The German Ski Association would love to bring out a talent like Nathalie Armbruster every year. Model athlete, model student and all that at 17.
With the flood of World Cup medals from Planica, Armbruster, three-time world champion Katharina Althaus, Olympic champion Andreas Wellinger and Co. are currently doing everything they can to advertise the three sports of ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross-country skiing in the best possible way. But the increasingly mild winters in times of climate change are becoming an enormous challenge for the future and for young people in skiing.
Weather-independent alternatives are needed
The consensus is: creative and weather-independent alternatives are needed. These have already been created in ski jumping, with a ceramic track and landing mats making the sport more future-proof. The sports director Horst Hüttel told the German Press Agency: "70 percent of our jumps - also in the junior area - are made in the summer. Ski jumping is a year-round sport." There are no fears of any major declines among young people, and there is even an upward trend at the moment. "I think there is one or the other sport that has more problems than ski jumping."
Cross-country skiing, which is the basic discipline for other sports such as combination and biathlon, is not a year-round sport - and is finding it much more difficult to replace the increasingly rare snow. "It is important that we teach children and young people about the element of snow. Such a World Cup and such successes create something. The children want to do it, they want to try it out," said sports director Andreas Schlütter - and ideally at some point Winning medals like Armbruster, who twice won silver in Planica.
Artificial snow, shorter laps and snow farming
The keywords are: artificial snow, shorter laps and snow farming. "The fact that you go into the woods like in the 80s and back out again after two hours - if you can believe the scientists, that will probably no longer happen," said Hüttel. Whether pictures like the Tour de Ski, when in Oberstdorf there was a white band of artificial snow in the middle of green nature at relatively mild temperatures, reflect the zeitgeist of today's youth can be questioned. Such images have recently been seen more and more frequently at competitions in Central Europe.
Cross-country team manager Peter Schlickenrieder - a self-confessed outdoor enthusiast - does not want to accept the lack of snow as a reason for the young people's waning enthusiasm. Trainers and volunteers on site are important. "It almost doesn't matter whether there's snow or not. Because that's when you go on roller skis. If you want to be a good cross-country skier, you don't have to have grown up in Oberstdorf," Schlickenrieder clarified.
"It has to be fun"
Like hardly anyone else, the ex-athlete shows how irrelevant placements and pressure to perform should be - especially for young people. "It has to be fun," demands Schlickenrieder, who is fundamental in his efforts to recruit youngsters. You want to inspire the next generation of "cross-country skiing kids" to go out into the fresh air.
"You have to go back to that. Sending children into the woods to play. I don't need a playground there, I just need the great outdoors. That's where our legislators have to say: get rid of the cars, get out with the roller skis and the cyclists," said Schlickenrieder.
In addition to good concepts, clubs and volunteers, professional sport, which brings out the role models, also plays an important role. "A gold medal at the Olympic Games always helps because the discipline gets a certain amount of attention," said Schlütter, referring to the sensational Olympic victory of the two cross-country skiers Katharina Hennig and Victoria Carl in China in 2022. This formula also applies to the current days of Planica.