History of the Critérium of the First Snow
With the first competitions of the season not starting until January, Charles Diebold and Louis Erny capitalized on the opportunity to introduce a new First Snow Critérium, three years after organizing the world championships on Bellevarde.
The Critérium would be the first large meeting of the skiing season. 55 skiers took part in the first edition of the race, with Jean Bourdaleix being named the Critérium’s first winner and local skier, Firmin Mattis, taking the lead in slalom and combined.
Ten years into the Critérium, French skiing celebrated its Olympic-calibre team. Under the direction of iconic coach, Honoré Bonnet, France would take the podium at least 15 times in 7 races, wining first place in 5 – an unbeaten record!
There was a snow shortage this year. Tenacious and determined, Louis Erny, President of the Sports Club, managed to organize races on the glacier Pissaillas.
Marc Holder, then President of the FIS, attended the races which weren’t part of the World Cup at the time.
Impressed by what he saw, he then promised to Val D’Isère that as long as he was President, the resort would have FIS points. The Critérium received a World Cup label the following year.
1979 was a year of distinction for Parisian-born, Caroline Attia. At the start of the downhill, the Racing Club of France skier dislocated her shoulder, but injury didn’t stop her from crossing the finishing line of the OK slope – at around 100km/hour, her arm hanging down – 3 seconds behind winner Marie-Thérèse Nadig.
On the men’s side, Swedish Ingemar Stenmark won his 12thgiant in a row, while Michel Vion (now the French team Director) finished 3rdin the combined.
At the beginning of the season snow was sorely lacking and compromised the organization of the Critérium. The Organizing Committee racked their brains to come up with enough snow to pass the FIS snow control and, for the first time on the World Cup Circuit, snow was transported by helicopter to the slope.
The hard work of the ski run service took care of the rest and ensured the Women’s Downhill would take place, leading to a second Avaline victory for Italian, Michela Figini.
After a lavish Olympic fortnight, the face of Bellevarde is once again in the limelight. In order to offer his “protégé”, top French slalom skier, Patrice Bianchi, a chance to win at home, the sport club fought to be given the chance to organize a slalom, the first since 1967.
Encouraged by the fervor of his relatives, Patou easily won the first heat, but his dream of winning at home vanished when he straddled a gate, leaving victory in the hands of Sweden’s, Thomas Fogdoe.
For its 40th anniversary, the Critérium celebrated the return of a women’s event, back in the spotlights on the “OK” after a 6-year hiatus much to the delight of Austrian Alexandra Meissnitzer and German Martina Ertl who finished first.
But the main event of this anniversary year was the triumph of Luc Alphand who, after winning Kitsbühel the same year, gave France its first “avaline” downhill victory since Henri Duvillard in 1970.
This year marked the return of Austrian Hermann “Herminator” Maier who had been disqualified the previous year for having claimed victory too soon, removing his ski to brandish before the finish line of the OK slope.
This was not a mistake he would repeat and pushed him to come back stronger than ever in 1998, finishing first in the super G, more than a second ahead of fellow Austrian, Stephan Eberharter.
Final adjustments come one year before the World Championship. While difficult weather conditions forced the resort to cancel the women’s events in December 2007, Bellevarde Face celebrated its World Cup Circuit comeback under plenty of sun in February, 15 years after the Albertville Olympics.
Bode Miller took the lead first by winning the super-combined; however, it was Carlo Janka who benefitted most from the return of technical events in Beaver Creek in December 2008 before the Critérium. The Swiss skier won two medals on the “Face” and two more during the World Championship that took place two months later in February 2009.
Used to dealing with a lack of snow, the Organizing Committee had to face a completely different challenge in 2012 when heavy snow falls forced it to change the program at the last minute by reversing Men’s Giant and Slalom, which for the first time saw its second round held at night.
This provided an advantage for the talented Alexis Pinturault. Electrified by the lights of Bellevarde, carried by the fervor of his fans, and dreaming of a new French victory, Alexis exploded down the course to capture an historic podium.
It had snowed hard over Val d’Isère in November, so the preparation of the 5 races of the 62nd Critérium was peaceful and troubleless . Meanwhile, it was not the case on the other side of the Atlantic in Beaver Creek (USA), where the lack of snow forced the organizers to cancel the races… their eyes then turned towards Val d’Isère. 5 races, with the postponement of the 3 Beaver Creek events, it would make a total of 8, a record for the ski resort. On a track “OK” remarkably quickly prepared and under a generous sun, Kjetil Jansrud scored a double in speed before giving way on the podium to the technicians and Mathieu Faivre who signed his first victory on the World Cup.
Years go on but are not the same ! If the sun had decided to shine over Val d’Isère for the Critérium of the First snow in the recent past years, in 2017 winter decided to do otherwise. It was under heavy snowfalls that the hard work of all the teams allowed the 4 races of this 62nd edition to take place in the best conditions possible. This collective effort has inspired the Frenchman Alexis Pinturault winner of the giant on the “Face” where he had already been victorious in 2012. On the ladies’ side the tiredless Lindsey Vonn took her 78th victory on the World Cup, the 7th in Val d Isère.