First Ever Cross-Border FIS Alpine World Cup Faces Unexpected Challenge

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
The course map of the Matterhorn Downhill race. | Picture: Speed Opening Website

On November 11-12 and November 18-19 this year the first ever cross-border FIS race will take place at Matterhorn Ski Paradise. The race is set to start in Zermatt, Switzerland, and finish in Cervino, Italy. The newly designed race course has been named ‘Gran Becca,’ which means ‘the great peak’ in the local Italian dialect, referencing, of course, the iconic Matterhorn. The architect of the race course is one of Switzerland’s best downhill specialists, retired race skier Didier Défago.

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, the race has been moved back by two weeks from late October to mid-November. The race will be the ‘Speed Opening’ of the FIS Alpine World Cup calendar.

Gran Becca
Sectional breakdown of the Gran Becca downhill course. | Picture: Speed Opening Website

While the lack of snow should not upset the successful execution of the Speed Opening, there are logistical issues which have now caused a hiccup. World Cup races are a massive undertaking and require hundreds of volunteers to run efficiently and safely. Volunteers come from all over Switzerland and even across Europe to help out with the organization. In Switzerland, the Swiss Army typically helps at a lot of the World Cup events.

That was the intention for this event as well, however, while the race starts in Switzerland, it crosses the border into Italy after about a quarter of the run. Swiss military are not allowed to be deployed to a foreign country. This would technically be considered an invasion.

Swiss army
Members of the Swiss armed forces helping at a FIS World Cup event. | Picture: Julia Schneemann

While this may seem a trivial technicality, and the Swiss army has an almost comical history of accidentally invading Liechtenstein (most recently in 2007, when a corps of 171 got lost in the fog and marched a mile into neighboring Liechtenstein), a foreign military corps cannot be deployed in a foreign country without special permissions. Unfortunately this special permission is not in place as of yet, as this is a matter for each country’s defense department. Until that time, preparations will have to be limited to the Swiss side of the Matterhorn Ski Paradise ski area.

Members of the Swiss Army in the cable car at sunrise. | Picture: Julia Schneemann

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