Ski Racing: The New Fantasy League

Still feeling the buzz from the FIS World Cup in Killington? Not sure how to keep the stoke alive? You can stop fretting: Fantasy Ski Racer is here to help.

By Marina Knight

Nolan Kasper,  an up-and-coming racer from Warren, Vt. and Utah’s Steve Nyman (now a three-time Olympian), were both in Lake Louise, Canada, racing NorAms.

It was 2009 and Kasper had been running his own ad-hoc fantasy ski racing league with some friends from Burke Mountain Academy on Facebook. He was sitting in the lodge before his race, trying to get his fantasy picks posted before the deadline, when he and Nyman started to chat.

“Steve and I started this conversation that lasted all weekend because he had been thinking about the idea for a fantasy skiing league, too,” Kasper said.

As the two hashed out all the details, they made notes on a napkin. “We wrote it all down and then didn’t really do anything about it until I told my brother, Michael, about the idea and he was like, ‘Yeah, we should do this!” Nyman recalled. “Michael really is the one who made this all happen. We had the idea, but he took it and made it real.” Nyman said. The first version of the game went live in 2010.

Things can get a little unusual in the spring. Warner Nickerson celebrates his last big ski race with a sombrero and Mexican team uniform at the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley, California. (U.S. Ski Team – Tom Kelly)

The site launched in 2010 and has slowly grown ever since. Just like Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball, Fantasy Ski Racer allows players to accumulate World Cup points and compete with an entire network of other ski racing fans across the world. The slick and easy-to-use app, which is available on iTunes and Google Play, now has 20,000 players and is growing by the second.

Nyman and Kasper’s idea has gone through several iterations. The newest version, Nyman says, is finally dialed and ready to push out to the world. “Several thousand people are playing every race, and once we hit the 50,000-player benchmark, that’s when we have value and can start really generating revenue,” Nyman said.

The beauty of today’s version of Fantasy Ski Racer is its simplicity. Players can join the game as individuals or join a league with friends. After creating a profile and opting in or out of the various ways to connect on social media, you click on an upcoming race and view the current rankings in the discipline.

Then, you simply drag and drop the racers who you think will fill out the top 10. Scoring is based on the actual World Cup points system. Choose the winner correctly and you’ll rack up 100 points, second place gets 80 and so on. Fantasy Ski racer also keeps track of a player’s rankings within specific disciplines, allowing you to compete for overall crystal globes just like athletes.

Points are awarded based on where a player predicts an athlete will finish and where the athlete actually finishes.

For example, if you had chosen Mikaela Shiffrin to win the slalom at Killington, in addition to being in the majority, you would have scored 100 points. If you had chosen her to place second and she won, you would only score 80 points.

In addition to the alpine version, Fantasy Ski Racer has a cross-country, ski jumping and Nordic combined version.

A World Cup League

“The cool part is that lots of current World Cuppers and former top athletes are pretty into it,” Nyman says. “Ted Ligety, Patrick Jaerbyn, Luca De Alprandini, Marie Pietilae-Holmner, the German team is into it and the French are really into it.”

Just as you can see these athletes’ actual results after they race, players can also track how their favorite racers fared in the fantasy version of their race and see how they stacked up against them.

Nyman, for example, who is currently ranked seventh in the world in downhill in real life is ranked an unimpressive 732 in the downhill rankings on Fantasy Ski Racer.

“When I am in the race, I always have to pick myself as the winner,” Nyman explained. “That’s my rule. Currently, I’m ranked 732 overall in downhill, but I’m really good at women’s slalom.”

Nyman and Kasper with World Cupper Stacy Cook. Photo by Sarah Brunson/USSA

In addition to picking their top ten finishers for every World Cup race on the 2016/17 calendar, players can read predictions on a blog written by World Championship medalist, NBC commentator and Warren resident Doug Lewis and former World Cup racer Warner Nickerson, from New Hampshire. Players can also listen to the “Piste OFF” podcast, produced weekly.

“At NBC we did a fantasy ski league (a private league) and I was the commissioner for eight years. Fantasy Ski Racer is so much easier,” Lewis said.

Lewis is now in a highly competitive Fantasy Ski Racer league of current and former racers, including Nyman, Thomas Vonn and Julien Lizeroux.

“What’s really great about it is it gives you the same old-time feeling of watching together that we had when we crowded around the TV to watch a race,” he said.

For his part, Nickerson loves how FSR forces people to make an informed pick and look up information about an athlete they might not know very well.

“I know more about the current group of racers on the World Cup now than ever, and I think that’s such a cool thing, to get fans to connect with not just their own athletes from their country, but to know a lot about all the racers in all the disciplines,” Nickerson says.

Social Racing

Eva Shaw, who raced in Vermont, went to Green Mountain Valley School in Warren and is now a student at Middlebury College, has been an avid player of Fantasy Ski Racer for the past few years.

“I would spend a lot of time on my picks. It’s easy to pick the winners but picking who will place seventh through tenth is tough,” she explained.

She connected with athletes through their social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and used the FIS website to look up past results on specific hills to inform her fantasy picks on a weekly basis.

“Social media was a good bridge to keep track of what was going on. For example, I could look at Henrik Kristoffersen’s Instagram and see he was sick, so I wouldn’t choose him that week,” she said.  FSR also kept her friends from high school in touch.

Warren’s Doug Lewis used to have his own fantasy ski race league. Now he’s a regular commentator for Photo by Sarah Brunson.

“After high school some friends are still ski racing and others aren’t, so playing together kept us connected. It’s a unique way we can all keep sharing something we all love,” Shaw said.

Last year, the Kelly Brush Foundation (the Vermont-based nonprofit whose mission is to empower those with paralysis to lead engaged and fulfilling lives through sport), and the United States Ski and Snowboard Association both got involved by awarding grants to clubs who signed up to play Fantasy Ski Racer. Each month, they gave $1,000 to the top-ranked large, medium and small club who competed in the virtual game.

“When they approached us about it, we saw it as a great opportunity to bring ski club communities together and also promote our mission of safety,” Executive Director Zeke Davisson said.

Tiny Prospect Hill Ski Team in eastern Massachusetts racked up the “small club” award and $4,000 in grants for safety equipment. Just as in real ski racing, sometimes the biggest winners come from the smallest ski hills.

Featured photo: Warren’s Nolan Kasper lays it down at the Audi Birds of Prey in 2014.  Kasper, currently on the World Cup circuit,  started a fantasy ski race league while he was  a student at Burke Mountain Academy. Photo by Eric Schramm