2 Ski Officials to Step Down After Shaking Things Up

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — The end of an Olympic season is a time of transition in ski racing, with officials, athletes and coaches retiring, switching teams, or signing contracts with new equipment sponsors. This year, two of ski racing’s most influential — and controversial — figures leave the sport.

On March 3, Bill Marolt, 70, the chief executive of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, stepped down from his post. Less than two weeks later, Günter Hujara, 61, relinquished his position as the International Ski Federation’s men’s alpine chief race director. Both departures were planned well in advance, and each man left of his own accord.

Marolt and Hujara leave behind complicated legacies that are defined as much by success as they are by controversy.

Hujara’s greatest contribution to the sport was improving safety, including this year’s implementation of new, safer helmets, the addition of more safety netting lining racecourses, and gates that ripped away if racers crashed into them, which helps prevent injuries.

“If you see all the developments since I started 23 years ago, what we have now on the hills is the highest standard ever,” Hujara said.

Hujara also made significant changes to ski racing that were intended to help sell the sport to television and increase audience participation, which are critical for ski racing’s future.

To this end, he decreased the number of super combined races, an event that features one leg of downhill and one slalom run and that critics say is boring to watch. He also pushed for including the parallel slalom event, where athletes race head-to-head, on the World Cup calendar.

“He’s been good for the sport because he is a fair guy. He makes decisions and he’s not influenced,” said Sasha Rearick, the head coach for the United States men’s ski team.

Not all athletes and coaches have been pleased with Hujara’s modifications, or his management style.

Some racers, including Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, the No. 2 skier in the 2014 World Cup overall standings, believe the parallel slalom event unfairly gives an advantage to technical racers in the fight for the overall title. Others, such as Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, opposed decreasing the number of super combined races, arguing that the race has its roots in one of skiing’s most traditional events, the combined, and must survive in the World Cup so that it can appear in the Olympics, thereby offering athletes more chances to medal.

Perhaps the most controversial decision of Hujara’s career was the rule that forced giant slalom racers to use a different style of skis for the 2012-13 season. At Hujara’s urging, F.I.S., ski racing’s governing body, mandated the new skis as a way to decrease injuries.

The two-time United States Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety was the most outspoken opponent of the rule, saying it would ruin the sport and was not backed up by good science. He also contended the new skis could be more dangerous than their predecessors.

“F.I.S.’s tyranny has gone on long enough. It seems F.I.S. is going out of their way to ruin the sport. F.I.S. runs a dictatorship,” Ligety wrote in a 2012 blog post published on his website.

The post was a thinly cloaked jab at Hujara, who has been called a dictator by coaches and athletes throughout his career.

Despite the fact that Ligety has enjoyed almost unprecedented success on the new skis, he still believes the skis are bad for the sport.

“Sometimes he was too authoritative,” said Kilian Albrecht, a former racer for Austria and Bulgaria, and chairman of the F.I.S. athletes’ commission from 2009 to 2013. “I often wished he would have respected the athletes’ ideas and wishes more.”

Despite his decisions and sometimes contentious relationships with athletes, Hujara insists that he has made peace with all athletes and that “there are no open wounds” as he leaves F.I.S.

This year also marked the last season for Marolt, who had been chief of the U.S.S.A. for 18 years.

When Marolt assumed the U.S.S.A.’s top spot in 1996, the organization was financially unstable and the performances of its athletes were dismal. That year, there was only one American in the top 30 of the World Cup overall standings: Picabo Street, who went on to win the United States’ only alpine medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

By 2010, the United States ski team nabbed a record eight alpine medals and 21 total across all disciplines — alpine, freestyle, snowboarding and the Nordic events. Four years later, there were six Americans in the top 30 of the World Cup overall standings. Under Marolt’s tenure, the United States has emerged as one of ski racing’s powerhouses.

“I think what I brought, more than anything else, was a clear focus, and we set the goal of being the best in the world, and yes, we accomplished that goal,” Marolt said.

That goal was achieved, in part, by a series of initiatives that Marolt put into place. In 1998, the U.S.S.A. began a sports science program, which has evolved into one of the best in the world. Marolt spearheaded fund-raising efforts to support athlete development in 1999 and helped raise $60 million for the organization over a decade. In 2009, the U.S.S.A. opened the 85,000-square-foot Center of Excellence, an elite training center in Park City, Utah. Two years later, the U.S.S.A. debuted the United States Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain, the world’s only downhill training facility.

Most notably, during Marolt’s years, the talents of Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso flourished.

“I think he’s been a leader and he’s gotten the job done, and he has a phenomenal record to show for it,” Miller said.

But Miller was less certain if the United States ski team’s success could be directly pinned to Marolt.

“Whether that would have happened if he wasn’t there, or with someone else, that is anybody’s guess. I feel like a lot of that was the group of athletes we had and the progression of the sport, the nature of things,” he said.

While Marolt has brought much success to the United States ski team, he has also been at the center of controversy over the years.

In 2010, he was criticized for taking home a six-figure salary while implementing budget cuts that slashed coaches’ compensation. As a result of the austerity measures, staff were laid off and some athletes were forced to finance their own travel for the World Cup.

Then, in March 2010, Marolt was charged with drunken driving, which was particularly stinging because he had disciplined athletes over the years for misbehavior and had implemented a strict code of conduct that required U.S.S.A. athletes, officials and coaches to abstain from “immoderate use of alcohol” and “maintain high standards of moral and ethical conduct, which includes self-control and responsible behavior.” He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of making an improper lane change.

Marolt accepts that criticism is part of the job and he is at ease with his legacy.

“I’ve made my decisions and I’ll live with them,” he said.

As Hujara and Marolt exit, a new generation of leadership is taking shape, and the men are confident that ski racing is in good hands.

Tiger Shaw, a former United States ski team athlete and two-time Olympian, took over for Marolt in early March. Markus Waldner, who previously worked as director of the F.I.S. Continental Cup, replaces Hujara.

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