In just 100 days the Audi FIS World Cup season will kick off with the ‘Speed Opening’ in the ski area Matterhorn Ski Paradise. The opening even will be the first-ever cross-border FIS Alpine World Cup race, starting in Zermatt, Switzerland, and finishing in Cervinia, Italy. The event consists of a men’s Downhill on November 10 and 11, 2023 on the new, specifically designed ‘Gran Becca’ course below the iconic Matterhon.
The women’s Downhill will be held the following weekend on November 18 and 19, 2023. The ski area Matterhorn Ski Paradise (or, in Italian, “Cervino Ski Paradise”) combines the Zermatt ski area in Switzerland and the Cervinia ski area in Italy.Together the ski area offers 225 miles (360km) of groomed runs and, thanks to its glacier, offers skiing and boarding 365 days of the year.
The race was set to premier last year but a lack of snow meant the lower part of the course did not have enough snow-cover for the race to go ahead safely. This year the Local Organization Committee (‘LOC’) made sure this would not be an issue, by setting aside five snow reserves instead of two like last year. These snow reserves are made up of last year’s snow that is covered under an insulation layer and preserved over the summer to be reused in the coming winter. A technique referred to as ‘snowfarming’. In addition, this year’s speed opening has been moved back by two weeks from late October to mid-November.
The newly designed race course has been named ‘Gran Becca,’ which means ‘the great peak’ in the local Italian dialect, referencing the iconic Matterhorn. While Zermatt is in the German-speaking area of Switzerland, most of the course will be in Italy; therefore, the organizing committee went with an Italian name.
The architect of the race course is one of Switzerland’s best downhill specialists, retired race skier Didier Défago, who was Swiss National Champion in Downhill in 2003 and GS in 2004. During his impressive 19-year career from 1996 to 2015, he podiumed at 16 World Cup events, won five gold medals — three in Downhill and two in Super-G — and competed at four Olympics, winning Gold in Downhill at the 2010 Vancouver games.
The ‘Gran Becca’ course will start just below Switzerland’s Gobba di Rollin peak at 12,205 ft (3,720m), the highest start for any World Cup race. From there, the course starts with the jump ‘Matterhorn Sprung’ and makes a left turn to the ‘Sérac Traverse.’ The course continues over the ‘Muro Ventina’ and goes over the shoulder of ‘Spalla di Rollin’ into the straight of ‘Plateau Rosa Schuss.’ Before the finish line are the two jumps of ‘Salto Furggen’ and ‘Salto Cime Bianche,’ which should provide spectators in the finish area with some spectacular air before skiers finish the 2.3 miles (3.7km) long course down a total of 2,904ft (885m) of vertical.