Did Climate Change Help This Skier Achieve the Impossible?


After a big mistake on his first run, Daniel Yule assumed he was out of the men's slalom at this season's Alpine Skiing World Cup. “I had already packed my bags and was ready to go back to the hotel,” he says. said in a television interview after last weekend's event in Chamonix, France.

Instead, his time was just enough to advance to the second round. From there, in last place, the Swiss skier won the entire event. Never before, in 58 years of competition, had someone emerged from such a low position to win the trophy in a single round. It was a testimony to Christmas skiing, but also to the inescapable reality of climate change.

THE temperature that day in Chamonix had reached an extraordinary 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), well above the average maximum of -1 in February. Competition rules stipulate that slalom skiers make their second run in reverse order of their rank after the first, meaning that Yule, in last place, would go first on the second run on an uninterrupted slope. His competitors would follow a slope melting rapidly under the midday sun, dug by those who preceded them, and the winner would be the one who achieved the lowest cumulative time over their two races. “I was really lucky,” Yule said.

Slalom skiing requires competitors to navigate around a series of gates as they descend. The turn is therefore the determining factor in a race. When skiers perform first, like Yule on her second run, they can choose where they turn around each gate. In doing so, the pressure of their skis creates ruts in the snow. Everyone who follows is then, to some extent, forced into these ruts, and as they deepen, it becomes more difficult for subsequent skiers to follow lines that suit their own style.

This rutting effect is more pronounced and occurs even more quickly on warmer days, explains Arnaud de Mondenard, head of alpine ski research at winter sports equipment brand Salomon. Additionally, as the snow melts on the slope, it forms slush, which is more difficult for skiers to cross. And, de Mondenard is keen to point out, the snow does not melt or compress evenly throughout the course. For the later skiers, judging the stability and texture of the terrain would have been a major challenge.

On a gentle slope like that of Chamonix, these are all factors which would have contributed to the performance of the skiers. Clément Noël, the French athlete who fell from first to third place, after playing more than 2 seconds slower than Yule in the second set, said: “It was really difficult at the end. It was really very bumpy. By the time Noel started his second descent, the sun had been melting the trail for more than 45 minutes since Yule had started his.

Some have called Yule's performance one of the first examples of climate change disrupting professional sports results. Mark Maslin, professor of Earth system science at University College London and author of How to save our planetwrote in a publication on LinkedIn: “Credit is due to Yule, and congratulations to him… But no one can deny what happened here… The reason was painfully obvious.”



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