Patrick Burke

Another week brought more disruption to the International Ski and Snowboard Federation's (FIS) World Cup circuits with more weather-related cancellations.

The men's downhill and giant slalom double header in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on January 28 and 29 became the latest casualty on the Alpine Ski World Cup. The giant slalom has been moved to Schladming in Austria a few days earlier on January 25, but there is no such luck for the downhill. Lack of snow was the reason provided.

Issues with soft snow led to the women's downhill at the World Cup in St Anton being scrapped after two days of training could not be held, with a super-G being arranged in its place.

The weather has rivalled the individual successes of Switzerland's Marco Odermatt and the United States' Mikaela Shiffrin for the story of the season.

The World Cup season in Alpine skiing began at the end of October, but began might be being a tad generous given that seven of the first eight events across the men's and women's circuits were called off due to bad weather.

A mild European winter - mild to an unprecedented degree in parts of the continent - has caused further havoc. Shiffrin racked up five consecutive wins from December 18 in St Mortiz through to Zagreb on January 4, but warm weather combined with high winds cancelled the second slalom in the Croatian capital and halted her bid to break the record for most World Cup wins on the women's circuit.

The weather-related disruption has been noticeably greater this year compared to previous season, but any suggestion that this is a one-off looks fanciful at best.

Warm temperatures and a lack of snow has impacted FIS Alpine Ski World Cup venues including Zagreb this season ©Getty Images
Warm temperatures and a lack of snow has impacted FIS Alpine Ski World Cup venues including Zagreb this season ©Getty Images

Zagreb was a venue which caused problems last year too, an ill-fated men's slalom controversially starting before it was abandoned after 19 skiers had completed their first run. French Olympic bronze medallist Victor Muffat-Jeandet fractured his right fibula on a course with limited snow, and the FIS' chief race director Markus Waldner later admitted that it should not have been allowed to begin.

The FIS Nordic Combined World Cup season began later at the end of November for the men and start of December for the women, but encountered difficulties with the postponement of this weekend's men's event in Klingenthal. It is hoped that the German resort can slot in to replace Chaux-Neuve in France next weekend, which cancelled its double header due to limited snow, but that is still to be confirmed.

Further problems in the French Alps came on the Freestyle Ski World Cup in Font Romeu, where this weekend's freeski slopestyle events were cancelled due to a lack of snow.

As well as a lack of snow, increased rain and melting glaciers, warmer weather is conducive to conditions of fog and low visibility which can provide a further risk to outdoor skiing competitions.

Much like Shiffrin's quest for a record on the women's Alpine Ski circuit, the inevitable can be delayed, but it cannot be put off altogether. She has matched the 82 victories achieved by compatriot Lindsey Vonn since the cancellation in Zagreb, and looks likely to beat that in the near future.

The situation winter sport finds itself in is not going to ease up with global temperatures on the rise and - relative to the scale of the problem - not enough being done about it.

Winter heat records continue to be broken across Europe, with at least eight countries recording their highest January days already this year.

Sports event organisers have concerns over a reduction in the number of winter venues available for usage ©Getty Images
Sports event organisers have concerns over a reduction in the number of winter venues available for usage ©Getty Images

The threat to winter sport has been recognised by major event organisers. The International University Sports Federation (FISU), which is holding its Winter World University Games in Lake Placid, is holding a Winter Conference under the theme "Save Winter" through to Friday (January 20).

A stark title, and the content of the Conference has underlined the predicament that winter sports event organisers find themselves in. The Swiss FISU Acting President Leonz Eder noted "hardly any region in the Alps can manage up to high altitudes without producing artificial snow", while Executive Council member Martin Doulton warned that winter sports events could be history by 2050 if organisations do not move to drastically reduce their carbon footprint.

FISU has a host lined up for its Winter World University Games in 2025 in Turin, and Lillehammer appears to have emerged as a frontrunner for 2027 as insidethegames exclusively reported earlier this week.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) appears to be in a less luxurious position as far as its Winter Games are concerned. Milan Cortina is lined up as the host for 2026, but preparations have been far from smooth with political instability in Italy, a struggle to secure sponsorship and controversy over plans to redevelop a sliding track in Cortina d'Ampezzo.

The IOC claimed its Coordination Commission observed "positive progress" on its first in-person visit last month, but its assessment was less upbeat than for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, identifying a number of key priorities for the Organising Committee.

Beyond 2026, the future for the Winter Olympics looks even less promising. The future of winter sport proved a heavy discussion point at the IOC Executive Board's last meeting.

The future of the Winter Olympics was discussed heavily by the IOC, which has delayed its process of awarding the 2030 Games ©Getty Images
The future of the Winter Olympics was discussed heavily by the IOC, which has delayed its process of awarding the 2030 Games ©Getty Images

A proposal for the IOC target destinations with entirely existing or temporary venues and average minimum temperatures of below zero degrees Celsius for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period, and discussions with winter International Federations over adjusting events calendars and competition formats could be just the start, it has to be feared.

There are real concerns over the reduction in the number of climate-reliable cities, and the potential to rotate the Winter Olympics within a pool of hosts has been discussed.

The process for awarding the 2030 Games has been delayed, and Salt Lake City appears a reluctant frontrunner by default, despite its preference being for 2034. The Tokyo 2020 bribery scandal has put Sapporo's bid on the ropes, Vancouver's hopes have been hampered by a lack of Government supports, and a Swiss, French and Italian proposal failed to get off the ground after Chamonix declared it had no interest in staging the event.

Climate change is having a very real impact on winter sport now, and in a world where leaders cannot even reach an agreement on phasing out fossil fuels at the recent United Nations Climate Change conference, it is difficult to envisage anything other than a bleak picture as we progress through the decade.

It is a pessimistic outlook, but the scale of the disruption to the current season indicates an existential threat to winter sport and the Winter Olympics.