 55 to 33rd after the 1st run, narrowly missing the top 30 for 2nd run meaning I had to once again battle the ruts and berms of world cup athletes.
At this point 18 hour inter-state hauls were becoming the norm and it had been a few months since we had touched home soil in sunny California, so a week at home in Lake Tahoe before Park City and Snowbird races was much enjoyed.
We once again packed up the trailer, with 30 pairs of skis and headed to Utah for the Park City and Snowbird races.
Racing on the insanely steep Giant Slalom hill at Park City from the 2002 Olympics made for some fun, I skied well in the giant slalom posting a 47 FIS point result and beating the entire Canadian Devo Team (my age) was another bonus, securing myself a 16th place result (among top NCAA athletes and US ski team athlete and world cup racer Nolan Kasper).
Snowbird Slalom races turned into a big mountain competition with a solid 2-3 feet of snow over night. Tough conditions and walked away with a 47 points result.
The North American cup at Vail, CO, brought out pros to show their face.
This meant for another intense race series, in the slalom i drew bib 77 and was able to half that ending up in 34th position. I was stoked with this result considering the level and quantity of professional athletes among the race. I look forward to being competitive in this tough league in the next year.
I am now at the end of February and have scored more career best results at Snow King, WY and Squaw Valley, CA. Grabbing myself a 42.91 and a 42.95 FIS points result and a 4th equal at Snow King and a 3rd at Squaw Valley in the J1/MID division.
I continue racing here until April 15th, then I roll into winter in NZ based at Treble Cone.
Can't wait to sneak in a few Top Tow days and catch up with the club this coming season.
Bring on Winter!
New Zealand Mens Ski Team
As Gondolas and Chairlifts continue to gain popularity in ski resorts, is there still a place for the traditional drag lift on the slopes?
Those people who study the number of new lifts being installed each summer, as well as the total number of ski lifts claimed by leading resorts, may reach 3 main conclusions.
First, fewer new lifts are being built; second, most of those new lifts are either chairlifts or gondolas; and third, the number of drag lifts, surface tows, T-bars, handle tows, Platters, Pomas, whatever you call them- is falling. Why?
During the rapid expansion of ski areas, particularly in Europe during the 1980s, the quickest nod most affordable way to open new terrain was with drag lifts. IN the other two booming markets of that era - Japan and the USA - there was a greater emphasis on the quality of experience rather than the extent terrain, and fewer drag lifts were installed.
Crans Montana T-bar
Over the past few decades, the expansion of lift-served terrain has almost ended in Europe and the main areas of competition have shifted to price, variety and quality of experience. Chairlifts and gondolas usually fit that business model better than aging drag lifts.
Exception - Round Hill, new nutcracker installed for 2010 season.
"After all, guests pay primarily for the overall experience, not for the technology. When the customer says, 'That's a fantastic lift!', then the installation works as a marketing tool," suggests Jacob Falkner from Austria's Gaislachkoglbahn, while discussing the installation of a new gondola, which can carry a record breaking 3,600 passengers and hour.
The numbers can be seen most clearly with the giant ski areas. The lift count at Dolomiti Superski in Italy peaked at about 485 lifts a decade ago, but this has now dropped by 7% to nearer 450, while its total hourly uplift capacity has increased, along with the speed and comfort of its lifts as individual ski areas invest in better gondolas and chairs to replace drag lifts.
This search for a better-quality experience extends to the nursery slopes, where first-timers to snowsports feared the first ride on the the drag lift perhaps more than falling on their first slide down the slope. In fact, drag lifts may be responsible for stopping a proportion of people from ever progressing beyond day one on the slopes.
Although some resorts install slow-loading chairlifts to avoid this, the most popular new lift type of the past decade has been the easy and unintimidating magic carpet, which has sent many nursery slope drag lifts to the scrapyard.
Manganui's T-bar - Isaac Petersen Art
Better for the environment
Another significant advantage of replacing drag lifts with gondolas or chairlifts is that they are usually better for the environment. First of all, replacing several lifts with one reduces the amount of land upon which towers need to be erected. And second, the number of towers required for each lift continues to reduce as technology advances. Some of the biggest recent installations, such as Poma's Vanoise Express linking Les Arcs and La Plagne and Doppelmayrs' Peak 2 Peak gondola at Whistler Blackcomb, have remarkably few support towers considering their great length.
Drag lifts have also had a hard time adapting to the more diverse range of snowsports now sought by ski resort clients. The growth of snowboarding initially highlighted the limitations of drag lifts for anyone other than skiers
(is this why Turoa is more popular than Whakapapa for snowboarders, for accessing the top of the mountain?),
and the arrival of myriad of other sliding sports on the slopes has further highlighted these issues. Again, the conveyor lift and chair or gondola lifts can be used more safely and comfortably for a far wider range of sports.
They can also operate all year round regardless of snow cover, can be used by any resort client in any season, including disabled users and babies in buggies, and a far more in keeping with the modern-day business plan of a year-round mountain resort than the humble drag lift.
Some of the first drag lifts to be replaced wire those at lower elevations linking resort bases and car parks to higher slopes above. In some cases, having only overland links to upper slopes could prove disastrous when snow cover was poor. Without a chairlift, gondola or funicular to transport users over thawed slopes of grass or earth, some ski centers were unable to operate.
One area in which drag lifts do outperform most gondolas and chairlifts is that they are less affected by adverse weather conditions, particularly strong winds, which is one of the reasons that they remain so widely used in Scandanavia (and NZ!).
Other lift types are competing, however. SunKid, the conveyor lift company, has reported marked success with its removable transparent weather protection 'gallery' tunnels, which it can build over its conveyor lifts, meaning that users can essentially ascend the slope 'indoors'. An extreme case of this can be found at the Jungfraujoch at nearly 3,500m above the Grindelwald and Wengen in Switzerland, where peak gusts of up to 220km/hr have been recorded and there are extreme temperature fluctuations, and a lift is required on the ice of a constantly shifting glacier.
The firmly anchored 'gallery' here was rapidly buried beneath the snow, so the site operator declared that a weatherproof tunnel was a much better solution than the former drag lift.
Despite the fact that drag lifts may not fit with the modern service-oriented onus of ski resorts, there are further advantages other than their stability in strong winds - they're also the most affordable and easy-to-install lifts for most ski areas.
case in point: Manganui's Top Tow; able to operate in strong winds
In addition, lifts expert Chris Exall, a member of the COmmission of the Education and Examination of Ski Instructors, sees another advantage in people learning to use the drag lifts: "The flipside to the growth in carpet lifts that a skier or boarder is not learning to balance when ascending on these sliding platforms. RIding the drag lift, once you've mastered the basics, can be a useful learning experience that contributes to your skiing ability."
Despite the two-pronged attack on drag lifts from conveyor lifts below and chairlifts or gondolas above, it will be al long time before all drag lifts are removed from the world's ski slopes. An estimated 15,000 remain operational - still more than any other type of ski lift.
In the 1980s, there was much talk of eradicating all t-bar lifts (widely used in Austria, Switzerland and Scandanavia, and NZ, and generally regarded as the least popular type) and the button-type lifts found more commonly in France and Italy. However, the decline in these lifts has been slow, and although their numbers may continue to dwindle, it seems unlikely that while there are still people wanting to ski and snowboard the day will ever come when drag lifts have been completely superseded.
However, many skiers and boarders in North America and Japan have so far managed to avoid the drag lift, since they are rarely installed in these countries, and those who don't like using them can increasingly avoid them in Europe as well, since an ever-higher percentage of slopes are served by overhead lifts.
So the time when drag lifts are considered, like 2m long straight skis, to be a relic of the past, may not be too far off, and may even be with us already at some resorts.
Ski resorts by numbers
The number of ski lifts in the world depends, of course, on the number of ski areas in the world and the exact number of those is a little bit hazy. If we count a place with at least one ski lift as a 'ski area', research company Snow24 reports it has located just over 6,000 such ski areas in 80 countries worldwide over the past 20 years.
'On the one hand, new ski areas are opening in countries such as China, Russia and Turkey; on the other, many small village drag lifts in the Alps and Scandinavia have probably ceased to function and not been replaced over the past few decades," says Sally Brookes, a director of Snow24, who believes those new centers opening in Asia may just about cancel out the numbers closing in Europe.
"If we look at the places with five or more lifts - that is places that begin to be destination resorts - the figures are equally inconclusive if you search for trends. There are just over 1,800 on this scale," she says. Only a small number fail every year, with the new resorts opening in Asia (with the exception of Japan, itself a declining winter-sports market) just about canceling out the slowly declining numbers in Europe and North America.
source - Patrick Thorne, Winter Sports Technology International November 2011.