Even as economic impacts on tiny European villages, dependent on yearly World Cup stops, are incalculable, the alpine World Cup has soldiered on, creating a safe and COVID-free environment for its athletes and staff thus far this season.

Wengen World Cup
The men’s alpine World Cup stop this weekend at Wengen was canceled by local officials on Monday due to COVID-19 concerns. A pair of races will instead take place five hours away in Kitzbühel. (Image: Getty)

So, it came as a bit of a surprise Monday evening to learn the upcoming trio of men’s races in Wengen, Switzerland, scheduled for Jan. 15-17, were canceled due to the area’s determination it could not meet protocols to ensure athletes’ safety.

Officials Concerned Race Would Spread New COVID Strains

The Canton of Bern’s Health and Business Administration announced its decision to withdraw the legendary Lauberhorn races’ permit in consultation with the Wengen OC, Swiss-Ski, and skiing’s governing body, FIS.

“The cancellation of one of the most prestigious race weekends in the World Cup calendar makes the heart of every ski fan bleed,” Bernhard Aregger, CEO of Swiss-Ski, said Monday. “However, it is our job to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

The news came on the heels of news that variant strains of the virus have been found in Switzerland. The number of people infected by the British or South African strains ticked up to 88 on Monday.

Skiers were set to arrive early this week at the traditional Bernese Oberland village known for its timber chalets and belle époque hotels. Practice runs were set to start on Tuesday. The Wengen races take place on the legendary Lauberhorn run in the shadow of the Eiger peak, the oldest, fastest, and longest race on the World Cup circuit.

Silence on the Hill as World Cup Moves on from Wengen

While crowd-less stadiums and piped-in white noise have become the norm on the basketball court and soccer pitch, the eerie silence of a World Cup ski race — no screams, no horns, no cowbells — has created an alternate universe for skiers and host communities. Cancellation, however, was an unexpected first, World Cup officials said Monday.

“We are very disappointed not to be able to race the Lauberhornrennen, one of the big downhill and slalom classics,” said Markus Waldner, race director of the men’s Alpine World Cup. “The health and safety of the athletes is always our number one priority, and we fully support this decision.”

One downhill and one slalom set to take place in Wengen will move to Kitzbühel on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16-17. As for the second downhill in Wengen, race director Waldner said a replacement venue will be announced later this month. Men’s start lists for Kitzbühel should be posted by Wednesday, officials said.