Thud of a World Cup ski season ending

In an anticlimactic thud of an ending to one of the most exciting alpine ski seasons ever, Germany's Maria Riesch on Saturday beat her very good friend, American Lindsey Vonn, for the women's World Cup overall title when crummy weather forced the cancellation of the year's final race, a giant slalom. How thoroughly, profoundly unsatisfying.

"Win or lose," Vonn said afterward, "I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated.

"The cancellation of this race doesn't just hurt me. It hurts the fans and the sport of ski racing as a whole."

Indeed, that is the bottom line.

Not to take anything away from Riesch.

She finished with 1,728 points.

Vonn ended up with 1,725.

Riesch's victory marks the first time a German has won the women's World Cup overall since Katja Seizinger in 1998. That's a big deal.

To be very, very clear: This is not about Riesch. Kudos to her. Over the course of the season, she amassed enough points to prevail, and that's how the system works.

But like all systems, with rules and regulations,  you have to ask whether it produced an outcome that served its stakeholders well. Who feels good about this?

Vonn had launched one of the great late-season charges in World Cup history, her charge launched in a bizarre way by an early February concussion. The concussion forced her to take time off. After she felt better, she said many times, she decided she had nothing to lose -- and so she decided to just let it rip.

In late February, at the World Cup stop in Sweden, Vonn was 216 points down.

Then, though, after a great weekend in Tarvisio, Italy, just 96. Then, after a stop in the Czech Republic, 23.

The tour moved this week to the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and after the first of four scheduled races, a downhill won by American Julia Mancuso, Vonn fourth, Riesch 17th, Vonn found herself back in the overall lead, with 1,725 points, Riesch with 1,678.

Weather forced the cancellation of the next event, the super-G, arguably Vonn's best event. She had clinched the season's super-G title two weeks before, along with the downhill and super-combined crowns. That super-G cancellation probably deprived Vonn of critical points.

They managed to run, albeit on a shortened course, the third race of the four on the schedule, a slalom. Vonn finished 13th, Riesch fourth, enough to put Riesch back on top in the overall standings by -- three points.

Pending the fourth, and final, race, the giant slalom.

At the Czech World Cup stop, last week in Spindleruv Mlyn,  Vonn's third-place in the GS was the very first of her career. So she might well have been looking at points in the GS as well.

"I'm really disappointed (Thursday's) race was canceled," Vonn had said, looking around at the yucky weather in Lenzerheide, adding about Saturday, "I really hope they try, because I know I have a chance."

Thirty years from now, when Maria and Lindsey are sitting around the Christmas tree, reminiscing about their years dominating the ski circuit, and the 2011 season comes up, and the kids with their shiny faces say, tell us the story again about how it was that Grandma Lindsey won three straight World Cup overalls in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and then in 2011 Grandma Maria beat Grandma Lindsey by three points for the championship but is it true, Grandma Lindsey, that you didn't even get the chance to race Grandma Maria on the very last day to find out who was best?

How's that going to go over around the Christmas table?

Right. Which is why this situation should never, ever be allowed to happen again.

There has to be a better way. Not saying the answer is immediately apparent.  Just saying there has to be a better way because, as Vonn points out, alpine racing is an extraordinary sport and yet it struggles for attention outside the Olympic spotlight. This is the sort of thing that does not lend it credibility.

Indeed, this -- to relate it in terms an American audience might understand -- is like the baseball version of a five-inning no-hitter. It counts but -- yech.

"I think they could have been working on [the course] like they did yesterday," to get it ready for the slalom, the U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser, said Saturday. "I have the feeling they didn't try everything."

Query: Why, in Switzerland, of all places, was there not sufficient snow-making equipment on hand -- or, for that matter, stored-up snow -- to ensure a suitable course?

Or are these finals a clear sign of the ominous global warming issues that have been an undercurrent of the World Cup circuit for the past several years? If that's the case, perhaps some good might come out of this thud of an ending. Maybe it could serve as the spark for a meaningful, high-level FIS-led analysis of climate change and whether the federation's rules ought to be reviewed to allow for winners to be decided where they ought to be decided.

On the mountain.

To ask a simple question: Shouldn't that be obvious?