Five-ring Circus

How To Save Olympic Skiing

Bring on the skimeister!

This year’s Olympics have been incredibly unsatisfying for hard-core skiing fans like me. No, I don’t care that America’s two biggest stars, Bode Miller and Jeremy Bloom, flamed out against the world’s best. I’m annoyed that Miller and Bloom didn’t get the chance to flame out against each other.

Miller is an Alpine skier who competes in bumpless events like the downhill. Bloom is strictly freestyle; he catapults over moguls but doesn’t partake of the straight-down-the-hill stuff. There’s no reason that competitive skiing has to be so fractured. Though the Olympics has always kept skiers in their respective camps, the domestic collegiate circuit used to lump everyone together. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the top American collegian on the slopes earned the coolest title in all of sports: skimeister.

The skimeister—that’s German for, uh, skimaster—was the athlete with the best combined results in two Alpine events (the downhill and slalom) and two Nordic disciplines (cross-country skiing and distance jumping). Getting named the meister was a big deal: It not only attested to overall skiing excellence but typically garnered the winner glowing, next-day coverage in the sports pages.

It’s high time the Olympic muckety-mucks asked the same question as America’s ski pioneers: Who’s king of the hill? Since the IOC is constantly on the lookout for ways to get younger fans excited about the games, a revived, modern-day meisterwould be perfect. Half the original skimeister events—the still-popular downhill and slalom—would remain intact. But since cross-country and ski jumping have retreated into the woods to revel in their Nordic nuttiness, we’ll replace them with two media-friendly events: freestyle mogul skiing and halfpipe skiing. The latter is not yet an Olympic sport, but watch Tanner Hall pull off a 1080 one time and you’ll be convinced that it should be.

Organizing the event would be simple. The meister wouldn’t have to scramble for suitable venues. Downhill and slalom courses, a bump run, and a halfpipe (borrowed from snowboarding) would already be in place thanks to current Olympic events. The four events couldeasily be split over the course of a weekend, with timed gate races contested one day and judged freestyle competitions the next.

The real question is whether the world’s best skiers would sign on for the meister. I have no doubt that Bode Miller—who’s been known to rip 720s in the halfpipe in his free time—would be game.

But it wouldn’t just be loonies like Miller who’d be willing to participate. The emergence of newfangled events in Turin and elsewhere has created a not-so-friendly rivalry between practitioners of the sport’s traditional disciplines and the brash up-and-comers. In 2004, outlaw skier Hall needled the sport’s traditionalists. “Put me in a downhill and I might not go as fast as Bode Miller, but I’ll make it to the bottom,” he said. “Put any of those racers in the pipe and they won’t even go.” American downhiller Darren Rahlves huffily responded: “That’s wrong. It’s wrong that he could make it to the bottom, plus it’s wrong that I wouldn’t drop in.”

It’s high time to turn this war of words into a slope-side battle royale. Only the skimeister will settle the score.